There’s a mindset of exploration in viva preparation.

  • Exploring what you did: not simply reading your thesis, but digging into it.
  • Exploring what it means: reflecting on what you think now.
  • Exploring recent literature: updating what you know and what might matter.
  • Exploring your examiners: what they know and do.
  • Exploring the possibilities for the viva: what might or might not happen.

If you’ve done the work for a PhD, being an explorer is probably second nature to you. You’re good at exploring; to prepare well for the viva you just need to continue using skills you already have.

Unstuck Thoughts

I’ve been using questions and prompts to unstick my thinking a lot lately, like the question I mentioned in the recent Easy Viva Prep? post. I have a lot of projects and ideas I’m developing, and all have challenges or problems with non-obvious solutions. It’s hard to see something new sometimes, when you’re so used to looking at it in a certain way.

The same goes for a long research project, like a PhD. Here are seven prompts to help you explore your research ahead of the viva. Use these to start some positive unpicking through free-writing or reflection:

  1. The most simple way to explain my field to a lay-person is to say…
  2. The most influential paper I’ve read during my PhD is…
  3. The most difficult conclusion I reached in my research is…
  4. The best thing about my thesis is…
  5. The hardest thing I did during my PhD was…
  6. The best feedback I got was when…
  7. The best way to explain my contribution is…

Dig deeper with any of these prompts by asking yourself “Why?” after you answer. See what thoughts you can shake loose.

More Why-How-What

About six months ago I shared Why-How-What as a simple framework for talking about your research. There is a value in using interesting opportunities to think more and talk more about your work. It boosts your confidence for when the moment comes that you have to talk about your research: you will find the words. I’ve had a few more ideas about how Why-How-What can help frame stories about what you’ve done and how you’ve done it:

  • Why did you start a PhD? How did you feel at the start? What did you think you would do?
  • Why was it worth exploring the area you did? How did you initially approach your research? What did you hope you would find?
  • Why were you up to the challenge of doing a PhD? How have you developed along the way? What can you now do that you couldn’t before?
  • Why had your topic not been covered in this way already? How did you spot that you could do something about it? What are some ways that it can be explored more in the future?

There are many, many more setups like this that could help get your thoughts in order. There are thousands of questions that could come up in the viva. You can’t prepare for them all, but you can take opportunities to think more and talk more about your work. It will help. You’ll find yourself in a better place when your viva day comes around.