Six Steps For Friction-free Prep

In preparing for the viva you have your thesis, your knowledge, your talent…

…and a lot of things potentially in your way, stopping you from getting ready! Busy days, family ties, worry, uncertainty over what to do – there’s lots to slow you down!

Thankfully, there’s a few simple steps you can take to remove the obstacles in your way:

  1. Make a plan. Just a short one, just an idea of when you need start, when you need to stop and what you need to do.
  2. Get your materials together. You need your thesis, some stationery, some paper and some papers you’ve referenced too. Get it all together, don’t leave things for later when you can procrastinate and avoid prep because you don’t have that paper you need.
  3. Find a prep space. It might be your dining table, it could be your office, it could be a cafe. But find a space that you can work well in.
  4. Tell others what you need. Probably, you need them to leave you alone from time to time! Get the space you need.
  5. Do at least one thing every day. Read a chapter, write a summary, check a reference – do something so it becomes a habit. Small tasks add up.
  6. Make a task list for your plan. What are all the tasks you have to get done? Cross them off as you go to see your progress as it happens.

Be practical. Don’t stay in your head with worries, doubts, procrastinations. Work better by removing things that create friction as you get ready to pass your viva.

Opening Questions

How did you get interested in this area? How would you summarise your research? Could you tell us about your most important contributions?

There are other potential opening questions. None are trivial, all rely on a deep knowledge and talent that you alone have.

Opening questions often ask for summaries, considered opinions and so on. Your examiners don’t ask because they imagine you have ten short monologues prepared. They ask because they expect you will have been asked questions like these many times before. Responses should flow relatively naturally as you’ve thought about these ideas many times before.

They’re not asked because they’re easy. They’re definitelynot easy questions with easy answers. Instead, they’re asked because they give a natural way for the viva to start. Here’s a chance for you to start well. Here’s an opportunity for you to let your nerves and anxieties recede and let you knowledge and talent take the foreground.

You’re the only one who could give a great response to opening questions. Because of what you’ve done and what you know, you will give a great response to whatever question starts your viva.

No Two The Same

No two vivas are completely different either.

One friend might have a two hour viva, another’s is three – but both got minor corrections.

One friend might have been asked to give an overview of their research to start, while another was asked how they got interested in a topic – and both were done in under 90 minutes.

One friend got minimal corrections, another got major – but both enjoyed the experience.

Any two vivas will have similarities and differences.

Many vivas have common similarities – approximate length, tone of examiners, areas of questioning maybe within disciplines – and ways in which they differ. Differences don’t mean bad things, just difference.

Listen to stories and realise that vivas generally are fine, and that there are some expectations underneath all of the variety of experiences.

Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva

There are lots of reasons. Any one of the following might be enough:

  • You did the work.
  • You’re talented.
  • Your examiners are there to examine, not interrogate.
  • Vivas have expectations.
  • Examiners have responsibilities.
  • You can prepare for the viva…
  • …and you will have prepared for your viva. (right?!)
  • The viva isn’t a total mystery.
  • Of the three people in the room, you have the expertise when it comes to your thesis.
  • You have a history of rising to meet challenges.

Taken in combination, they paint an impressive picture for the outcome of your viva.

There are many more reasons you will pass your viva, specific to you, your thesis and your research journey. The many reasons you’ll pass align with reasons you could be confident about your performance in the viva.

You’ve not got this far by accident; you’ve not got this far by only showing up.

Finally!!!

There’s lots of Finally!!! moments at the end of a PhD.

Finally!!! My thesis is finished!

Finally!!! My viva is almost here!

Finally!!! I’ve passed my viva!

Finally!!! My corrections are done!

Finally!!! I’ve graduated! I’m finally, finally, done!

At each moment where you think Finally!!! take time to think: what got you this far? How far have you come?

And what can you do to get you to the next Finally!!!?

Everything? or Enough?

Have you done everything you could for your research and thesis? It’s almost impossible!

Have you done enough for your research and thesis? Probably, since most candidates do!

It helps to define “enough” before you try to decide if you’ve achieved it.

Similarly, you can’t do everything in preparation for your viva, but you can do enough. Figure out where you have gaps, where you need support, where others can help you, then work your way to being ready. Decide in advance on what you need to do before you get to work.

You can’t do everything, you can do enough.

Tend To Your Confidence

Confidence is essential for the viva, but you can’t just turn it on.

You have to nurture it.

If you want to grow vegetables, you could throw some seeds in a hole in the ground and wait to see what happens.

Or you could match the right seed to the right type of soil at the right time of year. Be deliberate. You could track when you water or add nutrients. You could decide how you will trim leaves or not, what supports you might need to help the plant grow well, whether or not you need to do something to help remove pests. There’s a lot you could do to help. You can’t guarantee the outcome, can’t see exactly what the final harvest will be, but you can do your best to steer the situation to the best possible outcome.

You can do the same thing for your confidence in general, and in particular for your viva. You can try things, find opportunities to give you more experience. You can reflect on your progress through your PhD to see times when you’ve clearly improved. You can think about what you could do to help your confidence on the day itself.

Not guaranteeing an outcome, but steering your confidence – and yourself – to the best possible outcome.

Actions Beat Hopes

You can hope your examiners don’t spot them.

A vague paragraph. An unfortunate typo. An unfinished project. The method you can’t quite remember. The definition that you struggle to place. The ideas you’ve not finished developing.

The things you hope your examiners won’t notice, but they easily could. Hope is wonderful, but in this case hope isn’t enough.

Rather than hope your examiners won’t notice something, think about what you could do. Could you help yourself with more thought and more prep? Could you write a note in the margin or make some other useful annotation? Create a summary to explore or explain ideas? Ask a friend to ask you questions? Have a mock viva?

Hope can help you in the viva, but your actions help you more.

What will you do?

Examiners Have Good Intentions

Your examiners are not coming to your viva intending to crush your dreams. They don’t want to tear your work apart. They aren’t simply trying to find fault. They won’t give you corrections for the sake of it.

They might find mistakes, they might disagree, but they’re not there to ruin you. They’re not there to be mean.

Instead, they read, they look, they explore; they try to understand and ask questions to do so.

Examiners examine.

On Wishlists

Wishlists for presents and wishlists for the viva are two very different things.

For presents you’re telling others, “If you can, if you want to, can you please get me this?”

For the viva you’re saying, not asking, “These are the things I really want when I meet my examiners.”

Really, the best person to help you get what you want from your viva wishlist is you. If there’s things you want or feel you need then you have to work to make them a reality. If there’s no way of making it certain then you have to act to get more comfortable with the uncertainty present in the situation.

You might also have to recognise when an item on your viva wishlist, like a present wishlist, is just not going to happen. Some wishlist items are a shot-in-the-dark, maybe-just-maybe…

…but they’re probably more of a distraction than anything. Work to remove these items from your viva wishlist. Focus on what you can achieve, not just what you wish for.