The Ends

The end of your viva is not the end of your PhD.

The end of your bibliography doesn’t mean that there is nothing else to know.

The end of your thesis is not the end of the research that could be done.

The end of your PhD journey doesn’t mean that there isn’t more great work for you to do.

The end of your mock viva is not a finish to all the questions you could get in the real thing.

There are many endings around the conclusion of a PhD. Very few of them are final.

The end of your PhD is not the end of your story.

Red Pen

Using a red pen to annotate your thesis can be useful. Underlining typos, circling important things, boxing off ideas.

Using a red pen also carries a lot of negative associations. Crosses in the margins of tests or essays in the past, a circled grade, a short note that diminishes effort.

Annotating your thesis is essential for viva prep. Using a red pen is not. Choose your tools. Think ahead a little for what you will need and what you can do to make the process effective and your annotated thesis useful.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Every writer is asked this, at least from time to time. Postgraduate researchers are asked this too, particularly in the viva.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“Why did you want to follow this research topic?”

“How did you know to do this?”

In your viva you have to be willing to talk about what started your process, how you knew to do something, why you wanted to do it and so on.

Ideas could come from reading. They could come from your supervisor. There might be a highly personal story or a really mundane, practical reality to them. It may be that on the way to working on one project you spotted something interesting that you needed to explore. There are so many routes to inspiration.

You need to be able to talk about the origin of your ideas in the viva, but don’t forget that as interesting as those ideas are they are nothing without the work that has developed them. Your work might be inspired by 100 papers, a chance encounter or by a funding advertisement – but it’s your work that has created your success, not the idea itself.

Wherever your ideas came from, it’s your work that has taken you so far.

Make A Note

Make a note of any papers that have helped your research develop.

Make a note of the times that you remember great success during your PhD.

Make a note of what you know about the viva.

Make a note of anything you know about your examiners’ interests.

Make a note of methods, questions or ideas that you find tricky.

Make a note of topics you need to discuss with your supervisor.

Make a note of times when you remember presenting well.

Make a note of challenges you overcame throughout your PhD, particularly with the pandemic.

Then reflect. What stands out? What helps you? What do you need to do as a result?

Remember to make a note of anything that could help you, in some way, be more ready for your viva.

Confidence & Nervousness

These are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Nervousness is a response to importance; we tend to feel nervous about an important event, good or bad. Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance, certainty or capability.

Nervousness says, “I hope this goes well!”

Confidence says, “I’m pretty sure it will.”

It’s likely you would feel nervous about the prospect of your viva because passing it is important. It’s possible to feel confident for it because of all of the work you’ve done, all of the things you know, all of the talent that you must have. Reflecting on all of these things can help you to find and feel confident. It’s a far more useful thing to do than to try to squash nerves.

Nervousness is about the event. Confidence is about you.

Annotation & Emphasis

One way to think about annotation, as part of viva prep, is that it helps to emphasise parts of what is in your thesis. It’s not about last minute additions or pre-answering questions in the margin: annotating your thesis emphasises the good stuff that is already there, making it easier to find or easier to see.

You get to decide what you need. Make a list of what could help, then find a good way that works for you. Do a little work and you have an upgraded copy of your thesis for the viva.

A Week Off

Today is the start of my daughter’s school half term break, so I’m taking a week off! No webinar delivery, no sitting down to write, no admin or prep; I’ll check my email every other day perhaps just in case there’s something that can’t wait, but otherwise it’s family time for me.

The blog will continue to be published though. I planned ahead. Actually, I plan a long time ahead for this blog. I have a system in place so that if I was sick and had to take time off it would still keep going fine, for a while at least. The same with my business. I planned ahead, in the long term, to make sure nothing was in my diary for this week. I planned in the short term to make sure that things were finished last Friday or left in a good state for picking up next week.

A week off could be just what you need when you submit your thesis. A chance to pause, step back, rest, relax, clear your mind and do something for yourself, before you have to pick up your thesis and start to get ready for the viva.

A week off takes a little prep. Looking ahead, planning, finding good stopping points for projects, or sketching out how you start going again. Time off helps you work well when it’s time to be on. Make sure you take the time you need to help yourself be at your best.

Worn Away

You have time to press pause before you prep. You can put your completed thesis to one side and come back to it when you have had time to restore yourself. You can’t help yourself get ready for the viva if you don’t help yourself into a good condition more generally.

It’s general viva prep advice to pause and rest at submission, but essential if you reach submission and are tired by all you’ve had to do. If you feel worn down then a single day off is not going to help you get in the right frame of mind to read your thesis or prepare for a mock viva. Rest and take the time you need to get ready to prepare.

Show What You Know

Your viva prep does not need to be confined to book work and solitude. While a mock viva is the most notable prep activity that involves others, it’s not the only task that you could involve others in.

  • Sit down over tea or coffee and describe to someone how you have done your research. See if you can share something that will help them.
  • Give a talk. Split your time equally between showing what you have done and taking questions to dig deeper.
  • Write a summary for someone else. Not a cheatsheet for you, but a page or two about a method or process that you have needed for your research.

During my PhD years I noticed that my own understanding of a topic grew whenever I had to explain it to someone else. I found better words, more useful metaphors and gaps in my knowledge. Take a little time in your viva prep to show others what you know, so that you can practise for the viva, build your confidence and show yourself what you know too.