Annotation & Emphasis

One way to think about annotation, as part of viva prep, is that it helps to emphasise parts of what is in your thesis. It’s not about last minute additions or pre-answering questions in the margin: annotating your thesis emphasises the good stuff that is already there, making it easier to find or easier to see.

You get to decide what you need. Make a list of what could help, then find a good way that works for you. Do a little work and you have an upgraded copy of your thesis for the viva.

A Week Off

Today is the start of my daughter’s school half term break, so I’m taking a week off! No webinar delivery, no sitting down to write, no admin or prep; I’ll check my email every other day perhaps just in case there’s something that can’t wait, but otherwise it’s family time for me.

The blog will continue to be published though. I planned ahead. Actually, I plan a long time ahead for this blog. I have a system in place so that if I was sick and had to take time off it would still keep going fine, for a while at least. The same with my business. I planned ahead, in the long term, to make sure nothing was in my diary for this week. I planned in the short term to make sure that things were finished last Friday or left in a good state for picking up next week.

A week off could be just what you need when you submit your thesis. A chance to pause, step back, rest, relax, clear your mind and do something for yourself, before you have to pick up your thesis and start to get ready for the viva.

A week off takes a little prep. Looking ahead, planning, finding good stopping points for projects, or sketching out how you start going again. Time off helps you work well when it’s time to be on. Make sure you take the time you need to help yourself be at your best.

Worn Away

You have time to press pause before you prep. You can put your completed thesis to one side and come back to it when you have had time to restore yourself. You can’t help yourself get ready for the viva if you don’t help yourself into a good condition more generally.

It’s general viva prep advice to pause and rest at submission, but essential if you reach submission and are tired by all you’ve had to do. If you feel worn down then a single day off is not going to help you get in the right frame of mind to read your thesis or prepare for a mock viva. Rest and take the time you need to get ready to prepare.

Show What You Know

Your viva prep does not need to be confined to book work and solitude. While a mock viva is the most notable prep activity that involves others, it’s not the only task that you could involve others in.

  • Sit down over tea or coffee and describe to someone how you have done your research. See if you can share something that will help them.
  • Give a talk. Split your time equally between showing what you have done and taking questions to dig deeper.
  • Write a summary for someone else. Not a cheatsheet for you, but a page or two about a method or process that you have needed for your research.

During my PhD years I noticed that my own understanding of a topic grew whenever I had to explain it to someone else. I found better words, more useful metaphors and gaps in my knowledge. Take a little time in your viva prep to show others what you know, so that you can practise for the viva, build your confidence and show yourself what you know too.

Out Now: Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology

I’m thrilled to announce that Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is out today! I celebrated with my book launch party yesterday and am now very happy that the book is available to buy. What is it? Here’s a little snippet from the book blurb:

Keep Going collects posts about viva expectations, viva prep and examiners, as well as:

  • reflections on the PhD journey and confidence;
  • practical steps for getting ready for the viva;
  • thoughts on what it really means to survive the viva.

Over 150 posts from five years of writing, carefully curated and edited to be a valuable guide for every postgraduate researcher with a viva in their future.

I’ve been working on Keep Going for the last six months: curating the very best from nearly 1800 blog posts and five years of writing. The book is available now in three places, as an ebook and in print. Here are the links if you’re interested:

It’s been a great project to make this book for the last six months and a thrill to present it to you today.

I define the work I do as “helping PGRs become PhDs”. Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is made for that purpose. If you have a viva in your future this book will help you know how to be ready for it. If you know someone with their viva coming up then please pass on news of the book.

Thanks for reading!


Examiner Feedback

Feedback from your examiners could be a great help if your plan is to continue in academia. Questions, opinions, insights – whatever they offer or you ask for could give you a boost.

If you’re hoping for something from them, it might help to think in advance about what you really want. Make a list of questions, prioritise them; stay on track when the time comes to ask or if a moment comes that seems appropriate to follow up.

Consider again who your examiners are, where their interests lie and what they do. What would you really want to know from them if you had the chance to ask?

Long Term Prep

Viva preparation is a short term project. You don’t need to start getting ready before you submit. You don’t need to focus your final year on building up for the viva. If you have a long time to go before submission you need to focus on finishing your research and your thesis. That has to be the priority.

You do not have to do anything to prepare for your viva until after submission. However, confidence plays such a big part in feeling ready for the viva it feels right to suggest a few things you could do over a long period of time. If in your final year you want to build your confidence then try some of the following:

  • Make opportunities to present your work.
  • Reflect on your progress once per week.
  • Record your successes as they happen.
  • Write down any tasks, activities or situations where you feel confident.

As you get closer to the viva, reflect on all of these. Presenting and discussing work gets better with practice. The more experience you have the better you will feel. Reflecting and recording your PhD journey will help to highlight that you are doing well; you’re building a firm foundation for confidence. Finally, if you know the times when you feel confident you can use that to your advantage in your viva preparations.

Short term prep is the work of weeks. Read your thesis, write a summary or two, have a mock viva. Long term prep is the work of your life. Pause, reflect and realise that you are a lot better than your worst moments.

You have done well, you can do well, you will succeed in the viva – and beyond.

The Importance of Expectations

Expectations for the viva are not guarantees but they matter because they show the process at work. Expectations help because they give a platform for preparation. Vivas vary in length, but knowing roughly what to expect helps to prepare for the effort. It helps to know you can ask for breaks. Knowing how they unfold gives you a way forward.

Expectations show the big picture: candidates tend to pass, so you will too. Your viva is a test – the expectations show that too – but it’s a test that most people succeed in, and you’re unlikely to fail. Expectations are important for the viva. Ask friends, read stories and see what stands out to you. Don’t understand something? Look deeper or ask more.

Don’t expect your viva to follow an exact plan; do expect your viva to help you show the best of your work and yourself.