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Having a PhD viva using Zoom
By: Jessica Gowers
Last updated: Thursday, 23 April 2020
Noora Nevala recently successfully defended her PhD in Neuroscience via Zoom. If you have your viva coming up and aren’t sure what to expect, Noora has answered some questions below:
Was your Zoom call completely closed, as in the presentation was just between you and your examiners?
At first, I gave a pre-viva talk for the whole of the Neuroscience subject group. This was an open Zoom, and my supervisor advertised the link for this Zoom meeting on our mailing list. There was no password or anything; everyone was able to join. The actual viva after this was a closed Zoom meeting with a password, and there was only me, the examiners and the chair.
Did you experience any technical difficulties?
Everything went surprisingly well. I was already familiar with Zoom, because I had used it with our lab meetings and with friends.
On the day before my viva I practised with my friend about setting Zoom meetings with and without password, how to kick out people (in case of unwanted people joining), that links for the meetings worked, etc. With my friend I also practised giving my talk through the screen share with normal PowerPoint slides.
This practice was especially useful, as some of my videos were too slow for the audience and I was able to replace them with normal still images. On the actual pre-viva talk, everything went well. At the beginning I asked everyone to mute their microphones and turn off their cameras, so that there was minimal distraction from unnecessary sounds from their homes and so that their videos wouldn't put extra load on my computer running the slides, etc. After the talk people asked some questions. A
fter these my examiners had a ~10 minute chat alone before we started the actual viva. During the viva my internet stopped working once, so I just had to join the meeting again. This didn't cause any problems and my examiners understood completely.
What support did you find useful from the University and elsewhere?
Unfortunately, there was no "prepare for your viva" workshops available when I needed one. However, I contacted the people who normally organize these, and they sent me some slides and a Canvas page, where I found advice on how to prepare for your viva.
To be honest, I felt a little bit "left alone" when I found out that my viva would be online and that all participants would be in separate locations. I don't blame our university for this, as the coronavirus situation was still quite fresh and the measures on how to deal with everything and how to do things were still a work in progress.
On my case it was more about bad timing. It made me extremely stressed and at some point, I was borderline panicking, but I did receive support from my supervisor which was very helpful.
[The University of Sussex is now offering training on preparing for your viva online.]
How much did you communicate with your supervisor(s) and internal examiner in the run-up to the viva?
I communicated with my supervisor a lot, but that's how my whole PhD has been. As for preparing for my viva, we went through my slides for the pre-viva talk and on Friday (as my viva was on Monday) we had a last "pep talk" meeting together for encouragement, etc. With the internal examiner we were in contact on details of how to organize the Zoom meetings, timings and about getting the permission for online viva (as we didn't get any confirmation from the University until less than a week before my viva).
Were you required to set up the call or did the internal examiner control things?
In the end I set up the Zoom meetings for the pre-viva talk and the actual viva, but I did all of these in the way that the internal examiner was informed of beforehand, and we had agreed to do it like this.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?
There's a lot of things I wish had gone differently, but those things are because of the coronavirus situation and University staff also being "in shock" and only setting up the protocols on how to do things during these difficult times. It was just unfortunate that my viva had to happen when nobody really knew how things work and what should be done.
Considering the situation, I think everything went surprisingly well, even though it required a bit extra from my side. Personally, I don't think I could've done anything better (except maybe answer some of the examiners' questions better, haha).
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