Framing The Viva

A year or so after my PhD, when I was starting out as a freelancer, I came across a book called Gamestorming. It’s a collection of tools for use with groups of people. If you need to generate ideas, coordinate a team, break problems down or just get to know people it has lots of different suggestions. It was perfect for someone learning how to facilitate people.

One of my favourite things in the book is a model called the 7Ps Framework. I’ve used it for most of the last decade to help get my head in order when I design workshops. The 7Ps are seven words to help frame any kind of meeting.

Today, it strikes me that the 7Ps could help us get clear about the viva.

  • Purpose: you’re there to discuss your work of the last few years with your examiners.
  • People: it’s you, your examiners, maybe an independent chair, occasionally your supervisor.
  • Process: the viva is a discussion; your examiners will lead with questions; you have to think and answer and take part.
  • Product: a PhD graduate! (eventually; you’ll likely have some corrections to complete)
  • Preparation: your PhD is great preparation, but there are lots you can do to get ready.
  • Practical Concerns: take your thesis, take a pad to write on, take some water; be prepared for it to be several hours or so.
  • Pitfalls: don’t rush to answer, take your time; don’t expect to get no corrections.

There are lots of aspects to the viva. It’s easy to focus on one and forget another. A clean perspective is out there though: just take your time and look at it from a step back.

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