Putting In The Hours

Five years ago, on what would have been my dad’s 70th birthday I published The Knack. It was a personal piece of writing for this blog, but also one with a point:

…your PhD is hard, but there are aspects of it you make seem effortless to others. That’s not to say it’s not still hard to you, but you can do it. You’re practised, you’re experienced. At the viva you can answer a question and engage with a discussion nearly every time because you’ve done so much during your PhD.

After all this time you have the knack.

The knack being know-how, a skillset, the knowledge, the means to just do something. It’s a shorthand for saying “you can just do it.”


Five years on, and today would have been my dad’s 75th birthday.

As I wrote in The Knack, for part of my childhood my dad worked as a market trader. In school holidays I would go to help and think it was a great adventure. Waking in the dark, flasks of tea, being given “grown-up jobs” of sorting things on the stall, selling things to customers, and joking with other stallholders and my dad. There was a lot of fun there.

And a lot of work. A lot of work. I remember my dad emphasising that. He wanted me to appreciate the amount of work that goes into something: the setup, the effort, the attention to detail, how you tell others and how you keep focussed.

This has some value for thinking about your viva. Remember all of the work you have put into your PhD by submission and viva prep time. It’s easy to simply acknowledge it as thousands of hours, but also remember what those hours were spent doing.

Learning, growing, discovering, writing, sharing and making something.

By the time you have your viva you have the knack for being a good researcher, but don’t forget how you got to where you are. What you did, what you achieved – and who helped you along the way.