Field of Science

The Final Hurdle

I'd pretty much done everything at this point. Through struggle and sweat and 263 pages of thesis, I found myself edging closer to the finish line.
In theory, anyone can write a long thousand page tract on a topic without applying observation, logic, creativity or even basic grammar to it.
The manuscript I wrote needed to be assessed. But herein lies the problem.
A PhD, unlike many other qualifications, is granted based on the synthesis of new knowledge. The problem of this becomes apparent when it comes to examining a PhD. I'll compare it with learning in a school.
The learning that occurs in schools occurs in the classroom, by a teacher who at least know the standardised answers on their test sheets, if not the subject itself. As a result, examining students knowledge of these subjects is the simple task of comparing their answers to the standardised tests.
A PhD is very different. A student does not do most of their learning in lecture rooms regurgitating the knowledge that is fed to them. A student must use the tools, and the advice of experts (including , but not exclusively their supervisor(s)) in order to gain new knowledge or insight about a subject. In the case of the sciences, the teacher is nature. This becomes problematic when examining PhD, because Nature doesn't have a mark scheme. If it did, it would be behind an infinitely expensive paywall.
This is where the Viva Voce comes in. The exact details for the examination differ between countries, but the basic jist is that it requires the thesis to be assessed by a group of experts in that field, who are able to assess the work, and discuss the new findings of the thesis with the candidate.
A number of people in my lab told me that I would be fine, that it would amount to a nice conversation about my thesis by the only people* who would actually read it. I guess I should have found this reassuring. An experienced tight rope walker may tell you that a hundred metre walk on spider silk over hot lava was simple enough when they did it, but does that mean you'll have no trouble on your first go ?
As it turned out, this was pretty much the case. Aside from one moment where we got into a somewhat philosophical argument about the possible detriments of eradicating an infectious disease, a few moments where I talked myself into a corner, it went well.
In the end, I passed !

*not including those involved with its production

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