🎙️ How To Ace Your Viva Voce

Three Practical Tips To Help You Defend Your Thesis

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) and Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | July 2024

The viva voce or thesis defence is an event that often leaves students feeling a little intimidated. And understandably so. In this post, we’ll share three practical tips to help you prepare for your defence and enter the viva voce room with confidence.

1. Know both your material and the format

Understanding every detail of your study is a given, but equally important is understanding the specific format of the defence at your institution. This includes knowing the expected duration of the presentation and discussion, whether there’s an audience (and what their role is), and the type of questions typically asked by the examiners. It’s also crucial to familiarise yourself with any changes in your research field that have occurred since you began your project to ensure that your knowledge is current and comprehensive.

Preparing for the unexpected by researching the examiners’ backgrounds can also give you an edge. So, make sure that you understand their areas of expertise and try to anticipate the angles from which they might approach your work. This knowledge can help you tailor your defence to address potential criticisms more effectively.

2. Be ready to discuss both strengths and weaknesses

A successful defence involves not only showcasing the strengths of your research but also openly discussing its limitations. Before your viva voce, take the time to critically assess your work and identify any potential weaknesses or areas for improvement. Prepare reasoned responses to these issues, so that you can demonstrate your analytical ability and depth of understanding.

It can feel a bit uncomfortable, but it’s important to understand that constructive self-criticism shows a mature approach to your research. In practical terms, this means acknowledging that while your study has limitations, these do not detract from the value of your work – but rather point to opportunities for further research. This mindset can help transform perceived weaknesses into demonstrations of your critical thinking and commitment to the field – so, don’t shy away of exploring this side of things.

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3. Invest in presentation – both oral and visual

Provided your institution allows it (see point 1),  you’ll definitely want to invest the time to prepare a clear, concise, and well-organised presentation. Importantly, less is more when it comes to the visuals. Avoid overcrowding your slides with text – no one wants to stare at a wall of text while trying to listen to you. Instead, use your slide deck to complement what you’re saying, sticking to only key figures, quotes, or concise bullet points.

Needless to say, you’ll need to rehearse your presentation multiple times. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can “wing it” – you’ll invariably land up just reading your slides and torturing your audience. Practice speaking clearly and passionately about your research, making eye contact, and engaging your audience. It might sound rather menial, but this sort of preparation work will help you remain calm and focused during the actual defence, even when faced with tough questions.

Wrapping Up

The viva voce is as much about demonstrating your knowledge as it is about showcasing your ability to engage in academic discourse at a high level. By thoroughly preparing, understanding the format, and practicing your presentation, you’ll be able to navigate your defence smoothly and present yourself as a competent academic.

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This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps. If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out...

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