mcgillcrest(Errata: earlier I had written “Congratulations you are not a PhD” but it should read “Congratulations you are a PhD”)

(Another Errata: while I earlier gave the impression that the external examiner is the final word, actually the external examiner’s word is authoritative but not final and the doctoral VIVA still can fail the presenter)

I got to attend a doctoral Viva yesterday; and this is my brief report of the proceedings.

The VIVA had 6 people from various departments, including the in-house doctoral supervisor. The doctoral viva was chaired by someone outside the department (from the department of Physics, I think). The student, S.S.M. (who I’ve gotten to know at The Presbyterian College) was defending his work on Thomas Torrance’s Eschatology.

It seems that at McGill, when the doctoral work is presented to an external examiner, if the external examiner passes the work then it works hugely in your favour. The VIVA, while still important, tends to work along with the recommendation of the examiner unless there are major problems in the work.

So S.S.M.’s dissertation had been “accepted” by the examiner, and what followed was simply the questioning process. Interestingly, the examiner wasn’t present in the room… though his comments were available to the VIVA panel, and some members raised questions based on the examiner’s comments.

S.S.M was given about 15 minutes to present his summary. After that, each faculty present was given 15 minutes to ask questions. After each faculty had their turn, the chair then asked each faculty if they had any final question/comment. Then the chair EVEN ASKED THE AUDIENCE/OBSERVERS if there was any comment/question. Finally, S.S.M. was asked to leave the room (along with the audience/observers) and in a few minutes, he was told, congratulations you are a PhD!

Some of the comments on S.S.M’s work included about the “criteria for bookends”; which is to say that S.S.M. was referring to Thomas’s earlier work from 1939-1963, and the basis of “1963” was being asked. Then, there were many questions that asked whether Torrance was rightly (and how) situated to his past (influences), contemporaries and future (spin-offs).

While there were no “major” questions about the work, I was really surprised to see that S.S.M’s doctoral supervisor make the strongest/harshest comments about the work… calling many places unclear.  Shouldn’t the supervisor be “most” sympathetic of the work… since he has approved it? (was my thought). But I guess that it’s not necessary to agree with all things… when approving submission.

It was interesting also that many the questions were posed ON Torrance, rather than the defender’s view of Torrance (ie. there were less questions about S.S.M’s thesis proposal, and more about Torrance and what views Torrance had about this or that).

The whole process took about 1 hour, and as a few of us observers waited outside with S.S.M., it seemed that there would be some changes, or corrections proposed. (though I didn’t know that the thesis was already recommended for approval by the external examiner… which certainly helped his case).

So, I was all the more surprised when the doctoral VIVA panelists called S.S.M back without recommending any corrections. Perhaps the supervisor will suggest them later, or perhaps they are not needed at all.

Interestingly, the VIVA ended with some Cherry-Wine drink that nobody liked… but was a kind of replacement of champagne.  I guess that’s a good touch… if the student passes. Otherwise, it could be quite a pain to drink with the panelists who have failed you!!!

After it, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve seen the SAIACS doctoral VIVA’s as being much harder on the students. But I guess that’s just another system.

The next doctoral VIVA I hope to attend is on the 25th of November.