Counting For The Viva

One experienced candidate waiting to be done,

Two prepared examiners hoping this is fun.

Three years (or more) leading to this day,

Four key threads of prep can help along the way.

 

Five seconds pause can help get a thought together;

Six hours is unlikely (but never say never)!

Seven might be lucky, but you don’t need to be,

Eight lines is enough, now repeat: “It’s up to me.”

Story Time

My sister got me some Story Cubes for my birthday last month. I’d played with some before, but never had a set to call my own. They’re great for playing little story-making games and just generally for helping ideas along.

Last week as I was having a little fun they fell into the following sequence:

My mind jumped to the viva straight away!

PhD candidates spend a long time learning enough to write their thesis. Things are going well, through good times and bad, then they look ahead and all they see is questions coming their way! Questions in the viva, questions about the viva, questions and questions and questions… But help is at hand. There’s lots of support. The end is a happy one.

People look for patterns. We all carry mindsets of what we know or believe to be true. We tell a story based on what we’ve seen before. Even if you have some doubts about the viva, about the process, about how best to prepare – think about what you know from your research. Think about how you got to this point.

Think about your story.

Postscript: I kept playing with the Story Cubes, and this was the next arrangement that came up…

I’m glad this doesn’t tell a viva story!

Bad Viva Advice

Do none of these things.

  1. Ask your examiners, “Did you get the cheque?”
  2. Start with a joke: “Did you hear about the stupid examiners who missed the obvious plagiarism on page 25?”
  3. Shake a Magic 8-Ball after each question.
  4. Humblebrag.
  5. Plead ignorance: “I don’t know how it got in there!” When asked what you mean say, “Nothing! Nothing!”
  6. Preface every response with, “Well I’m no expert, but…”
  7. Sigh a lot.
  8. Ask if you can sit in-between your examiners. Before they answer, pick up a chair and say, “Come on, scooch.”
  9. Red Bull. Lots of Red Bull.

Candidates sometimes worry that they might do the wrong thing in the viva. Common sense rules. You’re going to have a great conversation with experienced academics about your long-term research project. Your instincts won’t lead you astray.

Thankfully there’s not a lot of bad viva advice out there. Listen for the good stuff, run it past your gut feeling. You’ll get it right.

Colour Your Thinking

I’m a fan of Edward de Bono, and I love his Six Thinking Hats concept. It’s a way to manage discussions or problem solving. You can check out the details if you like; in short, you can imagine people putting on coloured hats to drive different kinds of thinking or observations. This stops people taking over with a particular agenda and prevents a certain emphasis being put on discussion.

Six Thinking Hats is a useful solo review tool for your thesis too. As each colour of hat corresponds to a certain kind of thinking you can explore your research in a different and useful way. For example, you might make some notes about a chapter in the following sequence of thinking:

  • White Hat: what is this chapter about?
  • Blue Hat: what process or method drives it forward?
  • Red Hat: how do you feel about the material in it?
  • Yellow Hat: what is good about this chapter?
  • Black Hat: what could be better?
  • Green Hat: where are the opportunities to build on this work?

If different coloured hats sounds silly, just take these six questions in sequence as a way to unpick some thoughts about your thesis!

Worth 1000 Words

What do most books have that most theses don’t? Cover pictures! Novels and non-fiction use cover images to help tell their story, sell themselves to readers and convey some information. Theses tend to just have a title. Hmm…

Quick exercise for today: what would be on the cover of your thesis? What would it have to feature in order to communicate something of your work?

Long exercise for today: mocking up a cover might be a useful (and fun!) tangent to explore while finishing your thesis or preparing for your viva 🙂

Whimsy

Maybe we need a little more fun in viva prep. After all, just because something is fun, doesn’t mean that it’s not serving a serious purpose. One approach to viva prep is to try to explore your research or thesis in a new way. Here are seven whimsical questions that might help with that goal:

  • Can you write fifty words to describe your research without using the letter E?
  • Can you explain your thesis using fun metaphors?
  • Is it possible to describe how you would do your research with twice as many resources?
  • What you would cut from your research if you had only three-quarters of the time you had?
  • How would you have done your research if you were Batman?
  • Can you summarise your thesis in a haiku?
  • How would you draw your research with stick figures to explain it?

This is another workout exercise: it’s unlikely that your examiners will ask any of these in the viva. But if you use them in prep you stretch your thinking. You look at things in a new light. You find new ideas. And you might raise a smile too. What could be bad about that?