What If You Have No Community?

At workshops I often advise people to talk to their colleagues when preparing for the viva:

  • Ask about their viva experiences to get a sense of what vivas are like;
  • Offer to take someone for coffee and use the time to chat about your research;
  • Find out about other research in your field.

Simply: you have to pass the viva by yourself, but you can get a lot of help from others.

At a recent workshop, someone chatted to me afterwards, “That sounds great, but I’m a part-time researcher. I’m not based on campus. I only come in to see my supervisor. I don’t really know anyone in my department. What can I do?”

I had to think for a few minutes. Over the years I’ve tried to clear out my own biases of what a PhD is. I was full-time, funded, had a shared office in a busy department, compulsory development programme – and I learned soon after my PhD that wasn’t always the case.

Still, I felt safe to assume that everyone has colleagues they can talk to. But what if you don’t?

I don’t have definite ideas, but here are some initial suggestions:

  • Email recent graduates, introduce yourself and ask about their viva experiences.
  • Decide to give a seminar about your work, a PhD in sixty minutes with time for questions. Invite people to come.
  • Ask academics in your department about their process when they take on the role of examiner.

I hope these thoughts help. I doubt that the person who chatted to me is unique. I’ll be thinking about this topic more in the coming months. Please get in touch if you have any suggestions too!