Get me outta here!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Viva voce: Scripting the ends ahead of time

Life has taught me to always plan with the end result in mind. Learning scenario analyses, usability assessments, risk assessments, and various methodology and technical courses in Ergonomics and Psychology further reinforced my impression that this “thinking backwards” approach is valuable and productive, and this is what I always stress to students and researchers alike. A talk by Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail and a recent consultation with some ECRs have suggested the need to re-emphasise this approach.

While this approach is best undertaken in the early stages of a project, focusing on and preparing for the end product is especially crucial in the last few miles of a PhD journey. So, if you are at the stage of focused writing, finalising thesis for examination, or preparing for a viva voce (Latin for ‘by live voice'), answering the following questions is the best course of action to begin this process.


  • In one sentence, what is your thesis?
  • What is your thesis about?
  • Explain in your own words what you have done?
  • Why did you undertake a PhD?
  • What have you done that merits a PhD?
  • What is original in your thesis?
  • What's original about your work? What is your original contribution?
  • Summarise your key findings.
  • How would you describe your methodology, and why did you decide to use this?
  • How do your findings relate to the literature?
  • What are the contributions (to knowledge) of your thesis?
  • How did your research questions emerge?
  • What are the motivations for your research? Why is the problem you have tackled worth tackling?
  • Why is the problem you have investigated worth investigating?
  • What is the relevance of your contributions to other researchers?
  • What is the relevance of your contributions to industry?
  • Who are your envisioned users? What use would your work be in situation X?
  • What are the strongest/weakest parts of your work?
  • What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD?
  • What do you consider the weaknesses of your study? (acknowledge the weaknesses but don’t take up too much time here)
  • Has your view of your research topic changed during the course of the research?
  • What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD?
  • Have you achieved your research aims? 
  • What is the contribution of your thesis to scholarly knowledge? 
  • Summarise your key findings 
  • Why did you choose this topic? 
  • Why have you chosen to organise your research into these stages/chapters?
  • Is it possible to draw a general rule from your single observations? 
  • How have you evaluated your work? 
  • How do you know that your findings are correct? 
  • How do your findings relate to the critical literature in this field of studies?
  • What have you done to be awarded a PhD?

 Basic knowledge in areas related to the topic

  • Who are the main stakeholders in this research? In which way will they be able to benefit from the results of your research?
  • What have you done?
  • Why have you done it?
  • How did you do it?
  • What have you found?
  • What are the implications of these?
  • Why did you do the research this way?
  • Why not that way?
  • What do we know now that we did not know before you started your PhD?

Questions about specific aspects (e.g., for topic X)

  • How does your work relate to X?
  • What do you know about the history of this particular aspect of your research?
  • What is the current state of the art in X? (capabilities and limitations of existing systems)
  • What are the recent major developments in this topic?
  • Which are the most important papers concerning this aspect of your research?
  • Why have you tackled this problem in this way?
  • Where do current technologies fail such that you (could) make a contribution?
  • How does/could your work enhance the state of the art in X?
  • Who are the main ‘players' in X? (cluster together papers written by the same people)
  • Who are the competitors or critics in X?
  • Which are the three most important papers in X?
  • What are the recent major developments in X?
  • How do you expect X to progress over the next five years? How long-term is your contribution, given the anticipated future developments in X?

Research question(s)/ theory

  • What was the original problem/research question?
  • In which theoretical frame of reference were you able to place these research questions?
  • How was the research question modified as a result of the literature question?
  • Why was it changed?
  • Specifically, which authors most influenced you thinking about your research question?
  • In what way does your research question seek to establish a new theory, refute an old theory or develop an extension of the old theory?

Method(s) and defending methodology

  • How would you describe your research methodology?
  • Describe your methodological approach.
  • What influenced you to choose this approach to your research?
  • Why did you choose this method to analyse your topic?
  • What other research methods did you give serious consideration to, and why did you reject them?
  • What are the alternatives to your approach?
  • What would you say were the methodology difficulties you experience whilst doing your research, and how did you overcome these challenges?
  • How would you advise your research students on the choice of the research process and methodology?
  • What are the philosophical assumptions underpinning your methodology? E.g., epistemology, positivism, etc.
  • Did you undertake a pilot, and if so, how would you describe its outcome?
  • How did you locate a suitable interview people for the interview?
  • How do you know the people that you used representative? If it is not how do you defend its use?
  • What sort of research protocol did you use?
  • How did you decide when you had enough information to proceed with your analysis?
  • How would you describe the achievements of your fieldwork?
  • What, on reflection, are the limitations, if any, of the approach you used in your fieldwork?
  • Would your approach be as effective for other periods and places?
  • What have you learned by carrying out your PhD?
  • Why have you done it this way? You need to justify your approach - don't assume the examiners share your views.
  • Why didn't you do it the way everyone else does it? This requires having done extensive reading?
  • What are the alternatives to your approach?
  • What do you gain by your approach? 
  • What would you gain by approach X? 
  • Looking back, what might you have done differently? This requires a thoughtful answer while defending what you did at the time.
  • What would you do differently if you were starting now?
  • What would you do differently today if you were to start again?
  • How have you evaluated your work?
  • How have you demonstrated that it works, and how well it performs?
  • How have you demonstrated its usefulness for a specific application context?
  • What do your results mean?
  • How would your system cope with bigger examples? Does it scale up? This is especially important if you have only run your system on `toy' examples, and they think it has `learned its test-data'.
  • How do you know that your algorithm/rules are correct?
  • How could you improve your work?
  • How do your contributions generalise? 
  • To what extent would they generalise to systems other than the one you've worked on? 
  • Under what circumstances would your approach be useable?

Analysis and results

  • What analytical techniques/methods/tools did you use to help you understand the data you collected on your case study?
  • Why did you choose these specific tools?
  • What other tools did you consider, and why did you reject them?
  • How would you describe your thesis?
  • How did you arrive at your final thesis?
  • In what way does it contribute to the theory, methodology, and practice?
  • How do you regard your work from the point of view of the validity and reliability of the findings?
  • What are the important lessons from your research in terms of personal development and from a contribution to X area?

Future dissemination and plans

  • Outline where you think future development of your ideas could lead and how this might be done?
  • What is the area in which you wish to be examined? (particularly difficult and important if your thesis fits into several areas, or has several aspects, or seems to fit into an area of its own as mine does).
  • Which topics overlap with your area?
  • Where will you publish your work - which journals? Think about which journals and conferences your research would best suit.
  • How might the results of this research be converted into a practical application or outcome?
  • What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of your research?
  • What questions have you discovered in your research that still need to be explored by further work?
  • Where might this research go from here?
  • Do you have any plans for publication?
  • Which aspects of your thesis are worth publishing?
  • Where will you publish your work?
  • What is the relevance of your contribution to other researchers?
  • How do you expect the research in your field to progress over the next few years?
  • Where do you think your research will move in the future?
  • What have you learned from undertaking this study?
  • What are the wider applications of your findings – empirically and theoretically?
  • What now?
  • What is the best advice or recommendation can you give to the future candidate related to this topic?
  • Can you now consider yourself as an expert in this field? Why?
  • Why do you think that your thesis has achieved the PhD /Master standard / level?

Sources for these questions

Other relevant / important resources:

Final note

There are considerably more resources available now, so this list is really just a selection (just google viva PhD examination or its variations for more). Also, this list is only a guide and by no way comprehensive, so do not take these questions literally. Each viva, topic, field, and examiners are unique, and examiners may ask differently. What's usually the areas of concern are (i) research problems or issues and their rationale, (ii) research questions, (iii) justifications for methods undertaken, and (iv) significance and contributions of the study. Either way, preparation and practice will help decrease anxiety and give us an idea of what to expect. It is best to overprepare rather than to appear complacent. So, prepare, prepare, and prepare. Then, practice, practice, and practice again.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Using blogs in statistics assessment

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Teaching statistics and methods courses have different meanings to different instructor / educator. Adding authenticity and experimenting something different have always been the drive behind the teaching, learning, and assessments of the courses that I taught. So, when the new curriculum structure for our Bachelor’s degree was implemented in September 2017, everyone taking Psychological Statistics was required to develop a group project via blog as a part of the assessment of the course. In this project, students collected data using established scales, carried out the whole steps in data analysis using IBM SPSS Statistics, and recorded how they performed each of the steps in a blog. 

This transition to the new curriculum and blog assessment (together with the shift to mass lectures due to high student enrolment and attrition among faculty at the same time) was not without its challenges. But we persevered. Because the students are still learning the nuances of the course, their level of understanding, knowledge, and statistical or even blogging skills can sometimes limit their contribution, and their work may not be as polished as that of advanced level learners. However, I am keeping their blog list below for my record and for anyone seeking an idea on what to do (or not to do). 
SEMESTER 2, 2017/2018
SEMESTER 1, 2018/2019

SEMESTER 2, 2018/2019