Find Five

A little nudge to start viva preparations:

  1. Find five papers in your bibliography that have really supported you and your research.
  2. Find five people who can help you get ready for your viva.
  3. Find five days that you can take a good hour to do something to get ready.
  4. Find five places in your thesis where you make a good contribution.
  5. Find five reasons to help you believe you will succeed in your viva.

There will be many more for each category, and many more helpful categories of things that could help someone get ready. Five is a good starting place.

Solve An Easier Problem

If you look at your viva prep as just so much to do, a great big problem, and if that is weighing heavily on you – know that it doesn’t need to be this way. Big problems are hard to solve. You can make this easier on yourself.

Start small. Make a little plan. Do something. Read a page of your thesis before you worry about how much or how often you need to read the whole thing. Have one conversation with a friend about your work before you create any anxiety about having a mock viva – or responding to questions on the day.

Of course there are lots of things to think about with the viva and viva prep. For some aspects there are no simple solutions about what to do, how much and when. But you don’t have to start with those big things immediately. You can start small. Solve an easier problem.

Who Is It For?

Your thesis is not written for your examiners. You have to write it for your PhD and your examiners have to read it to examine you. It’s not written for them – the goal is to make a contribution to knowledge.

You don’t learn about viva expectations so you have a template you’re trying to complete. You’re learning more so that you can prepare well. You’re not trying to meet some ideal for your examiners.

Your prep is not done for your examiners. It’s for you. You want to be at your best, ready, refreshed, feeling confident – but that’s not for them. You want to to feel ready for you.

Remember to keep the focus where it needs to be for the viva.

A Long Time

In the year before your viva you don’t need to do much to get ready. Your focus is on finishing research, finishing your thesis and thinking about life after the PhD.

In the month before your viva you can start your prep. Read your thesis, make notes, check details and take opportunities to rehearse.

In the week before your viva make a to-do list of anything that remains. What are your priorities? Who can help you? Remind yourself of what you’ve done to get his far.

In the day before your viva you might want to do some final prep, but equally it could just be time to rest and relax.

In the hour before your viva it’s a good idea to check one more time that you’ve got everything you need. Remember as well that you have a challenging couple of hours ahead – but you are ready for this challenge.

In the minute before your viva remember to breathe. Any nerves are about the importance of the day; they are not a negative reflection on your talent or contribution.

In the second before your viva you might blink-

-and then realise that it’s all done. Your viva flew by. You were there, but you were engaged and weren’t thinking about how long it was.

Success in the viva is a long time coming, but doesn’t take very long on the day.

The Ends

The end of your viva is not the end of your PhD.

The end of your bibliography doesn’t mean that there is nothing else to know.

The end of your thesis is not the end of the research that could be done.

The end of your PhD journey doesn’t mean that there isn’t more great work for you to do.

The end of your mock viva is not a finish to all the questions you could get in the real thing.

There are many endings around the conclusion of a PhD. Very few of them are final.

The end of your PhD is not the end of your story.

Red Pen

Using a red pen to annotate your thesis can be useful. Underlining typos, circling important things, boxing off ideas.

Using a red pen also carries a lot of negative associations. Crosses in the margins of tests or essays in the past, a circled grade, a short note that diminishes effort.

Annotating your thesis is essential for viva prep. Using a red pen is not. Choose your tools. Think ahead a little for what you will need and what you can do to make the process effective and your annotated thesis useful.

Make A Note

Make a note of any papers that have helped your research develop.

Make a note of the times that you remember great success during your PhD.

Make a note of what you know about the viva.

Make a note of anything you know about your examiners’ interests.

Make a note of methods, questions or ideas that you find tricky.

Make a note of topics you need to discuss with your supervisor.

Make a note of times when you remember presenting well.

Make a note of challenges you overcame throughout your PhD, particularly with the pandemic.

Then reflect. What stands out? What helps you? What do you need to do as a result?

Remember to make a note of anything that could help you, in some way, be more ready for your viva.

Annotation & Emphasis

One way to think about annotation, as part of viva prep, is that it helps to emphasise parts of what is in your thesis. It’s not about last minute additions or pre-answering questions in the margin: annotating your thesis emphasises the good stuff that is already there, making it easier to find or easier to see.

You get to decide what you need. Make a list of what could help, then find a good way that works for you. Do a little work and you have an upgraded copy of your thesis for the viva.

A Week Off

Today is the start of my daughter’s school half term break, so I’m taking a week off! No webinar delivery, no sitting down to write, no admin or prep; I’ll check my email every other day perhaps just in case there’s something that can’t wait, but otherwise it’s family time for me.

The blog will continue to be published though. I planned ahead. Actually, I plan a long time ahead for this blog. I have a system in place so that if I was sick and had to take time off it would still keep going fine, for a while at least. The same with my business. I planned ahead, in the long term, to make sure nothing was in my diary for this week. I planned in the short term to make sure that things were finished last Friday or left in a good state for picking up next week.

A week off could be just what you need when you submit your thesis. A chance to pause, step back, rest, relax, clear your mind and do something for yourself, before you have to pick up your thesis and start to get ready for the viva.

A week off takes a little prep. Looking ahead, planning, finding good stopping points for projects, or sketching out how you start going again. Time off helps you work well when it’s time to be on. Make sure you take the time you need to help yourself be at your best.

Worn Away

You have time to press pause before you prep. You can put your completed thesis to one side and come back to it when you have had time to restore yourself. You can’t help yourself get ready for the viva if you don’t help yourself into a good condition more generally.

It’s general viva prep advice to pause and rest at submission, but essential if you reach submission and are tired by all you’ve had to do. If you feel worn down then a single day off is not going to help you get in the right frame of mind to read your thesis or prepare for a mock viva. Rest and take the time you need to get ready to prepare.

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