Tick Tock

As a presenter, I silently curse institutions when I arrive to do a workshop and there is no clock on the wall. A clock is helpful to a presenter because they can keep track of where they are in their talk or session. If time slips or something changes they can modify as they go along. You can just glance whenever needed and move forwards.

If it’s viva day though, and you’re the one there to answer questions, a clock is not your friend. A clock just tells you how long you’ve been there, and whatever you see will not help your confidence. Ten minutes in, and you think, “I wonder what’s coming up?” Thirty minutes in: “Is it going well?” Ninety minutes: “How long is left?”

These are questions that you don’t need. They won’t help. At best they take your attention away from the focus for the day. At worst they knock your confidence by summoning doubts. A simple solution to a powerful problem: sit with your back to the clock or ask if it can be taken down. If you normally wear a watch, take it off. You’re fine without the time.

Talking Helps

Last year I chatted with a PhD graduate about their viva prep.

In her department they encouraged final year students to give a seminar about their PhD. As the viva approached they would deliver a talk summarising their research and then take questions. For the graduate I spoke to this was a hugely helpful practice: she got to spend time thinking about how to communicate her work, an opportunity to practice talking about what she had done, and lots of chances to answer unexpected questions from her audience. Three things that are perfect preparation for the viva.

A great idea. At the time I heard the story I thought, “I wish my department had suggested we do this.” A while later I realised, “If it had occurred to me, I could have just done it.”

And so could you. You don’t need permission, you just need a room. Find a space, invite some people, share your work, prepare for your viva.

The Worst

“Can you explain how to make a genus 2 handlebody?”

Gulp.

I was really confident on the results of Chapter 5, but the background was shaky at best in my mind. I had a great result, proved an open conjecture, but couldn’t explain the background with confidence.

And I knew it. I knew it as I was reading my thesis and making notes in prep for my viva. I knew what the worst question was just from reading my thesis. I could have spent more time trying to unpick it and prepare. Instead I hoped it wouldn’t come up.

In workshops I’m regularly asked, “What’s the worst question that your examiners could ask?” It varies for every person. I think each candidate knows what the worst question is, because they’ve already encountered it. In preparation for the viva it’s an area to definitely spend time on. Don’t just hope it won’t come up.

No Accident

I’ve got a few questions for you: Did you do the work? Did you show up at the library or the lab or the office? Did you overcome obstacles through the tough times? Did you learn, did you grow, did you develop?

If you did all of these during your PhD, how could you be in a bad position for the viva?

It’s understandable if you are nervous, but it’s no accident that you’ve got this far. Keep going.

Evolving Viva Survivors

From next Tuesday, the site is changing.

The podcasts will be here, the other resources page will still be here, and the overall aim will stay the same: I want to help PhD candidates feel ready and confident for their viva. The Viva Survivors Podcast has helped do that for almost five years. From next week, the podcast will be an irregular part of the site.
 
From 18th April there will be a daily post of viva prep help. Every day at around 9am there will be something new on the site. The posts will cover a wide range of themes – practical help, inspiration, questions, ideas, tips, humour – all aimed at helping you be ready for the viva. I’ve been fortunate to produce the podcast for almost five years. I’ve delivered over 100 “Viva Survivor” workshops since 2010. I have a lot of concrete ideas for how to help people that I want to share.
 
I also have ideas which I’m working out. The new daily blog will, for me, be a way to test these ideas. My hope is that over time it will help me to help more and more PhDs prepare for the viva. The podcast isn’t going away! My goal at the moment is to have a new episode up around once a month or so. For some time though my heart has wanted to do more writing. I’ve looked for opportunities to experiment with new ideas. This change will help me do that and, I hope, help a lot of people too.
 
The site design will change over the next few weeks to reflect the new nature of things. I hope that I don’t break any links, but if you spot any then do let me know over email.
 
I’ll be tweeting new posts every day, but the best way to ensure you see them is to subscribe using the box on every page. That way you will get an email when a new post goes up. If you already subscribe but don’t want daily emails with viva-related thoughts then you can unsubscribe too.
 
My hope though is that you and others will join me on this next stage of Viva Survivors. If you’ve got any questions about it then email me or tweet at me. I hope that this site becomes even more valuable.
 
Thanks for reading.