Hanna Dawson

The viva voce (from the Latin, meaning 'living voice') is an oral examination process where a PhD candidate is given the opportunity to defend and discuss their thesis.

There are many benefits of this process for the candidate, not least the opportunity to discuss their research with leading experts in the field. While many countries use the viva voce as part of thesis examination, practises vary enormously: it is important you read these guidelines and further specific advice related to your role (see links at the end of this document) to gain a full understanding of how the viva voce works at UWA.

    Viva voce at UWA

    The viva voce was introduced at UWA in 2018. Continuing candidates enrolled prior to 2018 are able to select the viva voce as an option, and all commencing candidates from January 2018 are required to undertake it. Students are advised to sign up for a Thesis and Viva Examination Workshop to help with the viva voce preparation.

    The examination will commence once the Nomination of Examiners and Thesis Submission forms have been approved by the Graduate Research School. The estimated timeframe from commencement of examination to the viva voce is normally between 12-14 weeks. This includes the time for the examiners to return their reports, the Board of the Graduate Research School's (BGRS) review and the candidate's preparation for the viva voce. Candidates are expected to ensure attendance for their viva voce. Rescheduling requests may be accommodated in extenuating circumstances.

    Due to a significant number of academics and external examiners going on extended leave at the end of every year, viva voces will not be scheduled two weeks before the University shutdown period and will resume in February of each year.

    Once both external examiners have submitted the preliminary reports*, the BGRS will review them and if approved, recommend proceeding to a viva voce. The preliminary reports are then shared with the candidates, supervisors and the other examiners no less than 5 working days before the viva voce to allow sufficient preparation time.

    The candidate and supervisors are not permitted to contact examiners prior to the viva voce. To prepare for the 10--minute opening summary of the thesis and responses to questions that will be raised by the examiners, candidates are advised to consult their supervisors for assistance. Revisions to the thesis will not be required prior to the viva voce as these will be clarified after the viva voce has taken place.

    * The viva voce will be rescheduled until further notice if a negative preliminary report is received.

    Who attends the viva voce?

    The participants in the viva voce are the candidate, the designated Chair and two external examiners. Supervisors are not permitted to join the candidate during the examination, but their support for the candidate before and after the examination is vital.

    The viva can take place with the Chair and candidate present in one room and with external examiners joining via Zoom or with all participants joining online.

    Given that video conference participants may be in different time zones, this will mean that a viva voce may take place outside of normal working hours.

    Video conference via Zoom is the only form for examiners to attend the viva voce at the current time until further notice. 

    Viva voce duration

    The formal part of the viva voce lasts between one to two hours on average, and PowerPoint presentations are not permitted throughout the oral examination.

    The Chair will briefly discuss with the examiners the process and order of questioning while the candidate is placed in a waiting room. The candidate will be asked to return and commence with a 10-minute oral summary of the thesis.

    After the formal part of the viva voce, the examiners will convene with the Chair to document their final recommended classification, observations and conclusions. The candidate is placed in a physical or online waiting room during this time before the final recommendation is announced.

    Role of the viva voce Chair

    The Chair is appointed by the Graduate Research School (GRS) on recommendation from the School. Chairs are senior academic registered as a Level 2 or Level 3 supervisor, and are normally from a discipline area related to the thesis topic, but have had no direct involvement with the candidate's PhD.

    The primary role of the Chair is to ensure that the viva voce process runs smoothly, to take notes during the examination and record the deliberations and decisions of the examiners. If deemed necessary, they may attempt to refocus the conversation or pause the examination if any of the participants need a break.

    The Chair should ensure that the examiners are aware of the viva voce process at UWA, and agree on the order of questioning to the mutual satisfaction of both examiners. They are responsible for introducing the candidate to the examiners and for ensuring the candidate begins the process with a presentation of around 10 minutes.

    It is also important that at the end of the examiners' questions, the candidate is given the opportunity to provide any further information or clarification that they feel is relevant before being asked to leave the room while the examiners deliberate.

    The viva voce is not recorded and the Chair's notes will act as the official record of the event. The Chair is not required to have read the thesis, although it is recommended that they have access to a copy, and review at least the abstract and contents.

    The Chair does not participate actively in the discussions about the classification of award, beyond interpreting UWA policies as necessary, recording the final recommendation to the BGRS, the nature of the revisions required to the thesis, and providing a summary of the examiners' views on how the candidate performed during the viva voce in the examination report.

    Examiners' decision after the viva voce

    Once the examiners have concluded their decisions about the candidate's viva voce and a recommendation is made, the candidate is invited back from the waiting room to receive the outcome.

    This recommendation allows the candidate to clarify any questions about required corrections or other aspects of the process. This recommendation is also passed on the BGRS to make a final decision.

    It is possible for the recommendation to be different from that anticipated based on the preliminary reports. Should the outcome be more negative than expected, it is the Chair's responsibility to capture the reasons for this in the examination report.

    Where the outcome is more positive, the Chair needs to summarise aspects of the written reports that need to be addressed, in addition to any further recommendations that emerged from the viva voce.