|dc.description.abstract||This thesis reports on a study of the examiner practices and experiences of the PhD viva from the perspective of doctoral examiners in Malaysia. The PhD viva is an oral examination used compulsorily as part of the assessment for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), alongside the written thesis examination. In view of the rapid expansion of doctoral education worldwide including Malaysia, there is a need to understand the assessment process and outcome. Despite the assessment, in which examiners are the linchpin, being a critical step to ensure the successful completion of a doctorate, the PhD viva remains disputable. This is due to the obscure nature of the oral examination practices of examiners which are likely to give rise to controversy. While some evidence exists about the practices of examiners, how and what examiners examine and how they experience the PhD viva within a Malaysian doctoral education context are areas yet underexplored, but for which evidence is needed.
Using narrative inquiry as the guiding research approach to investigate this issue, 12 experienced doctoral examiners from across the disciplines at a Malaysian research university were interviewed. The interviews, which formed the primary data for this study, were semi-structured, audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. In addition, institutional narrative, which served as secondary data, were drawn from the university’s doctoral assessment policy documents, informal conversations with university colleagues, and follow-up communication with some of the examiners. To help to make sense of the examiners’ practices and their experiences of the viva, the data were analysed by using thematic analysis, a qualitative data analysis method, guided by narrative and constructivist theory.
In making sense of the practices of examiners, it was found that examiners perceived the viva as serving multiple purposes: gatekeeping, empowerment, dialogue, and enculturation, and not just an assessment. To achieve these purposes, examiners expected candidates to have confident, interactional behaviours, provide credible and convincing argumentative responses, as well as to display doctoralness in their oral performance, which means examiners expect to see an independent researcher/scholar in the viva. Such examining practices of examiners should be explicitly informed.
With regard to the experiences of examiners, it was found that examiners learned to examine mainly from their own experience instead of institutional training, and examiners did face different challenges, such as examining with other examiners and examining the candidates in the viva. The findings reveal complicated examiner practices and experiences of the viva and suggest that a stronger emphasis on examiner preparation to cultivate effective examining practices is essential. Three training initiatives are therefore proposed to support examiners. These include a professional development program (PDP), a peer review of the viva and an accreditation program. Training for examiners is thus called for.
The study not only adds a Malaysian perspective to what is known of the PhD viva in doctoral education worldwide by connecting narrative insights with the practices and experiences of examiners in Malaysia, but it also offers useful pedagogical and training insights, especially for examiners and academic developers, who support doctoral supervisors and examiners. Such insights could be further applied to other similar institutional and doctoral education contexts. Lastly, it provides a base for future research on examiner experiences and doctoral assessment within the field of higher education.||