Get Corrections Done

Big or small, whether they feel fair or not, after the viva just get your thesis corrections done. Your examiners will be clear about what needs doing and why – if there’s any doubt in your mind, ask them.

Corrections are a part of the process; no-one wants to do them, but they’re required for a good reason. They help to make your thesis that little bit better, more valuable or easier to read.

Unless you have a very good reason to think that your examiners have made a mistake: say thank you, make a list, make time to do them and get them done.

Find Five

A little nudge to start viva preparations:

  1. Find five papers in your bibliography that have really supported you and your research.
  2. Find five people who can help you get ready for your viva.
  3. Find five days that you can take a good hour to do something to get ready.
  4. Find five places in your thesis where you make a good contribution.
  5. Find five reasons to help you believe you will succeed in your viva.

There will be many more for each category, and many more helpful categories of things that could help someone get ready. Five is a good starting place.

First and Last Questions

The first question in the viva is likely to be simple: it’s something you will be able to respond to. A question that asks about an aspect of your work that is familiar – maybe a big picture, “How did you get started?” or “How would you summarise your research?” Simple to understand and asked by your examiners to help start the viva well.

Sometimes the first question is characterised as easy, in contrast to an expectation that questions get much harder. Is the last question of the viva supposed to be hard? I’m not sure.

The last question could be, “Have you got any questions for us?” Whatever it is, the last question comes after all of the others. Nervousness should hopefully have faded away. You might be tired from the effort, but you could also be more relaxed than you were at the start of the viva.

All questions in the viva could be challenging. All questions could be well within your capability as a researcher. First and last questions deserve the same attention and focus as any other.

Forget easy and hard. Remember who is being asked, what they’re being asked and why they’re being asked.

Solve An Easier Problem

If you look at your viva prep as just so much to do, a great big problem, and if that is weighing heavily on you – know that it doesn’t need to be this way. Big problems are hard to solve. You can make this easier on yourself.

Start small. Make a little plan. Do something. Read a page of your thesis before you worry about how much or how often you need to read the whole thing. Have one conversation with a friend about your work before you create any anxiety about having a mock viva – or responding to questions on the day.

Of course there are lots of things to think about with the viva and viva prep. For some aspects there are no simple solutions about what to do, how much and when. But you don’t have to start with those big things immediately. You can start small. Solve an easier problem.

On This Day

You probably have at least one account with a major internet entity that backs up your photos, or where you share what you’re up to in some way. It’s likely that you post or tweet or save a photo away in an archive.

If something good happens today or tomorrow – in fact, whenever something good happens for your PhD – take a picture. Write a post (keep it private if you like), but do something to mark a good thing in your research or PhD journey.

 

A year from now you’ll be minding your own business when your phone, tablet or app will remind you that you have memories: “On this day you did this…”

You’ll remember what you did and you’ll know you are making progress. You’ll see how far you’ve come. Maybe a year from now it will even be after your viva! But that’s OK. The need for recognising achievement and benefitting from confidence doesn’t stop with the viva.

Find a way to remind yourself of your work, your progress and your success. You’ll find confidence in your ability when you do – and help feel even more ready for the challenge of your viva.

The Story Of Your PhD

Remind yourself at every opportunity that you have not got this far by being lucky. The unfolding story of your PhD features you front and centre: doing the work, making progress and getting close to viva success.

Nothing “just happens”. Your research outcomes, your personal growth and thesis submission are driven by you. Yes, you may have allies and supporters, but you are the protagonist of this tale. You are not in the background and you are not drifting along.

The story of your PhD is one of success through your effort. Remind yourself that your actions have got you as far you’ve come, whatever stage that might be, and that those efforts will see you through to a successful conclusion too.

Who Is It For?

Your thesis is not written for your examiners. You have to write it for your PhD and your examiners have to read it to examine you. It’s not written for them – the goal is to make a contribution to knowledge.

You don’t learn about viva expectations so you have a template you’re trying to complete. You’re learning more so that you can prepare well. You’re not trying to meet some ideal for your examiners.

Your prep is not done for your examiners. It’s for you. You want to be at your best, ready, refreshed, feeling confident – but that’s not for them. You want to to feel ready for you.

Remember to keep the focus where it needs to be for the viva.

Disagreement Is Not Disaster

If one of your examiners doesn’t agree with some aspect of your work that doesn’t automatically mean you fail. It doesn’t mean the outcome of the viva jumps to major corrections. And it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.

It means that they disagree. They could disagree with a question, an idea, a method that you’ve used, a position that you hold or a conclusion that you’ve reached. It means that you’ll need to talk about it – but you have to talk and discuss your work in the viva whatever topic comes up.

Disagreement does mean you need to listen extra carefully. Ask questions to be certain of what your examiner disagrees with. Respond appropriately. It’s not the end of the world or the end of the viva. Disagreement shows a different perspective in some way. Sometimes you just have to listen and take note.

A Long Time

In the year before your viva you don’t need to do much to get ready. Your focus is on finishing research, finishing your thesis and thinking about life after the PhD.

In the month before your viva you can start your prep. Read your thesis, make notes, check details and take opportunities to rehearse.

In the week before your viva make a to-do list of anything that remains. What are your priorities? Who can help you? Remind yourself of what you’ve done to get his far.

In the day before your viva you might want to do some final prep, but equally it could just be time to rest and relax.

In the hour before your viva it’s a good idea to check one more time that you’ve got everything you need. Remember as well that you have a challenging couple of hours ahead – but you are ready for this challenge.

In the minute before your viva remember to breathe. Any nerves are about the importance of the day; they are not a negative reflection on your talent or contribution.

In the second before your viva you might blink-

-and then realise that it’s all done. Your viva flew by. You were there, but you were engaged and weren’t thinking about how long it was.

Success in the viva is a long time coming, but doesn’t take very long on the day.

Time To Finish

The viva is framed in lots of different ways.

It’s an exam. It’s a test. It’s a discussion. It’s the end of the PhD journey or the final challenge. You could be excited to be there or telling yourself, “Let’s get this over with…”

Another way to look at is that it’s just time to finish. It’s time. It’s the right time. Years of work, months of anticipation and build-up. New ideas and prospects ahead. You’ve done your PhD for long enough. It’s time to finish and go on to the next thing.

Two questions then: what will help you to finish your PhD well? What will help you to start whatever comes next in the best possible way?