The PhD viva, or viva voce examination, is a significant milestone in a doctoral candidate’s academic journey. It is an oral examination where candidates defend their research and answer questions posed by an examination panel.
While candidates often prepare extensively for their viva, it is common to encounter unexpected questions that can catch them off guard.
In this article, we will explore some strategies and tips on how to handle unexpected questions during your PhD viva.
How to Answer Unexpected Questions During PhD Viva?
1. Stay Calm and Composed
When faced with an unexpected question, it is essential to remain calm and composed. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have acquired in-depth knowledge and expertise in your research area.
Avoid panicking or becoming defensive. Remember, the examiners are not trying to catch you out; they are genuinely interested in understanding your work better.
2. Listen Attentively
Active listening is crucial during your viva. Pay close attention to the question being asked, ensuring you understand its nuances and implications.
Avoid interrupting the examiner and allow them to finish before formulating your response. Listening attentively demonstrates respect and enables you to provide a more thoughtful and relevant answer.
3. Don’t Rush
When faced with an unexpected question, it can be tempting to rush into answering to fill the silence. However, it’s important to take your time. Pause for a moment to gather your thoughts and structure your response.
Think about the question from different angles and consider the key points you want to address. Responding thoughtfully demonstrates your ability to think critically and provides a more coherent answer.
5. Provide a Clear and Structured Response
When answering unexpected questions, aim to provide a clear and structured response. Begin by restating the question to ensure clarity and show your understanding.
Then, outline a logical structure for your answer, breaking it down into key points or arguments. This approach helps you organize your thoughts and ensures that your answer is coherent and easy to follow.
6. Be Prepared to Defend Your Answers
During the viva, examiners may challenge or probe your answers further. Be prepared to defend your responses by providing additional evidence, examples, or logical reasoning.
Embrace these challenges as opportunities to demonstrate your research skills and ability to think critically. Defending your answers showcases your confidence in your work and your willingness to engage in scholarly debate.
7. Take Your Time
It’s important not to rush into answering a question immediately, especially if it catches you off guard. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and structure your response. Consider the question from different angles and organize your ideas.
While it is crucial to maintain a steady pace during the viva, there is no harm in taking a few seconds to formulate a thoughtful and coherent answer.
8. Break Down the Question
Complex questions can be overwhelming, especially when they cover multiple aspects of your research. To tackle such questions effectively, break them down into smaller components. Identify the key elements and address them one by one.
This approach allows you to provide a comprehensive response while ensuring that you cover all the essential points.
9. Relate the Question to Your Research
When answering unexpected questions, always try to relate them to your research. Connect the question to your findings, methodology, or theoretical framework. By doing so, you demonstrate a deep understanding of your work and its relevance to the broader research landscape.
Relating the question to your research also helps you stay focused and ensures that your answer remains pertinent.
10. Be Honest and Transparent
If you encounter a question to which you do not know the answer, it is better to be honest about it rather than attempting to bluff your way through.
Admitting that you are unsure about a specific aspect shows integrity and intellectual honesty.
However, don’t stop there. Use this opportunity to discuss how you would approach finding an answer or explore potential directions for future research.
11. Seek Feedback and Clarification
After answering a question, if you are unsure whether your response fully satisfied the examiner’s inquiry, don’t hesitate to seek feedback or ask if they would like further clarification.
This shows your commitment to ensuring a comprehensive understanding and provides an opportunity to clarify any potential misunderstandings.
12. Practice, Practice, Practice
One of the best ways to prepare for unexpected questions is through practice. Engage in mock viva sessions with your peers, supervisor, or other experienced academics.
Practice answering a wide range of questions, including those that go beyond your immediate research area. This exercise will boost your confidence, improve your ability to think on your feet, and help you develop effective strategies for addressing unexpected queries.
13. Reflect and Learn
Regardless of the outcome of your viva, remember that it is a valuable learning experience. Reflect on the questions you encountered and your responses. Identify areas where you excelled and areas that require improvement.
Use this feedback to enhance your research, critical thinking skills, and ability to articulate complex concepts effectively.
Facing unexpected questions during your PhD viva can be challenging, but with the right mindset and preparation, you can navigate them successfully.
Stay calm, seek clarification when needed, and take your time to craft thoughtful responses. Embrace the opportunity for intellectual engagement, be honest about your limitations, and always relate the questions back to your research.
Remember, the viva is not just an examination but also a chance to showcase your expertise and engage in a meaningful academic discussion.