Survey Update 3: Focus

A different sort of update on the survey that I’m doing – which at the time of writing you can find at tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey – as I want to talk a little more about the focus of the survey, why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m looking to explore when the data has come in and I shift into analysis mode. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a little while now, but was really prompted to pull my finger out after a great tweet I received last week from Dr Pooky Knightsmith:

Which is a brilliant question to be asked!

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Survey Update 2

Hello! How is your month going? Is March treating you well? And can you believe that it’s almost the end of March?

There: that’s three questions, and how easy were they to answer, right? A doddle! The survey that I am running on PhD viva experiences for graduates from UK universities has only seven short questions, so that won’t take long to fill in either! Thanks to the generosity of people sharing the survey and responding there are now 208 responses (at time of writing) – over halfway to the initial goal of 400 responses!

The survey will be open until the end of April to try to get as many responses as possible. With so much data already gathered, my plan for this week is to start going through the responses I have so far and start standardising the data set (e.g., some people have put “January 2004” as the when for their viva and others have put “01/04”) and also separating out some of the fields (three words that people use to describe their viva separated into three distinct data fields). This will allow me to start analysing the data after everything is collected and since there is going to be a lot of questions I’ll be asking of the data it’ll really pay off for me to get cracking now.

Hopefully soon I can talk about an interesting opportunity that has come up in relation to the research; I’m working out some of the details, but when they’re done I’ll be happy to share – perhaps it will be something that others want to pick up on as well… [/mysteriousness!]

208 down, 192 to go – and then more! Can you help me to spread the word about the survey and the research that I am doing? Have you had your viva since the year 2000 at a UK institution? Can you spare two minutes to fill in my quick survey? The link is tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey and every response will help to generate a picture of the UK viva process, as well as allow me to look for interesting patterns and commonalities.

If you have any ideas for how I can share the survey with more people, or contacts that it would be worth me getting in touch with, either drop me an email, comment below or tweet me!

Thanks!

Nathan (on Twitter as @DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Survey Update 1

My survey “UK PhD Viva Survivors (2000-2013)” has been running for a week now, and in that time with the very helpful assistance and generosity of people on Twitter and Facebook I have managed to get 138 responses! This is fantastic news, as it gives me hope that I can obtain enough data to produce something with statistical significance.

I’ve mentioned before that my first data collecting goal is to obtain 400 responses. This will provide a minimum in producing a picture of “the average viva” if such a thing could be said to exist. One problem with this minimal size is that when one considers subsets, say, of the arts and humanities and the STEM subjects, it may be that those subsets do not have enough respondents for the results to be meaningful. That’s why 400 responses is my bare minimum: and after that point I will take a first look at the data coming in, and see what the makeup is like. It may be that more targeted recruitment will allow for individual pictures of subjects or fields to be painted. If that goal of 400 responses is met, then I’ll take a look at the statistics again to see what the next goal might be, and what confidence one could have in those results.

(As an interesting side note, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve got responses. After tweeting yesterday morning, someone sent out their own tweet about it, and this tweet was RTed over 20 times, which meant that I almost doubled my number of responses in under 24 hours. It’s these sorts of network effects that I am hoping will really produce great quantities of data for my analysis.)

Today is the 12th of March, and so we have good deal of time until the 30th of April, when I’ll end data collection. I won’t be resting on my laurels and just waiting for data to come in. When I get a chance my next targets/thoughts are to email and tweet some university alumni accounts, as well as keep tweeting and linking and hashtagging to get as many responses as possible. If you know someone who might be happy to answer seven quick questions about their viva, then please share tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey with them – or if you have the means to share the link more widely then please do so. You’ll be helping to create a picture of the PhD viva in the UK.

If you have any thoughts about what else I can do to share this survey – or interesting thoughts on questions to ask the data set when the responses are in, then please get in touch, either in the comments or by email.

Thanks for reading,

Nathan (you can email me here, or tweet at @DrRyder or @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 22: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe

It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally here! A brand new episode of the podcast, and not a moment too soon. I’ve known Dr Richard Hinchcliffe since 2005 when I was a newbie PGR. Richard directed the very first bit of training that I went on and gave me some invaluable practical advice (you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what it was!). Years later he hired me on my first gigs as a skills trainer.

Richard’s PhD research examined the theme of melancholia in the works of American author Kurt Vonnegut, and it was really interesting to me to hear about how he went about that research, and also what the run up to his viva was like. Richard is now Head of PGR Development at the University of Liverpool.

This is the first podcast in a looooong time! Adjusting to fatherhood is a daily process, but I think that new episodes will become more frequent over the coming months and I’m arranging interviews with several more Viva Survivors soon. In the mean time, please share the podcasts, leave comments, follow us on Twitter and drop me emails with suggestions or questions. It would be great to hear from you. Oh! And if you have already passed your viva, perhaps you would consider filling in my quick survey that I’m conducting? You can find it at tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey and more details about it on a previous post here.

Thanks for reading and listening, and thanks for your patience!

Nathan

Why am I researching the viva?

Well, there might be a clue in the name of this site… But more seriously, here’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Why?

A few days ago I set a survey in motion asking seven quick questions of PhD graduates from UK universities. I talk to a lot of people about the viva – some of them are graduates, and I try when possible to interview them for this podcast – but most of them are candidates. They’ve worked hard for three or more years, become experts in their field, and then I meet them at workshops where some of them are terrified that their world is about to come crashing down. Having spoken to quite a few PhD graduates there are stories and experiences I can pass on, but sometimes the “official” stats seem unclear. I thought it might be interesting to capture a snapshot of what PhD graduates from the last fourteen years have been through – both to see what the stats are, and to see what kind of a picture it creates. And who knows, there might be some interesting things in the data!

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What does the viva look like?

Hello!

I’ve not forgotten you, in fact I’m busy working in my quiet time (Ha! I have a five month old, I have no quiet time!) on editing the first podcast of 2014 which I recorded recently. Fingers crossed that will be released before the end of the week.

In the mean time, have you got two minutes to spare?

I’m conducting a bit of research to try to get a picture of the UK PhD viva. I could ask lots and lots of questions, but thought I would get a snapshot, a quick postcard of what it’s like. If you did your PhD at a UK university and your viva was sometime this century (2000-2013) could I ask you to take two minutes and answer seven quick questions?

The survey is here: UK PhD Viva Survivors 2000-2013

If you can help with your data that would be great, and if you have the means or the contacts to boost this signal then please do. The more data I get, the more interesting picture I can potentially find amongst all of the experiences of people.

Thank you for your time!

Nathan

2014 on Viva Survivors

Happy New Year!

Is it too late to say that? Maybe, but I mean it all the same – regardless of whether or not your viva is in 2014 I hope that everything goes exceptionally well for you in the twelve months. 2013 was a good year for me personally: my wife and I moved house, we had a daughter (CJ, now nearly four months old!), and I continued to be amazed by the opportunities that came my way and the interesting things that happened to me.

One thing that was less good was my commitment to the podcast. Shocking really, that this time last year I was planning to get the total number of podcasts up to 40 by the end of 2013. A massive over-estimation in terms of my time and energy (amazing what becoming a father will do for your free time). The last new episode was way back in June! Still, the podcast is not forgotten, I will just have to be a lot cleverer when it comes to carving out the time to interview people, but I’ll say more on that in a moment. Read More

Not Forgotten

Hello all!

How are you? How have you been over the summer? Hard to believe that November is almost upon us. I don’t know where 2013 has disappeared to, and since I became a father in the last six weeks, time seems to have blurred past.

The podcast will be returning soon, as life starts to become normal for me again. If I have chatted with you in the past over email, please reconnect with me and we’ll set something up. If you’ve been listening to the podcast in the last few months (and the site stats tell me that a lot of you have) and would like to contribute your story, then please get in touch.

Follow @VivaSurvivors on Twitter – tweeting should be resuming soon – share the podcasts, and keep your eyes open for more announcements between now and Christmas, as well as the return of brand new episodes!

All the best,

NathanPS – I am loving being a dad! Our daughter CJ is just amazing.

Site and Sounds

Hello all!

It’s been a while since I updated, work and personal life have intruded and made it more difficult for me to record and post. That’s all coming to an end though! Although I have a major life change coming up (impending fatherhood), the podcast will continue. And the site is looking a lot better than it did already.

A week ago I went to an Intermediate WordPress course held at the Omniversity of Manchester, and I was shown just what I could get WordPress to do with a bit of thought and time. The site is by no means finished though, although improvements so far have included

  • a much nicer theme – this is the 2013 theme from WordPress!
  • better sharing buttons – so if you like something and want to tell other people please do!
  • better commenting – spam is now being blocked by Akismet!
  • a Twitter feed – because, well, you might not be following @VivaSurvivors yet!

Another piece of infrastructure that is being put together is the Viva Survivors Podcast Newsletter – I don’t have all of the answers about this yet, but soon I’ll have a subscribe option for this, along with details of what to expect and when to expect it. This isn’t the first stage in sending you lots of advertising, just a means to send on links and thoughts about the viva that don’t fit with the main podcast (at the moment). I’ll write again when the newsletter is started, but keep an eye out for that.

The last thing I want to mention for now is that I have been collecting links to articles, blogposts and media related to the PhD viva. One of my goals for the next week is to sensibly curate that for a new Links and Resources page on the site. If you know of any really valuable thoughts/links to share, then please let me know so that I can pass that on via the site.

That’s all for now: keep an eye on @VivaSurvivors on Twitter, and please comment or email me if want to get in touch!

All the best,

Nathan

Episode 21: Dr Jessica Goodman

In this edition of the podcast I’m talking to Dr Jessica Goodman, who recently had her viva at Oxford. Jess’s thesis looks at the work and experiences of Carlo Goldoni in Paris in the 18th century, and her research approaches this from many angles. It was fascinating to hear about how she did this research, as well as hear about how she prepared for her viva and what happened on the day.

Jess is currently working on her corrections and will start a position at Clare College, Cambridge, in the autumn. You can find her on Twitter here.

As ever, it would be great to hear your comments about this episode! Either leave comments after a post, email me or tweet at @VivaSurvivors (or the “real” me @DrRyder). Summer can seem like a quieter time in some academic circles, but I’m eager to interview more people so please drop me a line.

I also have a few new features that I hope to include on the site soon, and one or two interesting announcements… Stay tuned!