Day in the Life of an Academic #7: exams and viva

Got up at 6 am, as usual. However, instead, of squeezing in a bit of writing, as I usually do, I squeezed in a bit of marking. You see, I am in the middle of exam marking season, and I need to go through this particular pile and pass it on for second marking by tomorrow. I only managed to read and mark two exams before I had to get the kids ready for school, but that is better than nothing.


I drop the children at their respective schools, and drive back home. I am working from home today because, not only do I have this marking to do, but I also have a PhD exam in the afternoon, in Oxford.


When I arrive home, I answer a couple of e-mails and, then, sit back at my desk to do more marking. However, the sun is shining and calling my name. So, I grab my pile of exams and head to the garden. If there is one good thing about marking is that you can take it with you and do it anywhere; and that’s exactly what I decide to do, today.


I take a break mid-morning to check my e-mails, and send a co-author some thoughts about a paper that we are working on. Two days ago, I was at a symposium where I presented this work, and I need to send him a copy of the presentation, a summary of the comments and questions from the audience, and my thoughts about how to incorporate these in the next stage of the work.


I go back to marking exams, until my watch starts playing up. I think it is over-heating, because of the sun, and that suggests to me that it is a good time to head back indoors. My pen is almost running out, anyway.


Around 12h30m, I make myself a quick lunch, and eat it while catching up with the news and social media. After lunch, I go through the notes I made for the PhD exam.


For my non-academic friends, and those unfamiliar with the UK system, the PhD candidate has investigated a certain topic for a few years, and produced a manuscript (almost like a book) outlining the problem, the relevant literature, the theoretical framework, the design used to collect and analyse data, the data collected, the findings from the research, and the contribution from this research to theory and practice. This manuscript was sent to two examiners – one from the institution where she did her PhD work, and one from another institution (i.e., me) – who will now ask her some questions about what she did and why, in order to probe her competence as an independent researcher. It is called a Viva Voce exam, or Viva, for short.


This particular exam is about the potential of microblogging for customer engagement, and looked specifically at the case of Twitter accounts of CEOs. I made a lot of notes while reading the manuscript (look at all those blue post-it notes), and also prepared a list of observations and questions for the exam. It is those observations and questions that I am now going through.


At about 2 pm, I leave the house and head to the university where the exam is taking place. The University requires that the examiners and the candidate wear black trousers or black tights and skirts, which of course I do… but this is definitely not a good day to be wearing black tights. I am melting!


The other examiner and I meet, briefly, to discuss our independent assessment of the manuscript and, then, go to the room where the candidate is waiting. I remember how nervous I was for my own exam (and sleep deprived, as my youngest was just 3.5 months old, then, and still breast-feeding!), so when I enter the room I make a point of smiling at the candidate to help her relax.


The Viva goes on for about 1h30m, then the candidate leaves the room for a while, so the two examiners can agree on the outcome. The options are pass, pass with minor revisions, major changes needed, or fail. We go for the second option, and the candidate is delighted. I am delighted for her, too.


After the exam, I head back home, where I do a bit more exam marking. I am progressing more slowly than I wanted / needed to. So, after dinner, I have to continue marking. I really wanted to finish this today, and I manage to push through until 1 am, but then I have stop – when you are too tired, you start making mistakes, and these exams are too important for the students for silly mistakes to happen.


All in all, a day filled with exams. Two different types, but both part of an academic’s life.


How is your day progressing?

One thought on “Day in the Life of an Academic #7: exams and viva

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s