Top 10 questions for the PhD oral exam

Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam

A checklist of ‘viva’ issues that always come up

When you have finally finished writing a PhD dissertation or thesis, and submitted it to the university for review, you are at the end of a long period of grappling with dozens of tricky and detailed problems and issues. For instance, how to upgrade the dodgy paragraph on page 102; what the sources were for Figure 5.7; or how to best (re-)phrase your hypotheses or expectations so as to fit the research you actually did. Perhaps for some weeks after submission these kinds of concerns will buzz around your head. They may even prompt you to lie awake at night rehearsing answers to the examiners, if they should ask about why you did x at one point, instead of y.

Yet an oral examination of a doctorate (a ‘viva’ in British parlance) is rarely just an exercise in ‘Spot the problem’/ ‘Frame an answer’ mode. Many PhDers are surprised to find themselves immersed in a far more generalist (albeit still highly professional) conversation than they had initially anticipated. To prepare effectively for the big day and avoid being blind-sided you may need to change mindset a lot. The oral exam is a crucial session where you almost always need to reconnect with some fundamental themes and claims in your work. You need to think ahead to the issues that examiners often have when they read unfamiliar work, implemented in a way that is new to them. Their concerns generally revolve around: Is this legitimate innovation and focusing? Or it it instead somewhat weird? PhD examiners are guardians of the professional temple, so these issues weigh a lot with them. (These sit alongside some more prosaic concerns, like checking you really did the work yourself, and that you did all that you say you have) The opportunity to meet you in person is key to assuaging these wider concerns.

Here’s where the Top 10 list of questions below can come in useful, as a frame to encourage you to think wider and more generally about the professional conversation to come.

Value-added and originality

  • What are the most original (or value-added) parts of your thesis?
  • Which propositions or findings would you say are distinctively your own?
  • How do you think your work takes forward or develops the literature in this field?
  • 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?

Origins and the scope of the research

  • 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?
  • 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?


  • 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?

Data or information

  • 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?


  • 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?

What next?

  • 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?


Infinity 2014 Conference – Call for Papers

INFINITI 2014 – SAVE THE DATE: 9-10 June 2014

The 12th INFINITI Conference on International Finance

by Trinity College Dublin & Monash University

9-10 June 2014 at Monash University Prato Centre, Prato, Italy

“Global Finance – Integration or Mere Convergence?”


Keynote Speakers:

Fabio Canova, European University Institute, Italy

Dirk Schoenmaker, Duisenberg School of Finance, The Netherlands


American Economic Association Meeting 2014

American Economic Association Meeting 2014: Blogs, Papers & Sessions

written by Anastasia Sharova

January 13, 2014


The annual American Economic Association Meeting is a well-known event bringing together some of the brightest minds in economics and probably counting as one of the largest gatherings of young academics in one place. Here at INOMICS we are delighted to have been a part of this annual gathering for the second year in a row, as besides attendance of exceptional academic sessions, it is also a rare opportunity to meet and greet our users and readers personally.

Traditionally, every year we post interesting materials from and about ASSA meetings. With the extreme weather conditions making attendance difficult this year for many, we hope that this collection of materials will prove even more popular!

So, what was happening at ASSA? Here is our list of blogs, papers and videos to check out:

1. A good overview of what was happening at ASSA 2014 was published on Economic Principals by David Warsh and in the post ASSA 2014 Highlights by Parag Waknis, Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

2. The Economist’s interpretation of the discussions in Philadelphia in This Time is Worse.

3. Jon Hinselrath gathered a more than curious collection of “papers with conclusions that were intriguing, offbeat, counterintuitive, head-scratching and sometimes downright kooky”.

4. Vox launched several new columns written by PhD Candidates about their Job Market Papers.

5. A humor session lead by Noah Smith is covered in his post Econotrolls of Academia The Science and Art of Economics.

6. On a humor note, check out a Bingo game for Job Market Candidates.

7. In Job Flexibility Seen as Key to Equal Pay Brenda Cronin presents suggestions how to narrow the gender gap by Harvard Professor Claudia Goldin.

8. Employment Outcomes for Economics PhDs since 1997 in a study conducted by Wendy Stock, Professor at Montana State University, and John Siegfried, Professor at Vanderbilt University.

9. A list of presented papers on behavioral economics, mostly with a preview available for download.

10. A summary of a session on research transparency held by the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences.

11. Five Takeaways from the American Economic Association Meeting on WSJ Blogs by Brenda Cronin can be a useful guide for those planning to attend future events.

12. Selected Webcasts of the ASSA 2014 are also available now online.

If you know more articles and materials to share, please do so in the comments!

Photo Credit: Peter Miller

Economics research students present work at PhD conference

Economics research students present work at PhD conference

Economics PhD conference 2013
Economics PhD conference 2013


Economics PhD students nearing completion of their studies presented their research to a roomful of fellow students and faculty from the Department of Economics and the Institute of Development Studies at the Department’s annual PhD conference on 5 December.

Guest speaker Professor Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary University, London) then presented his work on Social Security and Formal Labour Supply in Uraguay.

Presentations from Economics PhD students covered the following topics:

  • Matteo Sandi
    Migration in the time of crisis: evidence on its effectiveness from Indonesia
  • Malgorzata Sulimierska
    Capital account liberalization, investment and productivity: Sector-level analysis
  • Janani Ranasubramanian
    Impact of crop microinsurance on the use of agricultural inputs: Evidence from India
  • Omofolamihan Malomo
    Informal payments and ethnic networks: The case of Nigerian Firms

Continue reading “Economics research students present work at PhD conference”