Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Generic viva questions

Rowena Murray provides a set of questions for the viva, both in her 2003 book and in this pdf file from Strathclyde. Supervisors sent me a copy of Andrew Broad's Nasty PhD Viva Questions, which you can find as pdf here.
Before my mock viva, I attempted written answers to all of these, which was interesting because of my initial and my thought-out reactions. For example:
What is the area in which you wish to be examined?
Er, no thank you. I don't wish to be examined. No! Start again.
In one sentence, what is your thesis?
My thesis is that engagement between people is a cyclic and self-reinforcing phenomenon that can be analysed in terms of six interacting behaviours and conditions that form cycles, that might be described as threads, banners or wedges.
But these were generic questions so not as useful as the specific questions that my mock examiner thought up after reading my thesis, like for example,
Why is engagement important to be studied in a public sector context?
I addressed such the question of why the public sector here two years ago, because of
"the conviction that government is given crucial work that society very much needs to have performed well"
Why is engagement important to the public sector? Because a common cause of project failure is lack of effective engagement with stakeholders (OGC, 2002) and in the public sector, engagement is “a critical element of a consulting project” (NAO, 2006a).


Murray, R. 2003. How to Survive Your Viva : Defending a Thesis in an Oral Examination. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
NAO (2006a) Central Government's use of consultants: Building client and consultant commitment. IN NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (Ed.). HMSO.
OGC (2002) Common Causes of Project Failure. National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Mock viva

"I don't agree with you"
announced my mock examiner. Thank goodness it was a mock because I hadn't explained myself well enough, though I did have the argument in my thesis. So by facing a mock exam, I came to understand what they mean by 'defending your thesis'. My mock examiner was terrific at asking nasty questions, questions that I hadn't imagined, and none of her questions were on the list of generic nasty questions that I'd practised, but the practice helped me to articulate my defence.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to blog some of these questions, and my more considered responses. Blogging must help me to work out what I want to say, and if you readers think of any issues, do ask.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Exam panel

Today the research school tells me that they now have the exam panel, so only today did they send off the thesis to the examiners. That means despite my giving two months notice that I was going to submit in February, despite my delaying till the 7th March, despite them having the thesis more than a week now, they sat on it and did not send it off immediately. I am not impressed by this useless delay.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Short sentences

Your writing style is cryptic
advised my supervisor.

My fellow PhD student and Open University blogger, Minh, has blogged on writing for his PhD here and here, for instance. Now, Minh, like me, has an IT background and, like me, has a tendency to produce short sentences on the grounds that short is better, but his supervisor, like mine, has asked for longer sentences and dislikes the clipped style we go for. Of course, we follow our supervisor's advice, but wonder and grumble.

However, I've begun to be persuaded of the value of longer sentences. I like a short sentence. But that very shortness raises questions in my readers' mind, for instance:
  • Why do I like short sentences?
  • Under what circumstances?
  • And what do I mean by short?
My supervisor says to make it easy on any reader by answering those questions, and I can't answer them if I write short sentences. I could of course write a series of short sentences:
I like short sentences.
Short sentences give one idea.
One idea is enough to cope with.
But the problem with that approach is that it sounds dogmatic and unreflective, which is not what I want my reader to think, especially my examiner. It's a style that doesn't explain enough, focused (which I like) on one purpose, but suggests the writer is not considering alternative points of view, and considering alternative points of view is something that a PhD student must do and demonstrate the doing thereof.

So I'm convinced about the PhD needing a writing style that uses longer sentences, and my supervisor's comment:
"Your writing style is cryptic"
is now self-evident!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Implications for practitioners

Busy day:
  1. Computing tutorial given in morning
  2. Go to campus to office to collect final print of thesis to read again on Sunday
  3. Go out to black tie evening event
I get home between items 2 and 3 to have a phone call from a practitioner who's read my thesis, and has feedback for me. Wey hey! Am I pleased.

He tells me that I should use the six components of engagement to develop a checklist for specific actions on each component, so I get a set of ideas and develop practical guidelines in a handbook for practitioners. How cool is that? It sounds like a potential publication because he believes what I've written.

Now I just have to edit my thesis a bit in time for Monday.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

I think I can, I think I can

I think I can submit. I think I can submit.

The little engine that could was a story of a tiny train that struggled up a hill with a load of toys for children, puffing
"I think I can. I think I can. I think I can."
I read it to my children, and it inspires me too. Wikipedia reminds me of its last lines:
"As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, "I--think--I--can, I--think--I--can." It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, "I thought I could, I thought I could."

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Light at the end of the thesis

Just as this PhD student sees the light at the end of the thesis, a passing academic asks me:
Do you know what a bureaucrat does when he sees light at the end of the tunnel?
Orders more tunnel!
Don't tell my supervisor that.

See the Piled Higher and Deeper cartoon here.