Top questions to consider when examining a PhD Thesis

This useful article by Patrick Dunleavy Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam: A checklist of ‘viva’ issues that always come up offers some advice on preparing for an oral exam. I am listing the 10 questions below as I think they are important to consider throughout the PhD journey, not just at the end:

  1. What are the most original (or value-added) parts of your thesis?
  2. Which propositions or findings would you say are distinctively your own?
  3. How do you think your work takes forward or develops the literature in this field?
  4. What are the ‘bottom line’ conclusions of your research? How innovative or valuable are they? What does your work tell us that we did not know before?
  5. Can you explain how you came to choose this topic for your doctorate? What was it that first interested you about it? How did the research focus change over time?
  6. Why have you defined the final topic in the way you did? What were some of the difficulties you encountered and how did they influence how the topic was framed? What main problems or issues did you have in deciding what was in-scope and out-of-scope?
  7. What are the core methods used in this thesis? Why did you choose this approach? In an ideal world, are there different techniques or other forms of data and evidence that you’d have liked to use?
  8. What are the main sources or kinds of evidence? Are they strong enough in terms of their quantity and quality to sustain the conclusions that you draw? Do the data or information you consider appropriately measure or relate to the theoretical concepts, or underlying social or physical phenomena, that you are interested in?
  9. How do your findings fit with or contradict the rest of the literature in this field? How do you explain the differences of findings, or estimation, or interpretation between your work and that of other authors?
  10. What are the main implications or lessons of your research for the future development of work in this specific sub-field? Are there any wider implications for other parts of the discipline? Do you have ‘next step’ or follow-on research projects in mind?

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