Saturday, February 25, 2006

Viva! Viva

Last Tuesday (21st February) I had my viva. For those readers who are not academics this is an oral examination during which I am grilled by two experienced academics about my thesis, its content, all issues surrounding my thesis, my research goals, and, if they are really pedantic, my dubious sentence construction. Vivas in my department have been known to go on for 3-4 hours on average! Imagine a job interview in which your interviewers know you inside out and challenge you to defend why you are you. That’s the kind of experience a viva can be.

Luckily my viva turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I was dreading it might be. Due to some fortuitous scheduling I was able to have Professor John Henderson of Michigan State University as my external examiner. Usually your external has to come from the UK or Europe as the university have to pay to fly them over and accommodate them. I was able to have John as my external as he happened to be planning a visit to Edinburgh just at the time that I was due to have my viva. In terms of my research topic and the specific approach I took, John was probably one of the most qualified people in the world to examine me. He and his colleagues at Michigan State have produced a wealth of innovative research investigating visual scene perception and memory across eye movements. John is specifically interested in using ecologically valid stimuli to try and understand how real-world scene perception works. I hoped that this would make him receptive to my application of the theories and methodologies of visual cognition to film.

As it turned out in the viva, he appeared to appreciate my approach and my thesis in general. After only an hour of discussion, most of which at a high level of issues arising from and related to by thesis John and my internal examiner (Professor Keith Stenning) decided to recommend that I be awarded a Ph.D. with only minor corrections (giving me one month to do these). This is essentially the best result you can hope for from a viva. I was stunned, to say the least.

I want to say a huge thank you to John and Keith for agreeing to examine me on my thesis, to read the massive document, provide me with feedback on it, and take time out of their busy schedules (in John’s case, super busy) to examine me. I also want to thank John Lee, my primary supervisor for is help in getting to this point and organising the viva and Helen Pain, my second supervisor for reading my thesis multiple times, grilling me in a mock viva, and being there during my real viva. Thank you everyone.

The best part of my viva success for any interested readers out there is that this means I am able to make my thesis available to you. I will post a pdf copy of my thesis on this blog in the next few days. There are a few minor corrections I have to make first but once they are done I’ll post it here.