5 Posts I’ll Never Write (Probably)

I keep idea books to help manage my creative process for the blog. I’ve worked through five volumes of these small books over the last couple of years, and every time I fill one I transfer unused ideas across.

There are ideas that I’ve had now for a long time and I don’t know what to do with them:

  1. A post written in the style of Dr. Seuss – a bit of a stretch from the haiku I sometimes wrote
  2. Seven Deadly Viva Sins – I like the title but don’t know what to do with it!
  3. Creating a crossword puzzle with viva-related answers…
  4. A post without our common fifth symbol of communication – a blog post all about the viva that does not contain the letter “e”
  5. 101 Short Thoughts About The Viva – a long list of tips, advice and reflections to consider…

Some of these ideas really amuse me – I just don’t know what to do with them. Others are ideas that I keep returning to but know they still need more work. I have hope but am slowly coming to the conclusion that I might never write the great viva-related crossword puzzle!

Despite not using these ideas, good and bad, I’ve written a lot for this blog. And despite not using all of your ideas, you will have done a lot for your research and thesis. You can’t do everything. Your examiners don’t expect you to do everything.

Coming to the end of your PhD, to submission, the viva or completion – at some point it helps to sit back and consider what you have not done. And as you do so remember that you have accomplished a lot. Accept that you might not ever achieve some of your research goals, that some projects’ potential might go unrealised.

You will still have done enough. You will still have proved yourself.

Thinking Caps

I’ve always liked the idea of putting a thinking cap on: doing something to particularly stimulate ideas or cleverness.¬†There are times when I’ve worn a baseball cap as I sit down to write or work on something tough. I know it doesn’t make the ideas come any easier: it’s a reminder though, something to help signify what I want to be true, “I’m here to get this done, and I can do it.”

Let me be clear: in all the hundreds of viva stories I’ve heard of, I’ve never heard any where someone wore a hat to their viva!

But I have heard stories of musical playlists that help the candidate feel reassured.

I’ve heard of outfit choices that help people feel better.

I wore a pair of my good day socks for mine!

Thinking caps are probably out. But what else could you do reaffirm for yourself that you’re at your viva to pass? What else can help you feel confident?

Creativity Through Constraints

I’ve been a huge fan of the concept of “creativity through constraints” since I first heard it a few months after my PhD.

I would beat myself up all the time for not coming up with ideas, or for finding it tricky to start projects. “Being creative” sometimes feels like you have to be wholly original, or think of something really big. Creativity through constraints forces ideas out by adding parameters or barriers:

  • You have a page to tell your story. What do you write?
  • You only have ¬£10 to spend on a present. What could you get?
  • You have a hard deadline to be finished by, no exceptions! What do you do?

Constraints are limits, but they don’t have to be limiting. In preparation for the viva, consider how you could use constraints to your advantage.

  • You have a page to summarise your thesis. What do you write?
  • You have a limit – because of work and other obligations – of how much time you can invest on prep each day. What do you prioritise?
  • Your supervisor can only meet you one or two times before your viva. What do you ask of them?

Constraints can encourage you to think creatively. Pressures can be stressful, but they can also steer you into focussing – or find interesting solutions to things that seem like problems at first. What constraints do you find on you at the moment? And what constraints might actually be useful for your viva preparation?