Need, Nice, No

When I work with final year postgraduate researchers I ask them to consider prioritising the work they think they have to do with three lists:

  • Need: the things that are absolutely essential
  • Nice: work that would be good to do but which isn’t neccessary
  • No: tasks or projects that aren’t needed to fulfil the main objective

Way back in the distant past of 2007/8 I had projects that would become chapters I needed in my thesis. I also had nice ideas which I didn’t have time to develop. My supervisor agreed they weren’t essential to my thesis contribution, so I put them to one side. There were also things I said no to. I said no to paid part-time work so I could focus on getting my thesis finished. I said no to new ideas as there wasn’t time to add more to my thesis. I said no to fun things that would have been a distraction.

This kind of prioritising can help with finding focus for the final year, but NeedNice and No can also help with getting ready for the viva.

Viva prep isn’t a great challenge, but there are lots of things you could do in that period. It helps to separate out the kinds of work that are essential from what would help if you had time – and also from what you don’t need to focus on to be ready.

For example:

  • Need: read your thesis, check regulations, use rehearsal opportunities…
  • Nice: re-read your key references, have a mock viva, practice sharing a summary…
  • No: look for typos, consider improvements to your thesis, become an expert in your examiners…

When you put something in the No category you free yourself to focus on what you Need. Prep tasks that are Nice you can do if you have time or if, like the mock viva, you feel it is right for you. Not every candidate needs a mock viva – although they can be very valuable – but every candidate needs to rehearse responding to questions as they would in the viva.

Find your focus for your viva prep. Reflect and think ahead. What do you need to do? What would be nice as you get ready? And what will you say no to so that you can focus?