Needles & Haystacks

We all know looking for a needle in a haystack is a fool’s errand.

I understand why PhD candidates are interested in being well prepared for questions in the viva. Too often though the desire is expressed as wanting to prepare perfect answers, or anticipate all the questions that might come up. But this is looking for a needle in a haystack. There are thousands of questions you could conceive of that are relevant, interesting and possible for your viva…

…and you won’t be asked most of them.

You can’t think of every possible question. There’s not enough time.

You can’t prepare answers to all of the questions you can think of. There’s not enough time.

You can’t prepare perfect answers, full stop!

What you can do: find opportunities to practise answering unexpected questions. Have a mock viva. Chat to friends over coffee. Give a seminar. Email colleagues and ask them for their questions.

Stop looking around in haystacks for every question. Start finding opportunities where the questions come to you.