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.

All The Answers

Knowing exactly what to say to answer every question in your viva isn’t a reasonable expectation. It’s not required for the viva. Your examiners don’t expect it from you. You would probably need to know all of the questions before they were asked (and you won’t).

You’re not expected to know all the answers, but you are expected to respond to every question.

A response could be an answer or an opinion. A response could be sharing an idea or offering a hypothesis. A response could be a gut feeling or a question for clarification.

A response could even be saying “I don’t know,” and then explaining why.

You can’t have all the answers but you have many options for offering a response.

Underlining

Underlining can make your thesis better for the viva.

  • You could underline key references.
  • You could make sure you can find your typos.
  • You could show key words or definitions.
  • You could underline a sentence that is amazing.
  • You could have one colour of ink and underline one type of thing in your thesis.
  • You could have several colours for different needs.
  • You could have full lines or dashed for different emphasis.

Annotating your thesis during viva prep adds value to what’s on the page, making it more useful for the viva. Reflect on how underlining could help you and your thesis.

Surprised

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they were surprised they enjoyed their viva I would probably have a very healthy savings account. When I share stories of success and enjoyment with candidates they are surprised. They’ve heard that vivas are OK or that most people pass, but don’t know that they can be good.

With candidates and graduates being surprised by this we have a problem!

So what can we do?

Candidates can find out more about what to expect to get a better sense of the reality of the viva. Graduates, surprised or not, can share their stories more widely. Vivas aren’t perfect, but they are more often enjoyed than awful.

Experienced

Your examiners have enough experience that they can read your thesis, understand it and know what they need to do in their role to give you and your work a fair examination.

It’s possible that your examiners might know more than you about your field. They might even be considered experts in topics related to your thesis.

If that’s the case, however you feel, remember that you have the experience of writing your thesis. You have the experience of doing the work. You have the experience of reading everything you needed to get this far. You have the experience of rising to all of the challenges you had so that you could get to submission.

Your examiners are experienced enough to do their part well. You are too.

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