My work – the sessions I run, the things I write and do – is focussed on the final year viva. The last big milestone of the PhD journey. But earlier in a postgraduate researcher’s story there might be another viva.
It’s sometimes called a first-year viva, a transfer review or some other set of words that means we’re checking in that you’re on track now that you’ve been doing this for a while.
I don’t know a lot about them.
A lot of what motivates the final viva is comparable to the first-year viva. My knowledge is limited though and I can’t offer the same certainties: I don’t know about expectations for lengths or questions. I can make educated guesses; the best people to talk to are the people you know already. Your supervisors and your friends who have been through the process. Local knowledge is going to beat anything that the person on the internet can say.
A participant at a webinar last year asked me, “What do I do about my final viva if I had a bad experience at my first-year viva?”
It was a brave and generous question. Brave because even in a webinar it can be hard to share something like that. Generous because they were probably not the only person to have a bad experience during their PhD, at their first-year viva or otherwise, and their question allowed a space to talk about that issue.
I didn’t know a lot about that person. I knew nothing about their first-year viva. I felt confident saying this though:
“You don’t have to be defined by that one experience. That happened. But that doesn’t have to be what you take forward. That doesn’t have to be the thing you keep in mind for your final viva. It was probably hard, but you can move past that. Despite that you kept going. Focus on that instead. Your first-year viva and your final viva are two completely different events, with different people involved. And now you are a different person to who you were then. Focus on everything you’ve achieved over the course of your PhD, and not one day that didn’t go to plan. Keep going.”
Well, I said something like that! I wish I had had this set of particular words arranged just so on that day a few months ago.
I offer them here instead, in case they can help anyone else.
If your first-year viva was tough, or if you had another difficult meeting or conversation during your PhD, remember: that was then and now you’re not the same person.
You’ve done more, know more and can do more. You’ve done enough to prove yourself. Keep going and succeed in the viva.