Ten Questions For Pre-Viva Nerves

It’s understandable to be nervous, anxious or scared about the viva. It’s not just any other day of your PhD.

You can be nervous, and hope that it doesn’t affect you too much, or you can be nervous and think about what you can do to make things better. Here are ten questions to help you unpick and cope with pre-viva nerves:

  1. How nervous do you feel on a scale of one to ten?
  2. In what ways are your nerves getting in the way of your prep?
  3. What do you think lies at the root of your nerves?
  4. What could you do to make yourself feel one bit less nervous?
  5. What will you do?
  6. How many positive things can you think of to boost your confidence?
  7. What ones do you think you could try in the next seven days?
  8. What ones will you try?
  9. What are you feeling most anxious about the viva?
  10. What are you going to do about it?

“I’m nervous” or “I’m anxious” isn’t enough. You can’t stop there. You have to work past worry I think, not be stopped by whatever barriers are going up. It’s easy for me to just say that, but if you’re in that place you have to do something about it.

I hope these questions help. Take a look at the following tagged themes on the blog too – worry and viva anxiety – there may be something useful among these posts for you.

Details

They matter. But the little things that evade memory or fast recall probably don’t matter as much as you think they do.

You’re primed to notice the little things you forget more than you notice all of the things that you easily remember.

If nerves about remembering everything before the viva appear, banish them by thinking about all of the things you do know, rather than the tiny fraction of details that don’t snap into focus.

Knowing

I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.

An old friend of mine used to say this regularly. It’s a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, and my friend would use it to help him think about difficulties that he had with colleagues or customers. If somebody bothered him, his first action was to try to get to know them better. That could help him figure out a way around the problem he was having.

It strikes me that this sentiment is probably true of the viva. When I ask most candidates about the viva they tell me they’re worried, scared, unsure, uncertain and many more words. They don’t like the sound of it – and at the same time they often don’t know much about what actually happens there.

If they were to get to know the viva better, I don’t think they would necessarily remove all anxieties, but I do think they’d like it more.

Knowing more about the purpose and processes of the viva can only be a benefit.

So, in advance of your own, who can you ask? Where can you go to know the viva better?

A Lack of Confidence

I often write about looking for ways to boost or find confidence. I’m not sure I’ve wondered too much about why someone might have a lack of confidence on the blog, except for mentioning surface level things like “what if my mind goes blank?”

For a long time before, during and after my PhD I would be hyper-nervous on any occasion I would have to speak in public. Eventually that went away, through a lot of practice. But at the root was a worry that people would judge me somehow, not like me or what I had to say.

Where did that come from?

In my dim and distant memory I remember being in a play as a teenager, to an audience of mostly teenagers, and no-one liking it. A really different kind of situation to the situations in my PhD and afterwards. Somehow different anxieties had tied together over the years.

It’s freeing to remember it now. I’m older, more rational, and can look on it differently: I can think about what it means, what I can do about it. I still get nervous, like anyone does, but thinking about where those worries came from has helped me to do something about them.

If you feel nervous or anxious about any aspect of the viva, then don’t look first for things to boost your confidence. Search instead for what might be at the root. What is causing you to doubt? What is holding you back? What does it mean?

What are you going to do?

Negatives

Anxiety and negativity crop up around the viva. There are lots of unhelpful associations. If you have negative thoughts then it’s important to take a step back:

  • Make a list, get it all out in the open, what are you really thinking about here?
  • Next, for each thing on the list, is there something you can actually do? (for example, you can ask friends to help you unpick possible objections to your work, but you can’t find everything you’ve never thought about before!)
  • Finally, make a list of concrete steps to take to reduce the impact of things you can do something about.

There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t alter. And there’s no sense in only worrying about things that you can work on.

Be clear about which is which, and then you’ll see what you can do.