New Beginning

Your viva is almost the end of your PhD. What’s next?

An ending is also the start of something else. What’s your new beginning?

What do you take with you into this next chapter of your life? What new knowledge or skill set do you now have that you didn’t have before? What hopes or goals are you working towards? How are you better equipped to pursue them now that you have the experience of your PhD?

Before you start your new beginning, consider that all of that learning, development and knowledge will help you in the viva too.

The Waiting Room

It could be that, like me, having to wait for something means your thoughts turn to asking “What if…?” These questions aren’t always helpful for keeping calm or confident. Sometimes they even prompt nervousness. They could be natural to ask, but seriously unhelpful in those moments.

Before or after the viva, wherever you are, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to wait.

Waiting to start, waiting while your examiners talk afterwards. Wait to get going or wait for it to be done and the result known. Waiting might simply feel uncomfortable or it could spark anxious questions, depending on your temperament and how you feel in those situations.

If you know you feel uncomfortable in those situations, what could you do?

By now, I’m pretty confident when I deliver a presentation or seminar, but I still get nervous waiting. So I have a routine that starts things off. I have a small series of tasks to calm me and engage me while the time ticks down. I have music that I listen to which connects me with the work I’m about to do.

What could you do? Is there something you could listen to before your viva that might help? Is there a series of steps you could take to keep you calm? A process for setting up your space that would help you?

And afterwards, if you’re at home or your university, what could you do while waiting for your examiners to finish their discussions? Could you go for a short walk? Make a drink? Talk to someone?

You’ll most likely have to wait on the day of your viva. What can you do to feel comfortable in those moments?

Exit Strategies

In and amongst your viva prep, take a little time to think about how you will start your life after your viva.

  • If your viva is over video, how will you step back from that situation? Who will you talk to? How will you unwind from those hours of conversation? How might you celebrate?
  • If your viva is in-person, where will you go? Who will you need with you? And again, how might you celebrate?
  • Then once your corrections are done, what will you need to do to separate yourself from your life as a PhD candidate to life as a PhD?

Or, more simply, what will you do when your viva is done?

The Longest Short Break

The break at the end of my viva really wasn’t that long.

My memory tells me it was about 17 minutes, but it was a very long 17 minutes. It felt longer than the four hours I was in the viva.

I sat at my desk. I looked at things. Maybe I checked my email. My memory is hazy about that, but I remember it being a long time that was really no time at all. Then my internal collected me and I walked back along the corridor to find out the result.

You might have seventeen minutes or seven, a brief pause or an anxious wait, but you are very likely to have a short break of some description at the end of the viva. A chance to think about what’s just happened, to fret or smile, but time to fill nonetheless.

It’s a good idea to think in advance of something to do, just in case you are a little anxious when you come out, or in case there’s no-one around to support you (whether your viva is from home or in your department).

It won’t be long, but it might not feel that way at the time. Plan accordingly.

And Then You’re Done

Finishing my PhD was a strange time. I remember a weird few weeks of tidying my desk, taking folders home on the train, clearing stuff into recycling, and then a gap of months of trying to figure out, “What now?”

How do you want things to change for you?

  • Will your PhD journey have a gradual conclusion, tidying up loose ends, leaving things in their right place while you prepare to start a new expedition?
  • Will it simply finish one day, a red line drawn across your calendar to mark the end of one era and the start of another?
  • Will it just change? Will you realise one day that you’ve moved on and you didn’t see it happen?

Finish your thesis, prepare for your viva, but spare a little thought for that Future-You, who will one day find that they’re done with their PhD.

What can you do to help prepare them for that situation?

After The Viva

Thank your examiners.

Take some deep breaths.

Make a few notes about what just happened.

Make sure your supervisors know what just happened.

Call whoever you need to and let them know.

Take some more deep breaths.

Go find a way to celebrate.

And in and among all of those moments, have a minute for yourself to really take in what you’ve achieved in the viva. The almost-end of a long, long period of hard work and discovery. Don’t forget that it wouldn’t have been possible but for you.

You deserve every congratulation you receive.

Passing Prestige

There are different outcomes to vivas, but in the grand scheme of things there’s no real hierarchy with them. We know this because when everything is complete you’re not awarded anything extra for how you pass.

Corrections, minor or major, are for most the necessary work for a pass. But there’s no special seal on your certificate for no corrections, no demerits for having to do more. No official commendation: you pass, and that’s that.

Passing is special enough, right?

The PhD Epilogue

After the final act, the climactic battle between good and evil, heroes and villains clashing, a white knuckle adventure with thrills and chills…

…there’s corrections.

It’s always worth remembering that for most candidates the PhD process does not end with the viva and a little paperwork. After your viva – which, white-knuckle-or-not, comes after weeks of preparation and years of work – there will probably be a few more weeks of work while you finalise your thesis. You remove any typos, tweak a few paragraphs, add something here and there.

A little epilogue when the battle is done (and won!) but where the hero has to think about what they’ve learned, and leave their adventure behind. Perhaps they find a new adventure, maybe they retire to a different life or return to what they knew before.

Don’t forget about this period. Look forward to it if you can.

A short time to finish things, to calm down, to recover, to find your feet before adventure calls again and you start on a new journey.

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!!!?

Changing My Thesis

I re-read my thesis now and cringe!

There are long, waffly sentences that need serious editing. The diagrams look amateur. The structure of the thesis barely supports how I frame my ideas. It could be so much better – and this doesn’t take into account what more or different research could show!

My thesis will never be perfect. Your thesis can never be perfect. There will always be things you could make better, but that doesn’t you won’t reach a point where you’re done.

Before submission you have to decide what “good enough” means, then work to achieve that standard. At your viva justify your decision. Your examiners might ask for some corrections you didn’t anticipate (or some you don’t agree with), but they’ll largely be requests to make it as good as they can reasonably imagine.

And eleven years later you might cringe!

It will never be perfect, but through submission time, the viva and afterwards you will find a good enough thesis to contain your research. Keep going until you’re finally done.