Headers & Footers

Annotation can help make your thesis more useful for the viva – and there’s a lot of empty space in the borders of your thesis pages.

The top and bottom of a page could be helpful to highlight key points, to summarise the content or even to offer a word of encouragement. If something is great, use the header to make it stand out. If there’s something tricky consider using the space at the bottom to leave a helpful note or two.

Headers and footers don’t need to be filled but they’re a great opportunity for you to prepare and to help in the viva. How will you use yours?

Thesis Highlights

Two or three little colourful pens can make a big difference to your viva. Highlighters can help make important details stand out in your thesis so you don’t have to search for them. A little effort during your viva prep can help create a thesis where you can find things more easily.

  • Key definitions? Now standing out!
  • Important references? Simple to spot!
  • Essential results? Always obvious!

Your thesis contains a lot of information. Make what matters most easy to find, simple to spot and extra helpful for your viva.

Do I Need A Printed Thesis?

Over the last year a lot of PhD candidates have asked me variations on this question. Any response has to be layered, because there’s lots to think about. Often, the question is being asked because it has been more difficult than usual to obtain a printed copy.

Do you still need a printed thesis in the age of Zoom vivas?

  • The first thing to do is check what your institution and department say. Have regulations or expectations changed? If yes, you could consider having a digital copy, but if not you just might need to get a printed copy produced regardless.
  • If you need a printed copy but your institution print shop is out of action or has greatly reduced capacity, then Google is your friend: there are lots of online printing services that can produce this and ship to your door quickly.
  • If you don’t, according to the rules, need a printed copy, then you have to consider about what you need for the viva.

You need a copy of your thesis, in a format that is easy for you to read, search through and find sections. You need a copy of your thesis that you can annotate, both before and potentially during your viva. Annotation makes your thesis more useful for the viva and helps you to reflect on your thesis as you get ready. A digital copy of your thesis could do this, but you have to be sure that the format, the software and the device you are using is going to be enough for you in the viva.

My personal opinion is that a print copy of a thesis could, in many cases, be the best solution. But that’s my personal opinion, based on my needs, how easy I would find it to use a paper document and so on. I don’t have any needs that wouldn’t be met by a paper thesis. I don’t have any restrictions in terms of getting access to a printed 200-page document if I needed one for that purpose. I’m me, I’m not you.

If you need a digital copy, then it’s worth exploring how you would make that work well for you in the viva.

If you need a paper copy but that might be tricky to find, then it’s worth searching for a way to get one.

Must-Have Annotations!

Everyone is talking about them for Summer 2021! Your thesis is the must-have accessory for your viva wardrobe, and can be accessorised itself, in so many wonderful ways:

  • Strategic Post-it Notes to show the brilliant beginnings of chapters or index the important points you have to show-off!
  • Highlights are in this season: references, typos, key passages. Whatever matters most to you needs to stand out!
  • Marginalia matters too, and whatever you add to the borders of your thesis pages really helps to emphasise your own style – and your research!

Yes, this post is aiming to be both playful and serious. Memorable I hope, and an encouragement to think about how you can make your thesis more helpful for the viva too.

And, maybe, more fabulous!

7 Questions To Help You Annotate Your Thesis

Annotating your thesis is useful viva prep. You have to really think about your thesis while you do it and you create a more useful resource for afterwards. I have general ideas I think are good for annotation, but every candidate has to do something that works for them. With that in mind, here are seven questions that could help you:

  1. What do you want to find easily?
  2. What is important in your thesis? (bonus question: how are you defining important?)
  3. Where do you need to add short notes?
  4. Where do you need to add longer notes?
  5. What pages would benefit from a few sentences to summarise them?
  6. What do you need to underline? (bonus question: why?)
  7. What do you need to highlight? (bonus question: why?)

Annotate your thesis so it is useful for you. Ask questions and set parameters before you start. Figure out what you need to do and then go do it.

Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.

Ten Quick Top Fives

Viva preparation is not about speed, but sometimes a quick task is useful to break the inertia. I’ve shared a few “top fives” posts before, but here are ten quick tasks to get things moving.

  1. Top Five Places To Bookmark In Your Thesis!
  2. Top Five Useful References For You!
  3. Top Five Academics Who Could Be A Good Examiner!
  4. Top Five Questions To Ask Your Supervisor!
  5. Top Five Friends Who Could Help Your Preparation!
  6. Top Five Definitions To Remember!
  7. Top Five Expectations For Your Viva!
  8. Top Five Details To Check!
  9. Top Five Things To Boost Your Self Confidence!
  10. Top Five Preparation Tasks!

Little lists, quick tasks, quick questions – they won’t be the most useful things you could do in preparation. Sometimes you’re not in a position to do the most effective task. Sometimes you’re not building a wall, you’re placing a brick: little by little, adding to your sense of being ready for your viva.

Thesis Prep Checklist

Check off the following as you complete these thesis-related tasks before the viva:

  1. Added Post-it Notes to the start of each chapter to help with thesis navigation.
  2. Read through every chapter carefully at least once.
  3. Highlighted key references in each chapter.
  4. Added Post-it Notes to any important pages.
  5. Written a 1-line summary at the top of each page.
  6. Annotated any tricky passages to make them clearer.
  7. Bookmarked pages that add to the key contribution of the thesis.

If you’ve done all of these then you’re doing well. Your prep might not be complete, but you’ve read your thesis, annotated it usefully and started to think through why your work makes a difference.

What else can you do to get ready?

Clearing Out The Vague

Reading and re-reading your thesis in preparation for the viva could show passages that don’t quite make sense.

You could read a sentence and know what you meant, but also know that the sentence doesn’t communicate it fully. You may even find a paragraph that leaves you scratching your head…

what does this mean? What was I trying to say?

…and while you might not feel good about finding something unclear, you don’t have to feel too bad about it either. It’s unlikely you’ve found something that would disqualify your thesis or you. You just need to clear out the vague words before you meet your examiners.

You can’t submit a pre-corrected version of your thesis but you could:

  • Write a short note in the margin;
  • Stick a Post-it Note with corrected text over the passage;
  • Create a mind map about the topic;
  • Check your definitions and jargon;
  • Practise explaining the area with your friends.

There’s a lot you can do to make vague words more clear. Exploring is always better than just hoping your examiners won’t notice.

Best of Viva Survivors 2018: Viva Prep

To finish 2018 I’m sharing my favourite posts from the last year. I’ll start as I did last year with the topic of viva prep, something that’s always in my mind because of this blog and the sessions that I deliver. Here are some of the most useful posts from the last twelve months.

I hope these posts give you a good foundation if you’re preparing for your viva soon. Seen anything else you think is useful for viva prep? Let me know! And do share these “best of” posts with any friends whose vivas are in the near future 🙂