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My viva is coming up, and one of my supervisors is planning to attend. I know that he won't be able to say anything during the viva itself, but I'm a little worried what he might say afterward while the examiners are discussing my fate. He's a good supervisor, and thinks very highly of my work, but he does have a tendency to agree with whomever he's speaking to at the moment. For example, if the examiners were discussing a small potential change to my thesis, I'm afraid his enthusiasm might get the better of him, and he might "volunteer" me to make a bigger change than the examiners expected or even suggest additional experiments which are beyond the scope of my PhD.

Does that scenario seem plausible, or am I worried over nothing? If there is reason to be concerned, I might ask my supervisor not to come, explaining that his presence might "make me more nervous" to avoid hurting his feelings.

If it helps, I'm in a small country which has an academic system very similar to the U.K. I have read Benefits to supervisor presence at viva in the UK?, but my question is a little different since I have a specific concern, and the supervisor in question has already invited himself.

  • Has he done something before that was politically unwise? – Captain Emacs Apr 7 '17 at 13:14
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    @CaptainEmacs yes, a few times. Nothing too serious, but I have reason to be a little concerned. – LaVivaLoca Apr 7 '17 at 13:19
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    Well, if you are worried then you can suggest that having an audience will make you nervous (which is, in a way, true). I have seen a PhD student getting flak from the commission chair (who was not from the field) who asked the student a very exotic question that he wasn't able to answer, but - it turned out - none of the present audience would have been able to answer either (this was a public defense in Germany). The student probably lost a grade for that (PhDs in Germany are graded), although it was pretty much a "loose-cannon" attack with no recourse. It is not your situation, of course. – Captain Emacs Apr 7 '17 at 13:33
  • Can you ask your advisor to keep you company while the committee is discussing, to ensure that he isn't present for the committee's discussion? (I mean, ask him in advance.) – aparente001 Apr 8 '17 at 5:49
  • Are you in Ireland? I got my PhD there and my supervisor did not say a word during the examination. He was there because of regulation, but the discussion is intended to take place solely between your internal, your external and yourself. Your supervisor will be filling forms etc but that's it. – Miguel Apr 8 '17 at 10:00
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In a UK viva, you are normally asked to leave the room when your examiners are deliberating your result. At this point your supervisor would also normally leave the room with you. As you said, they shouldn't say anything during the viva, and this should include any deliberation between your examiners. To be honest though, a supervisor does not want their student to fail, or have an unmanageable number of corrections, because that looks really bad on the supervisor as well. It's in their best interest for you to pass as easily as possible.

In the UK your supervisor is also never present without your permission. If your institution has these rules, then you can just ask them not to come. Just say that you feel it would add extra pressure that you could do without. It can be useful to have your supervisor there when you're read your corrections, as then they also know what you're asked to correct. In my viva I kind of got to argue potential changes during the viva, whilst we picked through my thesis. Since at this stage your supervisor definitely can't talk, you're in charge of your side of the negotiation.

Don't worry too much about changes. Your thesis only ever needs to be good enough to pass. It doesn't have to be brilliant, or better than anyone else's, it just has to demonstrate a significant contribution. You therefore shoudln't be asked to do more work for the sake of doing more. You should only have to change things if without them, your contribution isn't explained or supported well enough.

Remember that if your supervisor has supported your decision to submit your thesis, then there is little chance you'll fail. Try and enjoy yourself, you're unlikely ever to get to talk to two experienced researchers exclusively about your own work for such a long time ever again. Relish it!

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    +1 for "you're unlikely ever to get to talk to two experienced researchers exclusively about your own work for such a long time ever again" - I am really looking forward to that part of it. – mhwombat Apr 7 '17 at 14:25
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You have no control over whether your supervisor proposes wide-reaching corrections to your thesis. Even if he does, you might not know about it. After the viva, maybe you'll be given really wild corrections to make, and maybe they were proposed by one of the examiners. You have no way of knowing.

So, you are powerless, and you are ignorant. You cannot affect the outcome, and you will not even know what the outcome is. Rather than losing heart, take this opportunity to embrace it. This is something wholly outside of your control, and you are therefore free to ignore it. Breathe. Take a walk. Re-read your thesis. Enjoy dinner.

You probably will still be wondering, though. "But what if...?" "How can I know...?" "Maybe he'll..." Rest assured that your examiners are sensible people, experts in their field, and that they will know what is over-promising or outside the scope of your thesis. Your supervisor may suggest something in earnest enthusiasm, and the examiners may reject it, or settle for a more modest correction request. Your supervisor may decide to channel his enthusiasm into post-PhD follow-up projects with you.

tl;dr: Don't worry, be happy.

  • I like the approach (+), but this doesn't take into account the question whether OP should ask the supervisor not to attend the viva. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 7 '17 at 12:21
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Just to add to the other good answers. You can always argue that a change is not needed or outside of the scope of your thesis. Your examiners will also know what they are doing so trust them as well, if they don't feel something is needed they won't push for it. The other thing is they will have a grade in mind when discussing it. If one examiner has minor corrections in mind they will push against suggestions that major changes are needed as this drastically changes the outcome. Finally they would also be less than ok with your supervisor interjecting as he should not be part of the decision making process, in fact he should be leaving when you are.

Finally while there may be nothing to worry about your own mentality is the most important thing. I know that nerves are not the most logical. If despite all reassurances you feel more comfortable with your supervisor out of the room then state this. You need to be comfortable in there, you don't need to lay out your reasons logically even to yourself. Just take the decision that makes you comfortable.

I feel there won't be an issue but you have to consider how you feel.

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