Being a STAR

Long time readers will know I like acronyms. STAR is another good one. It’s typically used by people applying for jobs. STAR lets you frame and tell a story that demonstrates your skills:

  • Situation: where does this story take place, what’s the context?
  • Task: what were you asked to do?
  • Actions: what approach did you take to tackle the task?
  • Results: what happened, how successful were you?

This sequence can create a story to convince someone you’re good at something. Whether you apply for a job, pitch some work or are networking, STAR can help you show you’re the right person.

Your viva is coming up. It’s not a job interview, but STAR can still help you to frame the story you tell about your research:

  • Situation: why was the area something you wanted to research?
  • Task: what were you trying to contribute to your field?
  • Actions: how did you do your research?
  • Results: what did you find and what does it mean?

STAR is a valuable tool: good for telling stories to others, for framing your research and for reminding you just how good you are.

Prep Procrastination

Procrastination is a permanent hot topic in PhD circles. If you suffer with it, it might not go away when you submit. You can still procrastinate about prep, about thinking about the viva, about jobs and everything else that comes next. Of course, just because you’re not actively working on something, it doesn’t mean that you’re not turning it over in the back of your mind. But you may feel bad for putting it off, and feeling bad tends to not feel so good!

Maybe a solution doesn’t have to be hard though. Pick a simple task for prep. Put it in your diary. Remove your distractions. And then get it done when the time comes.

30 minutes at this time, on this day, to do this task.

Phone on silent, email off. Start small, but start. Get something done.

Then something else, and something else, and so on. Prep doesn’t have to be three great big, long tasks. It could be lots of smaller activities with breaks in-between. You’ve figured out how to do a PhD despite procrastination woes! You can prepare for your viva.


A PhD takes a long time, and there can be periods where you feel like not much progress is being made. Weeks and months can pass with what feels like little to show for it. Taking a step back can help you to see the fantastic achievements you’ve accomplished. Here are some questions to reflect on as you get towards the end of your PhD:

  • When did you first show your supervisor something you were really proud of?
  • When did you give your first presentation about your work?
  • When did you first read a paper and think, “I can do this!”?
  • When did you get your first thrill at finding something that no-one else ever had?
  • When did you write the first draft of a chapter?
  • When did you realise that you were going to succeed?

Marking your achievements is a useful source of confidence, particularly if your viva is coming up. Go a step further: reflect on how you felt, what you did and think about what further achievements these milestones lead you to. You’ve come this far by hard work, not luck.


From Wiktionary:

Able and efficient; having the ability needed for a specific task…

Sound like someone you know?

If your viva is coming up, how did you get to this point? How else could you have got here apart from being a capable researcher in your field?

You might be feeling nervous right now, you might be looking for confidence, but you’re definitely capable.

You have the skills, now take action to boost your confidence. What’s your first step?


You could spend your final year of your PhD counting down the days: Another day gone until I have to submit, another day gone until my viva…

I knew PhD candidates who stressed and obsessed that time was running out. It’s easy to see with hindsight and perspective that stress didn’t do much to help them. Of course, if you are stressed, it’s not enough to say “don’t do that,” it’s not something that you can just turn off.

Perhaps you can try to steer things a little though. You can wake up each day and say, “What am I going to do today that will help me? What can I can do that will get me one step closer to finishing my PhD?”

Then you can mark that day off with a different thought: Another day closer to done, another day closer to complete

It’s a little change. But little changes add over time.

What are you going to do today?