The Essentials

Five years ago today I ran my first ever independent workshop.

I was so excited!

It was a big step: to go from being invited by universities to meet PhD candidates, now instead I was inviting them to meet me. I’ve done that a lot in the last year over Eventbrite and Zoom, but to hire a venue, to advertise, to think about everything that I would want or need if I were a participant – this was a really big stretch for me then.

It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

One of the things I was most delighted about, aside from the great venue that I found and the four people who took a chance to come to the event, was making goody bags. I wanted to give everyone who came a bag packed with everything they would need to help them get ready for the viva – and a few things that they didn’t need, but which would maybe give them a smile.

Goodybag contents

I made a print run of the books I had written, and gave ebook codes too; I designed and published a new guide to getting ready for the viva; I supplied stationery that would help, notebooks – plus a big bar of dark chocolate and a tote bag to carry it all in.

I loved putting all of this together – most of the contents were a surprise to the participants on the day, and the looks of delight at the goody bags I gave were some of my highlights of 2016.

Which leads me to ask three questions, two for you and one for me.

  • First, if your viva was coming up: what would you need in an essential goody bag to support you? What would you want? What would be nice? What would help you just that little bit more?
  • Second, if you have a friend with a viva soon: what could you do to give them a little boost? What practical things could help them get ready? What else could you do to make them smile?
  • And for me: what can I do with my Zoom sessions to bring a little of that surprise and delight that I loved so much in my very first independent seminar?

Make It Special

With the move to video vivas in the UK, I’ve not heard of any terrible stories, but I can well imagine that for some candidates the viva doesn’t feel that important. Or if it does, there’s a shadow of it not being all that special when they succeed. Finishing a video chat and sending a few emails or text messages isn’t the same as being able to meet a group of friends for dinner and celebrate.

There are things we just can’t change, not yet, not now – but celebrating success, while it might have to be different for a while, still has to happen.

Consider how you can make your viva success feel awesome. What can you ask others to do to help you? What could help make that day feel amazing? Who will you need to tell? How will you tell them? And how will you celebrate that day or soon after you’ve finished?

If you department has a tradition, maybe there’s a way you can update it for now. Some traditions might be hard to replicate over Zoom though…

You might not be pulled through the streets in a balloon-covered wagon, but you can find some way to make your viva success matter!

What Now?

Your viva could go really well. The point at which work and prep and expectation and anticipation all meet; you try so hard, push so much, show your best work and best self and then-

It’s over.

It’s done.

And it might be a bit… Meh.

A little… Oh.

Just… Is that it?

What now?

Not everything can be controlled, pre-arranged and sorted in advance. You can’t pre-determine how you will feel. You can’t know for sure what your viva will feel like until it’s done.

However, you can let some people know when your viva is happening. Let them know when you’re done. Maybe let them know how you want to treat this, or even how you might want to. If you live with family or friends and your viva is over video, pre-arrange a celebration. Your viva will be a success, but for many reasons – not just the current state of the world – it might not feel like the achievement it is on the day.

Do a few small things in advance to help the period after your viva be as good as it can be. Ask for help if you need it, even if that is help celebrating and marking your success.

Celebrating Milestones

This is the 1000th daily Viva Survivors blog post!

A friend said to me, “That’s crazy! What are you doing to celebrate?”

And I said, “….Erm…..”

Hmm. Nothing really.

That got me thinking about celebrating milestones in general. I remember when I submitted my thesis (both for the viva and for my final submisson) I was feeling great, but lots of friends were too busy to go out. They had their own theses to think about! The staff at my university’s admin building basically shrugged when I handed my thesis over to them.

Milestones, like submitting your thesis, passing your viva, doing your literature review, completing a project – making it to the end of a tough week! – should be acknowledged. They should be marked. They should be celebrated!

I’ve seen some good practice on Twitter of departments and graduate schools sending out virtual cheers when someone passes their viva. I’ve heard of stickers being given out from time to time. My favourite little celebration I heard of recently came from an Edinburgh PGR who told me she was given a lollipop for submitting.

Kindly sent by Lesley Fraser, used with permission 🙂

That’s a very fancy lollipop!

Maybe your friends are busy, maybe admin staff will shrug, maybe you won’t get a fancy lollipop or shiny sticker…

So what are you going to do? Good work needs recognition. It helps reinforce you did it. You persevered. You got your PhD done. How will you celebrate? If celebrating doesn’t feel quite right, at least how will you mark it? Think about it and do something.

I decided to mark the 1000th Viva Survivors post with… this post! (And maybe some ice cream later!)