Around 2013 I invented a series of prompts to help a candidate reflect on their thesis.
Through not-so-subtle phrasing I got these keywords to spell out VIVA. The tool is used to explore the contents of a thesis chapter. All of these reflections combined then create a useful summary of the thesis.
The four prompts (and associated questions) are:
- Valuable (to others): what would someone else find valuable in this chapter?
- Interesting (to you): what interests you about your work?
- Vague (or unclear): what doesn’t seem clear when you read it?
- Ask (your examiners): what questions would you like to ask in the viva given the opportunity?
I shared VIVA for years in seminars. Switching to webinars I couldn’t find the right way to share this tool in a session. I’ve felt sad about this for a year now. There are other tools, but this one really speaks to me. I’ve done some reflecting on why this is the case:
- Valuable: as a set of prompts I think it intuitively allows a candidate to find the key ideas that are going to be useful to them, both in the prep and in the viva.
- Interesting: for me, it was always fun to present and not mention the acronym at the start, only drawing attention to it at the end. Acronyms are fun!
- Vague: or “unclear” – I had to add this word because vague was a little too vague at times, not as known a word as I thought.
- Ask: I like that the tool invites and prompts questions. It is a little open-ended and allows a candidate to dig deeper and engage with the thesis and research – just like a candidate would have to do in the viva.
I would encourage every candidate to spend a little time in advance of their viva using VIVA to reflect on and analyse their thesis.
Every chapter of your thesis has something valuable in it. Everything you’ve done springs from something you found interesting. Find what’s vague so you can make it clearer in your thoughts for the viva. Consider what you might ask your examiners – and thus how you’ll play your part in the viva.