Research Supervisor Support and Development Programme: Monitoring, Assessment, Examiners and Viva

It is the start of a semester and you estimate that your research student will be ready to submit thesis for examination in about 4-5 months’ time. What are the steps you (as supervisor) should take to progress the assessment process?

With this intriguing question, Karen O’Shea (Director of assessment at UCD Graduate Studies), kicked off the last meeting in a series of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin, Ireland

Submission of thesis and selection of examiners

Ms. O’Shea  advised to check the policy first. Finding an external examiner for the viva is often a problem, because you’re working with all eligible people. When choosing the external examiner, find out if there is a conflict. Make sure the student is registered and the fees are compliant. Once the process begins, it must end (when you sign off the thesis submission form, that’s when you’re quitting the supervision). But what if you’re not happy with the thesis – can’t sign it is the most logical and honest answer. So, when do you say, ok, it’s ready for submission? At the day of the viva, the supervisor can accompany the student to the viva room, but has to stay quiet. Finally, the exam regulations change, but not often.

Transfers and red flags
Professor Julie Berndsen (Dean of Graduate Studies) said the stage transfer (assessment) was the most popular and beneficial element of UCD’s structured PhD. The transfer assessors should do a fairly considerate decision about the student’s progress. Research master’s degree is not a failed PhD. Transfer to the 2nd stage is not a guarantee of a PhD. You can’t challenge the verdict, but you can challenge the process of the transfer.

Preparation for the viva voce
Professor Ben Tonra (Head of School, Politics & International Relations) asked “What do you fear? Your investment?” To have a PhD student is the most terrifying thing for some. They worry that the thesis won’t pass. Examinable doesn’t equal passable. In some sense it’s their work and they’re not letting go. The sense of being in charge is very high in some disciplines. But the problem is our problem; it’s going to look shitty on us if they don’t pass. Let’s be honest. We’re invested in this. At the point of submission, they’re your colleagues. Whose project is this?
The PhD is a regulated process, but there’s a lot of vigour room. One of the big challenges is plagiarism. Memorandum at school level about who’s doing what on the day of viva is useful. Don’t just trust the process, follow up that things are happening.

Do a mock, dry run of the viva presentation.

This post offered my views on the fifth meeting of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin, Ireland. The programme was targeted at new and experienced faculty who would like to refresh their knowledge in the area. The 5 last-Friday workshops were based on sharing of practices with experienced supervisors and students, case studies, open forum discussions and knowledge sharing with colleagues on policy in the research supervisory field. I covered the previous meetings in the posts about leadersstyles, recruitment and pitfalls.  Thank you for watching this space for my observations from these workshops.