Examining intellectual ability, not social prowess: removing barriers from the doctoral viva for autistic candidates
The doctoral viva voce (‘viva’) has been variously described in the literature as mysterious, unpredictable and potentially frightening for students. Here we present a set of reasonable adjustments designed to remove social barriers from existing viva process for the benefit of autistic doctoral viva candidates. Our objective is to ensure that autistic students, who experience atypical differences in social interaction, social communication, and social imagination, are examined on intellectual ability, not social prowess. Recommendations are based on our many years of work with autistic adults in higher education and elsewhere and relevant literature. It is our view that these proposals could also benefit non-autistic doctoral candidates. Key proposals are to allow candidates the choice of a ‘virtual viva’ via electronic mail; to prepare a ‘needs assessment’ pre-viva; and to ensure that those involved understand autism sufficiently to appreciate issues specific to the individual and their viva. Academic rigour and integrity would not be compromised but the playing field might be flattened.
Benford, P. (2008). The use of internet-based communication by people with autism (Doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham)
Benford, P., & Standen, P. J. (2009). The Internet: A comfortable communication medium for people with Asperger syndrome (AS) and high functioning autism (HFA)?, Journal of Assistive Technologies, 3, 44–53
Benford, P. P., & Standen, P. J. (2011). The use of email-facilitated interviewing with higher functioning autistic people participating in a grounded theory study, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(5), 353-368
Bogdashina, O. (2008). Different Sensory Experiences—Different Sensory Worlds. Autism Today, viewed online, 24.
Boucher, J. (2003). Language development in autism, International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinilaryngology, 67S1, S159–S163
Burnham, P. 1994. Surviving the doctoral viva: Unravelling the mystery of the Ph.D. oral. Journal of Graduate Education, 1: 30–4.
Delamont, S., Atkinson, P., & Parry, O. (2004). Supervising the doctorate: A guide to success. McGraw-Hill International.
Denicolo, P. (2003). Assessing the PhD: a constructive view of criteria, Quality Assurance in Education, 11:2, 84 – 91
Equality and Human Rights Commission. Equality Act 2010 Employment Statutory Code of Practice. HMSO, 2010.
Fisher, N., and Happé, F. (2005). A training study of theory of mind and executive function in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 757-771
Franks, B., and Hanscomb, S. (2012). Learning through Reflective Dialogue: Assessing the Effectiveness of Feedback Vivas. Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies, 12(1)
Frith, U., and Happé, F. (1994). Autism: Beyond “theory of mind”. Cognition, 50(1), 115-132.
Frith, U. and Happé, F. (1999). Theory of mind and self-consciousness: What is it like to be autistic? Mind and Language, 14, 1-22
Gillott, A., Furniss, F., and Walter, A. (2001). Anxiety in high-functioning children with autism. Autism, 5(3), 277-286
Great Britain, (2010). Equality Act, 2010, Chapter 20, London: HMSO
Halsall, M. (2009). Everest, the Final Furlong: Completing a PhD, [online]. Last accessed 5 May 2013 at: http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/830/2/Martyn_Halsall-Doctoral_Colloquium.pdf
Happé, F. and Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 36:1, 5-25
Higbee, J. L., Katz, R. E. and Schultz, J. L. (2011). Disability in higher education: redefining mainstreaming, 2010 IABR & ITLC Conference Proceedings, [online]. Last accessed 13 May 2013 at: http://www.gimi.us/clute_institute/orlando_2010/article%20208.pdf
Howley, M. Asperger’s Syndrome in further and higher education students, [online]. Last accessed 8 May 2013 at: http://www.swanseaitec.co.uk/moodle/file.php/109/ASD_Report_FE_HE.pdf
Johnson, D. (2005). Assessment matters: some issues concerning the supervision and assessment of work‐based doctorates, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 42:1, 87-92
Johnston, S. (1997). 'Examining the examiners: An analysis of examiners' reports on doctoral
theses'. Studies in Higher Education, 22:3, 333-347
Khare, R., & Mullick, A. (2014, May). Research Tools to Study Vulnerable Populations; A Case of Designing Inclusive Spaces for Autism. In Universal Design 2014: Three Days of Creativity and Diversity: Proceedings of the International Conference on Universal Design, UD 2014 Lund, Sweden, June 16-18, 2014 (Vol. 35, p. 269). IOS Press.
Kim, J. A., Szatmari, P., Bryson, S. E., Streiner, D. L., and Wilson, F. J. (2000). The prevalence of anxiety and mood problems among children with autism and Asperger syndrome. Autism, 4(2), 117-132
Liss, M., Fein, D., Allen, D., Dunn, M., Feinstein, C., Morris, R. and Rapin, I. (2001). Executive functioning in high‐functioning children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42:2), 261-270
Macintosh, K.E. and Dissanayake, C. (2004). The similarities and differences between autistic disorder and Asperger’s disorder: a review of the empirical evidence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45:3, 421-434
Martin, N. (2010). Minimising the stress of the PhD viva for students with Asperger syndrome, Good Autism Practice, 11:1, 52-57
Morley, L., D. Leonard, and M. David. 2002. Variations in vivas: Quality and equality in British PhD assessments, Studies in Higher Education, 27, no. 3: 263–73.
Morley, L., Leonard, D., & David, M. (2003). Quality and equality in British PhD assessment, Quality assurance in education, 11(2), 64-72.
Murray, D. (1997). Autism and information technology: therapy with computers. Autism and learning: a guide to good practice, 100-117.
Murray, D., Lesser, M. and Lawson, W. (2005). Attention, monotropism and the diagnostic criteria for autism, Autism, 9:2, 139-156
Murray, R. (2003). Students’ questions and their implications for the viva, Quality Assurance in Education, 11:2, 109-113
Murray, R. and Pearce, L. (2005). How to Examine a Thesis, Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press
Park, C. (2003). Levelling the playing field: towards best practice in the doctoral viva, Higher Education Review, 36 (1), 47-67
Parsons, S., Beardon, L., Neale, H. R., Reynard, G., Eastgate, R., Wilson, J. R., Cobb, S. V., Benford, S. D., Mitchell, P. and Hopkins, E. (2000). Development of social skills amongst adults with Asperger’s Syndrome using virtual environments: the ‘AS Interactive’project. In Proc. The 3rd International Conference on Disability, Virtual Reality and Associated Technologies, ICDVRAT (pp. 23-25)
Potter, S. (2006). The examination process and the viva. Doing postgraduate research, 251-275.
Powell, S. and Green, H. (2003). Research degree examining: quality issues of principle and practice, Quality Assurance in Education, 11:2, 55 – 63
Rugg, G., and M. Petre. 2004. The unwritten rules of PhD research. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. (2011a). Doctoral degree characteristics. [online] Last accessed 24 April 2014 at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/Doctoral_Charact
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. (2011b). UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Part B: Assuring and enhancing academic quality, Chapter B11: Research degrees. [online] Last accessed 24 April 2014 at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/Quality-Code-Chapter-B11.pdf
Tinkler, P. and Jackson, C. (2000). Examining the Doctorate: Institutional policy and the PhD examination process in Britain, Studies in Higher Education, 25:2, 167-180
Trafford, V. (2003). Questions in doctoral vivas: views from the inside, Quality Assurance in Education, 11:2, 114-122
VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2008). Supporting more able students on the autism spectrum: College and beyond. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1359-1370.
Verté, S., Geurts, H. M., Roeyers, H., Oosterlaan, J., and Sergeant, J. A. (2006). Executive functioning in children with an autism spectrum disorder: Can we differentiate within the spectrum? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(3), 351-372
Walters, S. (2010). Toward an accessible pedagogy: dis/ability, multimodality, and universal design in the technical communication classroom, Technical Communication Quarterly, 19:4, 427-454
Watts, J. H. (2012). Preparing doctoral candidates for the viva: issues for students and supervisors, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 36:3, 371-381
White, S. W., Oswald, D., Ollendick, T., and Scahill, L. (2009). Anxiety in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Clinical psychology review, 29(3), 216-229
Wing, L. (1981). Language, social and cognitive impairments in autism and severe mental retardation, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11, 31–44
Wing, L. (1992). Manifestations of social problems in high-functioning autistic people. In High-functioning individuals with autism (pp. 129-142). Springer US.
Wing, L. (1997). The autistic spectrum, Lancet, 350, 1761–1766
Wootton, A. J. (2002). Interactional contrasts between typically developing children and those with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pragmatic impairment, Issues in Applied Linguistics, 13:2, 133-159
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).