In mid-November CCW Graduate School held its second annual MPhil/PhD Intensive Week, a programme of research workshops. The week focuses on practice and aims to introduce students to the particular expertise and experience of members of CCW’s research staff. The week includes four workshops, each looking at the spaces and domains of research in art and design under the headings of Studio (Mark Fairnington), Viva (Paul Coldwell), Social Space (Marsha Bradfield) and Text and Practice (Jo Melvin).
‘The viva represents the culmination of the years of study towards a research degree and the student’s “appointment with destiny”, whereby the claims and arguments posited in the thesis can be tested,’ said Coldwell. ‘In many ways the viva is such a unique event that no amount of preparation can cover every eventuality, but a clear understanding of the process and the roles of everyone involved certainly helps. By understanding what purpose the viva serves, the student can hopefully enter into the process and enjoy the experience. After all, the whole focus of the viva is on the student’s research, and the opportunity to discuss or even “lock horns” with senior academics in the field should be an experience to savour. The idea of giving a robust defence of the thesis was explored and the manner in which the student should be seen to be taking ownership of the research territory as laid out in their thesis.
While each examination team is different, and of course, that each thesis demands its own particular scrutiny, the appointment of an independent chair, drawn from a pool of experienced examiners within UAL ensures that each viva is conducted within the guidelines and that our university regulations are strictly adhered to. My workshop set out to explain the preparation for the event, what happens on the day itself and what follows. It also explored various ways in which the visual material could be presented and the importance throughout of seeing the thesis as all the work to be examined- practical and written. I hope the session served to de-mysterfy the viva and answer some of the concerns and fears that students invariably harbour. From my perspective, it was a very engaging and enjoyable session with everyone participating.’
CCW PhD student Elizabeth Manchester discussed her experience in Coldwell’s workshop. ‘In his extremely useful seminar, Paul presented lots of eminently sensible and practical advice about how to approach your viva. He recommended things that should be completely obvious but sadly aren’t – like reading your thesis through several times so that you take ownership of it and can refer back to it in those high pressure moments (instead of kicking yourself afterwards when you realise that you had actually answered the question in depth several pages in, something I can imagine myself doing only too easily). He took us through all the nitty-gritty basics, such as who will be there, what the main aim of the process is, and then showed us pictures of viva set-ups, giving us a range of examples of how previous PhD candidates had dealt with that difficult issue of how to present the practice element of the research. Above all, he emphasised the positive aspects of this event: the fact that it is an opportunity not only for a real encounter with your research, but also for a really in-depth discussion of it, involving an exchange of ideas with academics in your field. Putting your work and ideas centre-stage – what could be more stimulating and exciting?!’