Thank Your Supporters

You can’t get to the end of a PhD without supporters.

They could have lots of different connections to you – your supervisor, your colleagues, family and friends – and they may help in lots of different ways.

You need help along the way, from people who can give you critical but constructive feedback, and people who help you to believe in yourself.

Say thank you when you go the distance. Reflect on what your supporters have done to help and write a word or two in your acknowledgements. Let them know how they’ve helped when you’re getting ready for your viva, and ask again if there’s one more thing they can do to help you get it right. Let them know how you’ve done afterwards and thank them one more time!

 

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary and I have been fortunate to have my wife support me for the last decade. I know what work I’ve done to come this far, and know I couldn’t have done it without her love, her encouragement, her patience, her listening, her feedback, her humour and so much more. This site wouldn’t exist without her support.

Thank you Kay 🙂

Asks, Favours & Requests

Not all viva prep needs to be done alone.

It’s OK to simply ask, “Can you help me?”

It’s OK to ask for a favour, “It’s not something little, but I really need help. Can you?”

It’s even OK to make a request, “I need this specific thing and I need you to do it, please.”

Supervisors, peers, colleagues, friends, family – all can be there to support you. Given where you are and what you’re doing, given the state of the world, uncertainty and pressure – even if others around you are feeling it too – you can ask. Tell people what you need, when you need it, why you need it, then work with them to get what you need.

And when someone asks you, do your best to help them too.

Boundaries For Prep

If home is nearly everything now, how do you make the space – physically, mentally and cognitively – to do the work you need to prepare for your viva?

You may need to close doors to signal to others you’re busy. You may need to tell them. You may need to ask for very specific things: leave me alone for an hour, can you do X so I can do Y, and so on.

Boundaries help. It’s OK to ask.

If you’re working from home alone, it’s probably helpful to put boundaries in place for you too. “I’ll spend thirty minutes per day” or “I’ll only do prep in the dining room” or “I’ll make a to-do list and mark things off”.

What do you need to put in place to help you prepare? What boundaries will help keep you working well as you get ready?

Who Do You Need?

Today’s post is even more personal than yesterday’s question. It depends on who is around you, in your circle, and what they can practically offer or do for you, as well as what you really need.

The cast of characters in your preparation play could include supervisors, mentors, colleagues, friends, university staff, family members – and from a distance your examiners too.

You might need someone to ask you questions.

You might need someone to check in with you.

You might need someone to get facts from (or, in the case of examiners, facts about!).

You might need someone to tell you what you need to know.

You might need someone to tell you it’s going to be OK.

You might need someone to tell you all about their viva.

Who do you need? It could be more useful to think about what you need others for first. Once you know that, you’ll know who to ask.

5 Meetings To Have Before Your Viva

Getting together with others can make a big difference to your viva.

  1. Have a meeting with your supervisor to discuss possible examiners before submission.
  2. Ask a friend for coffee to talk about your research.
  3. Sit down with friends and family to help them understand what you’ll be going through.
  4. Pop in and see your researcher-developers to see what courses or resources might help.
  5. Arrange a mock viva with your supervisor to have a useful rehearsal for the real thing.

Perhaps meeting is too strong a word for some of these ideas, too formal maybe. Still, you don’t have to get to the viva by yourself: ask others for help and they will give it.

You have to do the viva alone, but plenty of other people can help you get there. Explore what you need and ask for what you need most.

It Was Fine

So many people told me this about the viva before my own, or have told me since about theirs. For most people it’s the simplest way to say something about their viva. But there’s no detail, and in the absence of information, doubts and worries can creep in and play for future candidates who simply hear, “It was fine”…

  • “Fine… So only OK? What happened I wonder?”
  • “Well they passed, but still…”
  • “What do they really mean?”

If you want to find out about vivas, ask for details. You don’t need a minute-by-minute breakdown. You need more than “fine” to make a useful set of expectations and banish worries.

If you’re asked about your viva, give details. Tell candidates how long it was, what surprised you, what questions stood out, what the process was like.

Show them it was fine, don’t simply tell them it was.

Find Encouragement

There’s a place for honest feedback and difficult questions in viva preparation. Criticism can help too, but all of this has to be in proportion with encouragement. Look for people who can help you see that it is all going to be fine.

  • What friends could let you know about their good viva experiences?
  • What questions could you ask your supervisor to get them to talk about you contribution and your talent?
  • How could friends and family members outside of the university support you?

Look back over the last few years. Reflect on your story. What events and achievements can you find that encourage you for your viva?

Making A Fuss

It’s not making a fuss if you ask your supervisor for help before the viva.

It’s not making a fuss if you think something is wrong with your viva or the outcome and believe you need to appeal something.

It’s not making a fuss to make a complaint about your viva.

It’s not making a fuss if you feel nervous or worried and need to share that with someone to try and get some help.

I often say the viva is not the most important thing ever in a person’s life, but that doesn’t mean you need to just trivialise it. It’s right to not just dismiss any concerns or worries. Make the most of your viva. Make it the best it can be. And if you need to ask questions, ask for help, make a complaint, appeal or whatever to do that then that’s what you need to do.

It’s not making a fuss to do what you need to do for your viva.

Burning Questions

Most PhD candidates have real burning questions about the viva.

There’s something they want to know about the process.

They don’t know something about their examiners.

They’re unsure whether something in their thesis is relevant or a problem.

And they hold on to these questions for too long and get burn. They begin to fret. They begin to worry. They get hurt by them!

Have a question? Find someone to ask. Ask your supervisor. Ask your friends. Ask your graduate school! Ask me!

Don’t let your questions burn you. Ask for answers.

Ask The Experts

Look around you. There are lots of experts, able to share ideas, advice, experience. All you have to do is ask.

Ask specific questions about viva experiences to learn what they’re like.

Ask your supervisor and other academics how they approach being examiners.

Ask your graduate school about regulations and expectations.

Ask friends and colleagues for helpful questions to practise.

And ask yourself who the real expert on your thesis must be.

Who knows more about your research than anyone else?