Interesting Times Forever

It’s two years since my world changed, just before the first pandemic lockdown in the UK. Two years ago today I shared Interesting Times, thoughts on where I was and where I might be going in the weeks that would follow. A year ago, things had changed and were continuing to change, in ways that a year earlier I couldn’t have predicted. I wrote and shared Still Interesting Times.

And now it is 2022.

In the last year I’ve continued to work from home. I’ve been jabbed three times. I’ve seen my work and life continue to be impacted. I’ve avoided COVID but cared for my wife and daughter while they were poorly with it a few months ago. I’ve been fortunate to keep serving PhD candidates via their universities and sometimes through webinars I’ve set up myself. I’ve been fortunate to keep writing, keep helping and keep responding whenever anyone gets in touch.

 

What stands out to me when I think about the last two years?

Everyone needs help. Helping others helps us to grow too. So when you can: help. When I think about the viva it reminds me that there are lots of people who need help and lots of people who could help.

  • Candidates should reflect on their needs. What do you need to feel confident? What do you need to know to have a good picture of the viva?
  • Candidates should know they are not alone. Who can you turn to for support? Ask early and be honest. Work to get what you need from supervisors, colleagues, friends and family.
  • PhD graduates can help friends who are finishing. Can you tell your friends how much time you have for them and what you can offer to help? Can you tell your story to help set good expectations?
  • Supervisors should help set expectations with candidates about what is expected in the viva now. Supervisors can guide candidates past doubts and help them to focus on what really matters.
  • Graduate schools, doctoral colleges and doctoral training programmes can support PGRs by offering resources of all kinds that help to emphasise personal development. Share things and do things that help candidates feel stronger as a result.

I’m here too! This blog is updated every day, but you can email me or tweet me if you have questions. There’s almost five years of posts on the blog. There are over sixty viva stories in the podcast archive.

 

We live in “interesting” times. We always did, of course, but they’ve become even more interesting. More challenging. More surprising. Sometimes, more upsetting.

If you’re reading this though then, like me, you’re still here. Still learning. Still growing. Still making mistakes and persevering. So far, you have managed to keep going in difficult circumstances – and difficult might be an understatement in the last two years.

Get help if you need it, offer it to others if you can, but keep going.

Community Support

July was a busy month for me!

I tried to promote two lovely things when they happened but realised I hadn’t shared them via the blog. Do indulge me today while I share these with you in case you’ve not seen them and in case they help.

 

First: The #VirtualNotViral Tweetchat!

The @PhD-VirtualNotViral community has done amazing things in the last year and a half, building a regular space to support PhD researchers around the world. The #VirtualNotViral tweetchats have covered many topics with guests contributing their insights and responding to questions. I was very flattered to be asked back on July 5th to respond to questions about the viva and share ideas to help. The archive of that discussion is available as a Twitter Moment here. We cover a lot of viva topics and if you’re interested in this blog then the Moment will be of interest to you.

 

Second: The PhD Life Raft Podcast!

By chance, the next day an episode of The PhD Life Raft Podcast was released by Dr Emma Brodzinski which featured me as a guest! We recorded this several months ago, and it was lovely to see it released. Emma asked brilliant questions and it was great to be part of her podcast. It brought back happy memories of the old Viva Survivors Podcast – though I’m glad I was just being interviewed because I also remember the hard work of editing that goes on behind the scenes! You can listen to the podcast episode here – do take a look at the archive, because like Pat and Anuja of @PhD-VirtualNotViral there’s a lot of great work that Emma has been doing and this kind of project needs to be shared widely.

 

It was a lot of fun to do both of these and it’s got me thinking…

Do I have space in my work and life to do a regular Viva Survivors tweetchat?

Do I have space in my work and life to do a regular Viva Survivors podcast again?

More broadly, do I have a little space to do a little more to support others?

 

And do you have a little space to do a little more for your community, wherever you are?

Webinar: 7 Reasons @ 7pm

A little webinar update!

I’m running my 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva session next Tuesday, 2nd March 2021. 7 Reasons is my 1-hour webinar all about why you can feel confident for your viva, exploring some of the things you can do to be ready, as well as giving space for you to ask any questions you have about the process.

I’ve run the session many times since I developed it last year but this will be the first time I’ve delivered it in the evening, rather than the middle of the day. I’ve heard previously from several people who were interested in the session, but couldn’t attend at 11am.

So I started looked for a date in my diary for 7 Reasons @ 7pm! 🙂

I’ve heard from past participants of the session just how valuable it’s been for them as they come to the conclusion of their PhD journey. I’m happy I have the space to continue to offer this support. 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva is one of the things I’m glad I’ve been able to make out of the last year.

Registration is open now, and there’s an earlybird discount for anyone who books soon. If your viva is sometime this year then I think this session will really help you. Take a look at the session details here and if you have any questions, simply get in touch via email or Twitter.

I hope to see you at 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva next week! 🙂

 

PS: I have more sessions coming up in the next few months! Check out what’s coming soon at this my Eventbrite page.

7 Reasons Webinar, May 20th 2020

Hi!

This is an extra post for today to announce that I’m running my 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva webinar again on Wednesday 20th May. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and delight of sharing new short webinars with PhD candidates recently. I asked on Twitter which session I should re-run and 7 Reasons was the clear favourite.

Here‘s what I said the last time I delivered 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva – I can’t find better words to explain why I’m offering this session:

This is for PhD candidates who have their viva coming up and want to know why it’s going to be fine. Lots of people tell PhD candidates not to worry about the viva – relax, don’t stress, it’ll all be fine – sentiments which don’t always help because they often miss an important Why.

For some candidates, one thing – the right thing – can be enough to make the difference and help them feel certain about their viva. I have seven reasons to share…and my aim is to convince anyone coming that they will be fine for their viva. They may have work to do, things to check or prep to complete, but when the time comes, they can be ready. They will pass.

I was blown away by the response that the session got; it was great to see that something I’d done had really connected:

I hope you can join me next Wednesday. If you’re uncertain about what to do for your viva, how you should feel about it, or just need help then this 1-hour session is for you. There are full details at the Eventbrite registration link. 7 Reasons is free to attend, but if you can make a donation to help support the work that I do and the time that goes into providing it that would be really appreciated. If you can’t, please still come – I want this session to help anyone who needs it.

Thanks for your attention, I hope you can join 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva next week!

Wishing you the very best 🙂

Nathan

Who Do You Need?

Today’s post is even more personal than yesterday’s question. It depends on who is around you, in your circle, and what they can practically offer or do for you, as well as what you really need.

The cast of characters in your preparation play could include supervisors, mentors, colleagues, friends, university staff, family members – and from a distance your examiners too.

You might need someone to ask you questions.

You might need someone to check in with you.

You might need someone to get facts from (or, in the case of examiners, facts about!).

You might need someone to tell you what you need to know.

You might need someone to tell you it’s going to be OK.

You might need someone to tell you all about their viva.

Who do you need? It could be more useful to think about what you need others for first. Once you know that, you’ll know who to ask.

What Do You Need?

Before submission you need your research to be finished and your thesis to be done.

Before the viva you need to prepare your thesis and yourself. You need to read, to think, to speak and get ready.

In the viva you need your thesis, something to write on, something to drink and anything that will help you feel good in those few hours.

After the viva you need a way to celebrate – and you will need to celebrate!

And you might need other things, far more personal than I could know or guess. What do you need? How can you make sure you have them?

Not Favours

It could be that you need a little help from others to get ready for the viva. Help with thinking and talking; questions about process and experience; maybe even proofreading or practical on-the-day logistics.

You have to defend your work solo, but there really are lots of ways others can help you prepare. Get clear in your mind about what you need, ask and explain why (if you need to), and be prepared to compromise.

It could also be the case that you see a friend who needs help. A candidate who needs someone to talk to; a colleague who needs someone to listen; a friend who has a problem that they can’t see past.

It’s OK to ask for help when you need it; it’s good to offer help when you can.

Fill In The Blanks

Who could you send this to? (after completing it of course)

Hi ______________________

My viva is coming up soon and I need your help please!

I feel _______________ about my viva because _______________________________________ . I was wondering if you could help me by ______________________________ ?

I know that you’re busy, but I also know that you’ll be a great help because _______________________________________________ . If you’ve got a lot on and can’t help, I’ll understand. If you can help, then let me know what will work for you.

If you’re free soon maybe we could chat about it over coffee at ____________________________ !

Thanks for reading, speak soon,

__________________________

Maybe your supervisor? Maybe a colleague? Your office-mate? Best friend? Think carefully about why someone could be a big help to you, and tell them.

Or maybe it’s useful just to write down and get out of your head that second short paragraph: how you feel about your viva, why you feel that way, and what steps could help.

Future Resources

I have an ever-growing list of ideas, potential projects and things to make to help people be ready for their viva. If you look around this site you’ll see lots of resources already:

  • over sixty episodes of the podcast in the archive;
  • a curated list of useful links from all over the place;
  • original free resources like The tiny book of viva prep and my first Viva Minicast;
  • pages with my ebooks and print guides;
  • and, to date, almost 250 daily viva posts!

I get stuck thinking about which future projects and resources to prioritise. Which should I do first? Are there any I shouldn’t bother with at all? What kind of resources will help? What would make the biggest difference?

Rather than try to figure it all out for myself, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you have ideas for the kinds of resources that could help, then please, tell me! What you do you want? What do you think would help? Where are there gaps in terms of helpful resources about the viva?

Please email or tweet at me if you’ve any ideas!

Often the first step to finding a solution is really figuring out what you need. So… What do you need?

Use Your Network

It’s just you answering questions in the viva. Before then there are lots of people who can help you prepare. Think about your network. Think about the resources you can draw on. For example:

  • Do you know someone who can tell you about your examiners’ research? It could be a boost before you read some papers.
  • Do you know someone who can tell you about their viva? It could help to settle your mind about expectations.
  • Do you know someone who can listen to you talk about your thesis? It could be a way to get some useful feedback.

Who do you know, and how can they help you?