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5:46pm on Monday, 12th October, 2015:



I was the internal supervisor on a PhD viva voce today. It was a strong thesis, so the result was never in much doubt, but as internal supervisor I had to organise it. OK, so what this meant in practice was that I asked the administrator who organises these every week to organise it, but I did still have some responsibilities myself.

The examination was to begin at either 9am or 9:30, depending on which email you got. I arrived at 9am to make sure that my key to the examination room worked. It did, although to get there I had to walk through a door with a keypad on it. That was OK, though, as it let me through without my having to know the number. I left my stuff in the examination room and popped out to the toilet. The toilet was the first door on the left after the door with the keypad on it. Needless to say, when I tried to get back in, this time it needed me to use the keypad.

At 8:45am, there aren't many people around. No students, no academics, and only two administrators (neither of whom knew the combination). Fortunately, just as I was on my way to ask the security office, I spotted a cleaner: she told me the combination. Yay! Apparently, the door is supposed to be held open by a magnet but the plate has been misbehaving.

Anyway, the viva voce got under way and was going smoothly. The external examiner and I didn't have a Mr Nice, Mr Nasty routine, we just went with Mr Nasty, Mr Nasty on the grounds that the candidate needed to feel his defence had been tested. It occurred to me that I was supposed to have ordered coffee, but as I hadn't we broke and got some. If we hadn't, I think my fellow examiner (who had come over from the Netherlands) might have turned into Mr Crazily-Nasty. I took this opportunity to book lunch for us, which I was apparently supposed to have thought of earlier too. It transpired that thanks to a new arrangement, the university restaurants now require a purchase order to book a table but the academic departments require an invoice. In other words, neither side will act unless the other side acts first.

As it happened, we didn't go to the poshest restaurant anyway. The examination was over by about 12:30, but the external examiner had to catch a bus to the airport at 2:10pm so it would have taken too long. Instead, we went to one of the nearer cafés which we managed to leave before the student's supervisor came to meet us.

Needless to say, the bus the external wanted to catch didn't show up. The next one was due two hours later, which would have meant he'd risk missing his flight (especially if that didn't show up either). As a result, I wound up giving him a lift to Stansted in my car.

So, overall it could have gone better, but next time someone asks me to be an internal examiner I'll know what to do: decline the invitation.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).