I’m a big fan of the Comfort, Stretch, Panic way of framing challenges. If something is well within your capabilities, it belongs to the first category; if it requires more effort but you can approach it with some confidence then it’s a Stretch. And if it fills you with Panic, then perhaps it’s not something to try for just now.
I think a lot of PhD candidates worry that their viva will be firmly in the Panic Zone. They’re concerned that questions will be beyond them, that pressure will break them, that perhaps the relationships in the room (or over video) will make them feel awful.
It doesn’t matter that most vivas go well – hindsight is great – but what about now? What about when someone is headed for the viva?
Candidates anticipating panic need to stretch themselves. Hoping that questions won’t be too tough won’t help defeat panic. Avoiding more difficult challenges is a way to store up pressure for later. Viva preparation should involve stretching.
For the pre-panic candidate, find new ways to reflect on your work; take time to rehearse for the viva; be open to developing yourself just that little bit more – it might only take a little stretch. Stretching now might help a candidate see that the viva doesn’t have to be a cause for panic.
In fact, it might even be a comfortable experience.