An oral defense of a written dissertation is a requirement for most doctoral programs in the world, yet little has been written about this exam. The numerous how-to guides tend to focus on offering “survival strategies” to doctoral students and have largely failed to reveal the nature of the defense. Also missing in these books is doctoral student voices about the experience of defending their dissertation. This chapter explores the nature of the doctoral dissertation defense and its significance in the doctoral experience. It synthesizes ideas from how-to guides, findings from the existing research literature, and findings from the author’s ongoing study. In particular, the chapter draws on interviews with recent PhD graduates as well as observation notes taken by the author (a PhD candidate) from several successful dissertation defenses in order to open up a space for doctoral student voices about this exam. It also raises questions for supervisors and their doctoral students to consider and discuss when preparing for the dissertation defense.
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Here’s a short video about my dissertation viva that I did last week – it counted for 20% of the overall mark for the dissertation! We do our dissertations in third year at Uni and mine was all about rheumatoid arthritis – I designed the title and my project myself – focusing on an appreciation towards current rheumatoid arthritis treatment regimes and existing disease state burden in the UK.