USW leads on project to help postgraduate research students prepare for viva exams

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The University’s Graduate School is leading on a QAA (the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) project to support postgraduate research students across the UK in preparing for their viva examinations.

Working in partnership with University Alliance, the University of Huddersfield, Coventry University and Sheffield Hallam University, the project aims to enhance support for postgraduate research (PGR) students across the sector by developing a web-based resource of video clips and interactive PDF documents. 

Using the network developed as part of the University Alliance coordinated Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA) programme, the Graduate School plans to contact and use the experiences of PGR students, supervisors, academics and Researcher Development experts from the partner institutions to develop the resources, with the aim of extending to the wider UA-DTA network, which comprises of 19 universities nationwide.

Llinos Spargo, Graduate School Co-ordinator, said: “We feel that such a resource will enhance the learning experience of PGR students, by providing them with real life experiences and possible questions they may face during their viva examination. Such a resource can help them shape and develop their preparations, anticipate potential questions and test out possible answers, which we hope will eliminate some of their fears and concerns.

“We feel this could assist all UK HEIs with preparing their PGR students for examination as well as providing Researcher Developers with an additional resource when facilitating preparing for viva workshop sessions.”

The project team plans to hold a series of focus groups of recently examined PGR students from across the four partner HEIs to help shape the framework for the project. Following these groups, the project will establish a set of themes in which to group the video clips for ease of reference for the end user.

The team also plan to run a small set of focus groups with academics who are experienced Research degree examiners for their experiences; and Researcher Development staff who are experts in supporting PGRs in the development – both of which will help shape the framework.

Llinos added: “Once the framework and brief are finalised, we will then engage with all recently examined PGR students from across all institutions and ask them to record themselves recalling some easy and difficult questions which they faced as well as tips on how they prepared.

“Likewise we will engage with academics who have experience of examining PGR students, and ask them to record themselves giving tips on how to prepare, they could recall their own experience and ask one or two of their favourite questions.

“When we have these recordings, we will review the themes that have evolved against the original themes proposed, and finalise before engaging with an external company to edit the video clips together into a professional web-based video resource.”

All resources, which will be free for all UK HEIs to access, will be available on the USW website later this year, and linked to from the University Alliance Doctoral Training Alliance and other partner web pages.

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