There have always been candidates whose plans have been disrupted during their PhD journey. A project finds itself without the resources it needs. A plan loses support. Something just doesn’t work out the way it was expected. Every PhD candidate has faced little bumps and hiccups. In the thesis and at the viva, if they need to, the candidate can explain this usually very simply: why something was disrupted, how it had an impact, what the outcome was or what changes needed to be made.

But in the last year, every PhD candidate has faced disruption. It’s not a matter of if, but how much? Perhaps even how often? And so as submission or the viva approaches for Pandemic-PhDs, it’s not unexpected or unreasonable for candidates to be concerned about discussion around disruption. Perhaps in video vivas for the next few years it’s not a case of if examiners will ask about pandemic disruption, but when that line of questioning will start.

The response is still the same, more or less, even though it might be describing a much bigger disruption than candidates in years past. You can explore how you might make this response by reflecting in advance of the viva:

  • Why was your research disrupted?
  • How did it have an impact?
  • What was the outcome, or what changes did you make?

As with typical starter questions like “Can you summarise your research?” or “How did you get interested?” being asked about disruption due to the pandemic is a simple question to ask. It’s a natural, human question to ask. Your examiners aren’t testing you, they’re not trying to find ways that you should have done more. It’s a chance to reflect – and possibly an opportunity to show how your determination has helped you to get through.

“How was your research disrupted?” is a simple question, but for some it could also be a really difficult question to respond to. It’s sometimes too easy to sit at a distance and think about “disruption” in the abstract. For some candidates the last year may have been devastation rather than disruption. Reflect, prepare as best you can, be ready to share what you can in the viva.

Remember that whatever has happened in the last year you have managed to keep going. That counts for a lot.