One of the vital elements of a PhD in the UK is the Viva, or “viva voce”. (Or, if you’re an American, the thesis defense!) It is an oral examination of the PhD research. It is an opportunity to discuss your research with an expert in your field. And, importantly, it is an opportunity to prove your worth in the Academy.
Before you get to the viva, you have to make sure that you have a qualified, knowledgeable examination team. The structure of that team might vary from one institution to the next, and even between disciplines. But one thing they’ll have in common is that the examiners will know their stuff!
At my university, the viva includes both an external and internal examiner with your panel chair acting as the chair and moderator. Supervisors are only allowed if the student says it’s OK, but they are not allowed to speak during the examination. (I am inviting my supervisors. They’re a wonderful support to me and I would be happy to have them there… if they dare!)
The examiners are generally identified by the supervision team (with potential input from the student) and are confirmed by the Research Degrees Committee. That confirmation is based on the relevant experience of the team and is determined based on a thesis abstract and the examiners’ CVs, relevant publications, and previous examination experience.
And confirming your examiners is a big deal! It means you’re getting a bit closer to your viva, which means you’re getting pretty darn near to submitting your thesis.
As for me, I submitted the relevant form (RD12) and accompanying information for approval today. Which means I’m close to being ready for my viva. Or, at least, it means I should be close! I still have a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, of writing to do. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Very slowly.
I don’t know if I’m able to share my abstract or the names of my chosen examiners yet. And I don’t know when the committee will formally accept my suggested people. So… I won’t share that information here today. But I did want to share this important milestone.
But for now… it’s back to that thesis writing thing that I should be working on…
My last (hopefully, my last!) RD6 review meeting was this afternoon. I say my last because I am hoping (praying!!) that I will have submitted my PhD thesis before the next round of these 6-monthly review meetings take place. So… let’s all hope together that this was my last!
Unfortunately, I was not as far along in my thesis writing as I had hoped to be when I met with my full supervision team today. But I am feeling mostly confident that I have things under control.
I felt a bit frustrated admitting to my panel chair that I have not delivered any completed thesis chapters to my PhD supervisors. And I felt even more frustrated because I don’t have an honest idea of when I will be able to do so. I mean, I’m working on things, but I have been struggling to find a way forward!
Still, I was left feeling confident enough to know (to think, at least) that I will be able to submit my thesis before summer gets into full swing. I was also left feeling confident that I am ready to submit my RD12 form, which is the determination of my viva examiners.
Over the next several weeks, I will be writing, writing, and writing. And when I have time, I will do a bit of writing, too. After all, as much as I like my supervision team, I don’t really fancy meeting them for another RD6 review!
Like many people, I look forward to attending conferences because I am excited to hear presentations on papers and current research. However, this conference was more than that for me. This was an opportunity to meet with other academics to discuss my research, our common research interests, and potential collaborations. In fact, my overall goals for this conference were aimed at building my academic confidence and further my researcher networks.
In preparation for the conference, my PhD supervisor (Professor Hazel Hall) and I created a flyer detailing the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) at Edinburgh Napier University. This way, I had something (other than a business card) to share with people who were interested in potential collaborations with me or others in the CSI. It was also a useful hand-out for the night of the University Reception, where Hazel and I (wo)manned an information table for the CSI that we shared with two other Scottish universities (University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow).
Dr Roued-Cunliffe met a couple of times over the course of the conference and she provided me with some great insights (leading to increased confidence!) for how to explain different aspects of my research. There are a few parallels to our academic journeys (which are quite different!) and it was refreshing to hear the views and opinions of someone who seems to have a good understanding of some of my concerns. I was so grateful for her input at the conference and am even more grateful that she has agreed to keep in touch, should I have any future questions or challenges that I want to run past her.
The rest of the colloquium session was quite useful in a “general” PhD manner. Whilst we didn’t speak directly about our individual research projects or thesis-related questions, we did engage in some useful round-table discussions about life as a researcher and academic life in general. In addition to the doctoral students, there was a good group of established academics with a range of experiences. The one-on-one meetings with Dr Roued-Cunliffe were probably more useful in the short-term, but the discussions (and, importantly) the connections with other academics and doctoral students will certainly prove to be invaluable in the longer term. (I’m too focused on the short-term right now, as I am preparing for my major write-up time!)
I attended a variety of paper sessions and talks over the course of the conference, too. Whilst they were all quite interesting, my favourite sessions were (1) Digital Sociology and Information Science Research and (2) New Takes on Information Behaviour. The first session was a great opportunity to talk about the changing climate of information studies, with inclusion of “digital” interests in other domains (in this case, sociology). It helped to remind me that there are many crossovers from information science into other disciplines—something I have long known, but I still struggle to fully appreciate. The second session was about information behaviour, but my main takeaway was new takes on methods of investigation for information behaviour studies. And when I think about the two sessions combined, I think that it would have been very interesting to have a round-table discussion about digital sociology’s role in information behaviour. (Just think about the interesting research methods you could come up with there!)
The conference was also a very social one. There were lunches and evening receptions each day, but as most people were staying at the conference hotel, even breakfast was an opportunity to meet with other conference-goers. In fact, some of my greatest networking moments happened whilst waiting in the queue at the omelette bar!
ASIST really was a great event for me, and I am so pleased to have been able to attend. I have come away from the conference feeling a bit more confident about my own place within the international Information Science family. I have also come away with some great ideas and insights for how best to explain some of my research in my thesis. And I owe it all to Cilip and the John Campbell Trust!
I won’t be attending any more conferences until next year now, but I do have a few lectures and one-day workshops and training sessions to look forward to. Of course, there’s also a question of that pesky PhD thesis that needs (a great deal of!) my attention. I am pleased to say that I am feeling very motivated at the moment though, so hopefully, I will manage a great deal of writing over the next few months.
The pre-conference doctoral workshop was a great experience and left me feeling a bit more confident about my theoretical framework. Well, maybe a better way to say that is that the advice helped me to feel more confident about how to explain my theoretical framework for my thesis write-up, anchoring it firmly within information science. I think that knowing the overall concept made sense to established academics in the field helped to build that confidence, too!
In addition to the feedback and advice I received directly related to my own research, the workshop mentors shared some great general advice for the entire group. The advice wasn’t unique, as I’d heard it all before in different contexts and with slightly different wording. However, each time I hear these things I am further inspired by them as they sink in just that little bit more. A common theme to the mentors’ advice was a reminder that “you are not alone”. Despite a PhD being a lonely process on many levels, we have our supervisors and other academic mentors, as well as an entire community of other PhD students. And whilst we are all working on (and struggling with) our own research, we can share the common struggles and stresses. (Blah, blah, blah. Sorry. I have a love-hate relationship with motivational soundbites. I think it’s because I am equal parts hopeful and cynical. But I digress…)
The main conference was an opportunity for me to present a full paper on some of my early findings for Generation X. (Slides below.) I was very pleased with the feedback I received on both the delivery and the content of my presentation—and the further feedback and interest in the paper as a whole. It was a bit of a challenging presentation because I was behind a lectern when I am generally more comfortable walking around a bit so that I can better point and indicate to the slides. However, my (healing, but still poorly) ankle meant that I was safer standing in one place where I was able to lean on the podium for support. I was a bit distracted by the discomfort, but I don’t think it had a negative impact on my delivery.
Of course, the conference as a whole provided me with great opportunities to listen to and network with other academics in my field. There were a few papers delivered at the conference that will be of great assistance to me when I re-visit my literature review this winter. I also made some great connections with established academics whom (I hope) I will be able to contact with questions as I start pulling everything together into one (hopefully!) cohesive PhD thesis.
And I can’t really share a post about ISIC without giving special thanks to the on-site volunteers and coordinators. I’ve always been grateful for those working behind the scenes (especially having been part of event planning teams in the past!) but this time, I am even more grateful than ever. I mean—wow!—what a great group of people! They were alerted ahead of time about my broken ankle, so the moment someone saw me hobbling towards the venue, I was greeted and whisked away to my own personal elevator. The volunteers were really good about making sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed. Yes, at times I felt that I didn’t need the assistance because I felt fine… but maybe I felt fine because I was being given the special treatment! So… thank you to all of the great student and staff volunteers; you are superstars!
Frances is thoughtful, intelligent, and conscientious, exhibiting the attributes of a promising PhD researcher and good academic citizen. Her work has won a number of awards, e.g. best paper at IDIMC2016 and ‘Outstanding contribution to university life’ at Edinburgh Napier in 2016.
I had already planned to attend the ASIS&T annual meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. But now, I shall be attending as a member, which brings an odd sense of pride and self-confidence to it all. After all, I am now a member of a professional information science body. As my pre-PhD academic and professional background is media- and communications-based, an ASIST membership makes me feel a bit less of an academic outsider. (But I acknowledge that I will likely always be a multidisciplinary girl.)
Thank you, ASIS&T. And thank you, Hazel. And thank you, anonymous donor! I will do my best to be a productive, positive member of ASIS&T for years to come!