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speedily than any- thing else.

When they can ask questions


and hear you explain things in your own words, your thesis
text will become much easier for them to understand. They will
be able to rework their existing categories to fit you and your
work into them and they will better appreciate why you have
made the decisions you did. They will see what makes you tick
and gain a much better sense of your capabilities and expertise
than is possible from poring over your text in isolation. And
normally all the latent, background doubts they may have had
about granting you the doctorate easily drop away over the
course of this specialized conversation. The examiners
recognize that you are an inde- pendent professional in your
own right, fully capable of stand- ing on your own in academic
argument and debate, and not someone who lives just in your
supervisor’s shadow. Even where they may disagree with you,
they appreciate that you are not a student making errors, but a
fellow professional with well- grounded reasons for the choices
you have made and the con- clusions you have drawn. They
also see that you are someone with a good overall grip on your
discipline and a commitment to its academic and moral values.
If you go out into the wider academic environment with the
title of ‘Dr’ no one is going to hold that judgement against them
as examiners, or see it as in any way insecurely based. These
reasons are why many research students are surprised to find
that much of their oral exams or vivas turn out to be pretty
general conversations, only loosely tethered to professional
topics grouped around your text, rather than working through
most of it in great detail.
Of course, at some stage every oral exam will come to
specifics, to points which make one or more of the examiners
doubtful or anxious, or where you (and your supervisors) may
have made a mistake. This intensification of the discussion
usually indicates that the examiners will insist on you making
revisions, which are of two kinds: minor (which are no prob-
lem) or major (which are fairly fatal). Normally university reg-
ulations allow for ‘minor revisions’ to be made within a brief
period (around six weeks to three months): these changes are
completely consistent with

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