Investigating the role of convenors in the PhD viva

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The oral examination, or the viva voce, is the culmination of the doctoral examination process in many traditions. In these traditions, the chair or convenor facilitates the viva. The idea of convenors is one that has not been discussed at length within the literature of higher education. In this paper, we explore the findings of a qualitative survey that aimed to gain insights into the role of convenors in an oral examination and their views of the oral examination process at a research-intensive university in New Zealand. 55 convenors responded to the survey. The key findings of the survey indicate that convenors’ practices are embedded with ideas of pastoral care for the candidates through four key strategies: 1) preparing candidates by setting expectations, 2) making the candidate feel at ease, 3) inviting a support person to attend and 4) building the candidate’s confidence. These strategies have rarely been discussed in studies about vivas, and this study provides key insight for candidates, doctoral examiners, supervisors and policymakers.

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Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education

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