Conclusions Aren’t The End

Thesis conclusions invite questions in the viva. Whatever the nature of concluding remarks, they can always lead to requests that go further or dig deeper.

  • “What next?” or “What now?”
  • “Are you sure?”
  • “What else could you…?”
  • “How else could one…?”
  • “How do you know…?”
  • “But what about…?”

If thesis conclusions were truly the end then vivas would probably be much shorter. There would simply be a lot less to discuss probably!

Instead, conclusions are a resting point. A pause. A clear mark that a destination has been reached, while also showing that there’s more to know or more to do.

The Little Things

What little things could you do regularly to help yourself on the lead up to submission and the viva?

  • Keep a little notebook to hand to capture thoughts about your research.
  • Collect small stationery items to annotate your thesis.
  • Set a short time aside to reflect on a day’s progress or a week’s successes. (and record them somehow!)
  • Mark spaces in your diary when you can stop and rest.
  • List small tasks that you can complete in spare moments.

There are big things involved in viva prep that take lots of time and focus – but remember that every action you choose to take, little or big, can help you to be ready for your viva.

Giving A Presentation

I love little quirks of language. We often use the verb give in connection with a presentation. It makes me think of gifts and presents – a present-ation!

Sometimes PhD candidates are asked to prepare a presentation to start the viva. If we consider the presentation as a gift you’re giving, then perhaps it makes sense to think of it like other gifts we might give.

  • Be sure it’s wanted. Your examiners will probably have some expectations of length and content. Either ask them or ask your supervisors for what is required.
  • Spend an appropriate amount. You invest time rather than money in this gift: a little preparation and practice will help. You don’t need to spend a lot to have something right for the occasion.
  • Upcycle previous gifts! A presentation for the start of your viva will not be the first time you have presented work from your thesis. Look at past talks and notes. Draw from them to make something to share with your examiners.

Gifts give something to the giver and the receiver. The person or people receiving have something they didn’t have before – in this case, examiners have information and a sense of who the giver, the candidate, is and what they have done.

As the giver, you give yourself permission to be proud of what you’ve done; you give yourself a good starting point for the viva; you give yourself a useful element of preparation and a confidence boost.

The Standard Viva

Vivas vary because every thesis and every candidate are different. Regulations create a layer of structure. Good practice for vivas creates expectations. You can’t have a script but you can reasonably expect a viva to have certain standard features.

  • You can and should expect examiners to prepare.
  • You can ask for a break at any point.
  • Vivas tend to start with a simple question.
  • Corrections are a standard request for candidates.

Success is part of the standard viva. More than anything, it’s expected you will pass.

Worst & Best

It’s normal to be nervous for your viva. It’s understandable if you have worries or feel anxious about what could happen. It would be very human to think about what might go wrong – but rather than focus on the worst case scenario, think about what you could do to be at your best.

You can’t control what happens in the viva – your examiners’ questions or opinions, what it might feel like moment to moment – but you can take charge of what you do to get ready. You can take practical steps to prepare and build your confidence. Your preparations can help you present the best possible you in the viva.

The worst case viva scenario is extremely unlikely. You being at your best for the challenge is almost guaranteed.

Then & There

When you find out the date and location for your viva, whether your viva is in-person or over video, write down a few thoughts for each of the following questions:

  • How will I get there and when do I need to be ready?
  • What do I need in that space and how do I get it?
  • Who do I need help from?
  • What can I do to help myself on that day in that space?

Viva prep is not limited to book work and mock vivas. Explore what you need to make your viva venue as helpful as possible to feeling ready to talk with your examiners.

Something To Look Forward To

Can you feel excited for your viva?

Or if not, can you feel excited that soon everything you need for your PhD will be done?

Whatever challenges we face, it can help to have something to look forward to. If that’s not the viva that is coming your way, then perhaps look beyond to your celebration, the relief of passing, the next big thing that you’ll be doing.

What do you have to look forward to?

Managing The Mock Viva

A key part of viva prep is using opportunities to rehearse for the viva.

You have to read your thesis to prepare, make notes, check references you might have forgotten, and so on – but in the viva you need to talk. You’re not called on simply to present but to respond to questions. You have to be ready to be a participant in the discussion your examiners are facilitating.

A mock viva is probably the best opportunity you could have to rehearse. By design it is supposed to be like the viva you’re expecting. It’s run by your supervisor and maybe a colleague of theirs; while they may not have had the full prep time your examiners will have, they can draw on their own relevant experience to help you prepare.

A mock viva doesn’t have to be a big deal to arrange but there are key questions to consider first:

  • Do you really want one? They’re a great opportunity but not for everyone. Think carefully about yourself, your relationship with your supervisor and what you need for your prep.
  • When could you have one? Talk to your supervisor about their availability and schedule a time that will suit you both – giving plenty of time to debrief and build on your rehearsal.
  • What do you need to do to be ready for the mock? Probably everything you’re already doing to get ready for the viva at that stage, so nothing else!
  • What do you want to get from the experience? If you just want to have something like the viva, then you don’t need to ask for anything else. If you want questions on a specific topic or aspect of your work then prime your supervisor.

Remember that this will not be a run-through for your real viva. Your real viva will be different. Your real viva will matter more, have different questions and come with the real expectations and anticipations of the day. A mock viva helps you rehearse how you might feel and behave on the day, rather than allow you to test responses to questions.

There’s not a lot to manage to have a mock viva. Think ahead a little and you can manage your expectations, then do something to help with your viva preparation.

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