My supervisor, my examiners and the viva experience

My supervisor, Dr Michael Shanks, was from the beginning very open for my plans to write a hypermedia thesis and it did not take much to have him on my side ("History is on your side!", he told me once). The same can be said about Professor David Austin, at the time Head of Department, who was very courageous to support my application to submit in hypermedia format in various University committees, even though he had no extensive experience with hypermedia and the World Wide Web himself. David had enough vision to see the potentials of the new technology and was extremely helpful on the administrative front (cf. his comments in retrospective), as was Michael who followed him as Head of Department in 1996.

Michael, however, became more cautious nearer the date of submission. I doubt that he worried too much about the normally very conservative values academia tends to impose on PhD theses. But he feared administrative problems of different sorts, especially in the light of the various reactions to my original proposal from both within the University and the National Library of Wales. He suggested a few times to be pragmatic and submit an additional version of the thesis on paper. However, since this defeated almost the entire purpose of my project, I insisted on going ahead and submitting only electronically and taking the risk of problems ahead. After all, I had come to Lampeter in order to explore archaeological frontiers. I did not want to give in to committees and institutions without battle. Michael accepted this, although for him the academic battles were clearly fought elsewhere. In another pragmatic act, now immediately before submission, Michael advised me (and I agreed) to omit certain pages and add a few others so that the thesis would appear slightly more like a conventionally submitted thesis in book form. So I revised my 'concluding' page, added a table of contents, and left out the 'reflexive' parts which dealt with my own research rather than my research topic (e.g. the documentation of getting permission to submit an electronical thesis). One of the questions we were de facto dealing with at that time was what a PhD thesis is supposed to look like. I agreed with Michael in principle that a thesis serves mainly to satisfy committees and examiners in order for me to get the Doctoral degree and for my supervisor and the Department to get recognition in the next Research Assessment Exercise. However, I also felt occasionally that I wanted to achieve somewhat more in my work than just that.

My examiners were Andrew Fleming (internal) and Professor Richard Bradley (external); the viva was chaired by Professor David Austin. Both Andrew and Richard had been chosen for their expertise in monuments, especially megaliths, which is what my thesis really is about. I had always believed that reading a HTML document in Netscape is easy enough for anyone. But since both my examiners were not exactly very experienced with reading hypermedia documents, there was also a worry about how they would cope with reading, and examining, my thesis. One of my nightmare scenarios was that during my viva it would gradually transpire that one, or both, had not actually been able to access most of it. During the viva, however, I was very pleased to find out that nothing like this would happen. Both my examiners had clearly seen the whole thesis, and fully understood my ambitions in using the hypermedia format. In fact, during the two hour long defence, or friendly discussion rather, Richard made several remarks indicating that I could have been even more radical in implementing the potentials of hypermedia. I was very pleased with how the viva went, and was made to understand that they had been very pleased about my work too. I learned a lot from Andrew's and Richard's comments, but there were no problems and I passed.

As far as my plans for publication of the thesis are concerned, I am currently trying to interest a publisher in a project that would combine a conventional monograph with a World Wide Web site. I hope to combine the benefits of hypermedia and conventional publication, and also to find a way which is at the same time experimental and still part of the academic discourse as we know it. Time will tell if I suceed in this ambition.


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Last updated: Mon March 8 1999