I chatted to a PhD candidate recently about her viva prep.
“I don’t know where to begin,” she told me, “I’ve got so much material, so many questions I think about, and my examiners, my methods, my results – my life outside of my PhD! Where do I start?”
I could feel how overwhelmed she was. All she saw was more and more work. She hadn’t submitted yet, but was trying to plan her preparation. She hadn’t done her preparation but just thought about what her examiners would ask. Hadn’t been to the viva but was worried about managing her corrections.
I told here what I would tell anyone in this state: you have to treat all of these as distinct stages of the PhD. Get your thesis done before you start to prepare; prepare before you start obsessing about “what if’s”, and so on.
If it helps, map out the different stages on index cards. Limit yourself to focus on the task though, to really put boundaries on how much effort you sink in:
- One index card with the big picture of what you need to do to get your thesis finished.
- One index card with the key tasks to do in preparation.
- One index card with key questions or ideas to think about for the viva.
- One index card with notes on regulations for outcomes, and what that might mean for minor corrections.
If you’re still writing, then map out the different stages on four cards. Focus on the first one, getting your thesis finished, and only start on the next one when you’ve reached the end of your thesis writing. Start your path to the end, but only go one step at a time. That’s all you need to do.