Viva Elsewhere…

I just came back from a meeting of the Heads of  the science Schools here at the University of Sussex where, among other things, we discussed PhD completion rates across the University. I sat there smugly because ours in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences are pretty good. The meeting started at 10am which also happens to have been the starting time for a PhD examination in at Cardiff University involving my (former) student Ian Harrison. I would have liked to have been there, but unfortunately I have several appointments today in Sussex so couldn’t make it.

It’s not normal practice for the supervisor of a PhD to be present at the examination of the candidate. The rules allow for it – usually at the request of the student – but the supervisor must remain silent unless and until invited to comment by the examiners. I think it’s a very bad idea for both student and supervisor, and the one example that I can recall of a supervisor attending the PhD examination of his student was a very uncomfortable experience.

I always feel nervous when a student of mine is having their viva voce examination, probably because I’m a bit protective and such an occasion always brings back painful memories of the similar ordeal I went through twenty-odd years ago. Although I have every confidence in Ian, I can’t help  sitting in my office wondering how it is going. However, this is something a PhD candidate has to go through on their own, a sort of rite of passage during which the supervisor has to stand aside and let them stand up for their own work. Usually, of course, I would be there for the event (if not actually present in the examination room), but now I’m a considerable distance away it feels a bit strange.

I’ve actually blogged about a paper of Ian’s already. He finished his thesis well within the usual three-year limit and has moved to the Midlands (Manchester, to be precise) to take up a postdoctoral research position there.  He’s not technically allowed to call himself Doctor Harrison yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. In the words of Miss Jean Brodie, my students are, without doubt, la crème de la crème.

It’s now 11.45. Fingers crossed for some news soon…

UPDATE: 13.00. Still no news…

UPDATE: 13.07. Congratulations, Dr Harrison!


10 Responses to “Viva Elsewhere…”

  1. Congratulations Ian, from your ridiculously proud parents!

  2. telescoper Says:

    Ian is the thirteenth person to have successfully completed a PhD under my supervision. I didn’t want to mention this earlier…

  3. Andrew Liddle Says:

    In near symmetry, my final Sussex PhD student Sheng Li has his viva tomorrow. I am coming down to Brighton for it, but not going to the exam itself of course for all the reasons you give. I wasn’t able to be in town for my previous student’s viva and I agree the experience of being elsewhere when one is happening feels odd.

    See you at the department tomorrow, perhaps.


  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    Congratulations to the successful PhD candidate (though I’ve never met him).

    My PhD supervisor sat through my viva at his request.

  5. LOL, thirteenth!

    Nice little story. I took a peek at Ian’s paper and was interested to see “the most unusual cluster is always found at the highest redshift available to the survey”. I am reminded of The Chronicles of Riddick: now what would be the odds of that?

  6. An advisor not attending a student’s thesis defense is unheard of in US. am surprised in UK, thesis supervisors don’t attend the defense.

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