Your Way

In the end, getting ready for the viva comes down to you figuring out your way to make it work.

There’s a lot of viva advice, both general and practical. This site alone contains over 24 hours of podcast interviews and 1500+ blog posts. You can’t do it all. As helpful as I like to be you can’t apply it all to your situation.

You have to do it your way.

Your friends, colleagues and supervisors will be able to help. They’ll have their experience. They might have key information which could help you get ready. But they’re not you: your life, your research and your situation might be so different that to do what they advise might be stressful or even impossible.

You have to do it your way.

So listen. Find sources that you can trust. Ask questions, then check the answers against your situation. Find a way to make it work for you. There’s lots of good advice out there. There are lots of things that will help you be ready and feel ready. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to viva prep.

You have to do it your way.

Page 1

It’s likely you’re going to see the first page of your thesis a lot when you open your thesis. All through your prep and in the viva too you’re going to see “Chapter 1” or “Introduction” again and again. Maybe you’ll see that page so much that you start to look past it.

But what if it had a short message of encouragement you had left for yourself?

What if it highlighted three key points?

What if there was a small picture stuck in to make you smile?

Could you include a helpful reminder?

Or just three words: You Got This.

The printed copy of your thesis is a valuable resource for your viva. You can refer to it at any point, and in advance you can annotate it to make it as useful as possible for you.

So what will you add to the first page to make a difference?

Support Your Choices

When a candidate hears “defend your thesis” it’s easy for them to think of the viva as a battle, a struggle or a debate.

Perhaps a better way to describe the viva is that it’s a chance to support your choices. Your examiners have read your thesis. They’ve prepared for your viva. They have questions and opinions but the space is there for you to support what you’ve done.

You can clarify the unclear, add details or expand on your process. In sharing more of your research you have the opportunity to support your choices. So in your preparation be sure to check details that need checking, highlight details that are important and summarise anything that could make a difference.

The viva is one more opportunity to show what you did, what you know and what you can do.

Hard Limits

There are limits for everything related to your PhD journey.

There is a finite number of hours you could have spent on your PhD.

You can’t read everything that could be relevant. You would never have time to work towards your research in a practical way.

You can’t do everything that might advance your research goals. You would never have time to write up your thesis.

You have to make choices. You have to accept the limits, like them or not. You have to work within them, whether you want to or not. And, of course, the last eighteen months will have brought more limits.

Rather than rail against the limits and the maybes and the could-have-dones, reflect on how the limits of your PhD have had an impact. Explore the difficult limitations as you might have to talk about them in the viva. Remember that despite the limits – or in some cases, because of the limits – you have made it through.

Again & Again

I’ve been playing the video game Hades every day for about a month and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

The son of the Greek god Hades fights to escape the Underworld. It’s fantastic, stylish, polished and deep. It is an absolute delight to play and experience – even though there’s a steep learning curve, lots of challenges and skillsets to juggle and bring together. Again and again you die and return to the start…

…and in a weird way it makes me think of my PhD journey!

 

Again and again I had to rise to the challenge. Sometimes I knew what I had to do. Sometimes I found what I was looking for. Sometimes I could just do what I needed to.

But again and again I faced setbacks. Things didn’t work. References couldn’t be found. Answers were not forthcoming.

Again and again I started again. I would have to go back to the beginning of a problem and try to look at it from a new perspective. I would need to find a new way forward.

Again and again I grew. I became more skilled, more knowledgeable, more sure that I could take on new challenges.

And again and again I was surprised, delighted and frustrated as I continued on my journey.

 

All of your agains – the repeated steps, the start-overs, the learning, the experience, the knowledge-building – all of the frustration and growth and joy – all of this is what you take with you to the viva.

No more agains. The final step, more or less, and the talent, work and time you’ve invested helps you through.

Done, finally… Until you take on your next challenge.

Comfort or Stretch

Comfort, Stretch and Panic are a helpful trio to consider when challenging yourself. The first two words are helpful to consider as springboards for reflection in your viva prep.

For Comfort, think about what skills or knowledge you’ve developed on your PhD journey. What do you know now? What is a comfortable challenge for you? What can you do that you couldn’t do before? How might you apply some of that thinking or skill in the viva?

For Stretch, think about how you have grown. When did you need to apply yourself more? What was it like in those times? Did you boost your confidence or determination? What parts of your research stretched you?

Comfort and Stretch can help you get ready for your viva. You can reflect on these areas by yourself – but if anything leads you to Panic – or to stress or to worry – then ask for help. Ask your supervisor, talk to friends and explore what the viva is really like.

Comfort and Stretch can help you get ready, but there’s really no need to Panic about your viva.

Headers & Footers

Annotation can help make your thesis more useful for the viva – and there’s a lot of empty space in the borders of your thesis pages.

The top and bottom of a page could be helpful to highlight key points, to summarise the content or even to offer a word of encouragement. If something is great, use the header to make it stand out. If there’s something tricky consider using the space at the bottom to leave a helpful note or two.

Headers and footers don’t need to be filled but they’re a great opportunity for you to prepare and to help in the viva. How will you use yours?

Tortoise Prep

I imagine that if Aesop wrote a new fable about a Tortoise and a Hare getting ready for their vivas there would be some interesting updates…

The Hare would rush their prep. They’d get it done but only by working furiously. And they might burnout or feel overwhelmed as they got closer to their viva.

Unlike the original fable they would still “win” – as they’re not in competition with the Tortoise – but it might not be an easy race for them to get ready.

The Tortoise would go slow. The Tortoise would start early. They would go step-by-step, day-by-day. No hurry, no pause. No need for rush. No need for stress.

The Tortoise is just as ready for their viva as the Hare, but their journey is much better for them, their confidence and their viva.

In your viva prep: be more Tortoise.

7 Questions To Ask Friends About Their Vivas

Friends who have recently had a viva in your department are good to ask about what to expect. Listening to their stories can give you certainty for your viva.

There’s great variety generally when it comes to viva experiences; local knowledge of your department’s practices can both shape your expectations and help you to prepare. By asking the right questions you can get the information that will be most useful to you.

  1. Was your viva in-person or online? (this helps frame other expectations)
  2. How long was your viva? (everyone wants to know this!)
  3. How did your viva begin? (it’s helpful to know the sorts of things that happen)
  4. Was anyone else apart from your examiners present? (some vivas have chairpersons; some candidates invite their supervisors)
  5. What was the flow of questions like? (were they big picture, focussed and so on)
  6. How did your viva end? (get a sense of what to expect)
  7. How did you feel throughout your viva? (knowing some of the thoughts and feelings that flow can help)

If you ask only one person then you might hear a helpful story that puts the viva in perspective. If you ask several people you might spot patterns in the structure of vivas in your department. Perhaps your department has a certain way of doing things. Knowing that information could really put you at ease.

Don’t simply ask a friend, “How was it?”

Go deeper. Ask more to help yourself more.

Check Your Checklist

In the days leading up to the viva your big picture checklist might look a little like this:

  • Research? Done!
  • Pages? Written!
  • Thesis? Submitted!
  • Prep? Completed!
  • Confidence? ………

Your confidence might be the last thing you have to check off. It’s hard to mark as “done” with a simple tick. Unlike the previous items you can’t simply see confidence.

Confidence can be found by reflecting on all of your experiences of research. It can be seen in the progress you’ve made. Confidence is nestled amongst all of your writing and your finished thesis – proof that you’ve grown in ability. Confidence is built up through preparation for the viva and realising that you’re ready.

It isn’t always simple to check confidence off your list, but you can do it.

1 2 3 172