It’s Personal

How do you feel? Happy, sad, excited, nervous, elated, terrified – that mix of emotions could be all in one hour.

I ask PhD candidates how they feel, but their response is a snapshot, that moment or how they’ve felt recently.

In all aspects of the viva there are expectations: generally they last this long, generally candidates get these corrections and so on.

But there are always unique features. Your thesis is unique. You are unique. Your viva isn’t “just another viva” – it’s yours! No-one else feels the way you do.

And there’s nothing wrong with how you feel. You can’t cut yourself off from how you feel about your viva and nor should you.

Your examiners will have questions for you. Some of them could be critical. They might not agree with you. They might not like something in your thesis.

I find candidates worry about this possibility too. How would you feel? After everything you’ve invested in getting this far, if an examiner doesn’t like something, how do you respond? What’s the right way?

Candidates ask, “How do I not take it personally?”

How can you not take it personally? It is personal. You can say it’s just about the work: the work is a reflection of you. That’s the output of your time, effort and talents. The viva is personal, examiners’ questions will feel personal, even the “good” ones.

So don’t deny it. Use it.

Think back over everything you’ve done. Think about what you’ve done to get this far. Think about what you know, what you can do, what you believe. All of this helps. Whatever question comes your way, however it connects with you emotionally, you are the best person in the world to answer it.

The viva is personal, it has to be. It’s YOUR viva.

How Do You Feel?

I start every workshop by asking the room how they feel about their viva. I get a range of answers. Most are centred around nervous, anxious, stress. One or two fears or terrors. A few people will say they don’t know what to feel because the viva is such an unknown. Some people just want it over and done with.

Occasionally one or two candidates will be excited: they see the viva as a chance to talk about their work with experts, or they’re looking beyond the PhD at what comes next.

There’s no right or wrong to any of these, of course. In every case you can say, “OK, so what do I do now?” If you’re stressed, find ways to prepare and lower your stress. If you’re afraid, figure out the root cause. If the viva is an unknown to you then find out more. And so on.

So how do you feel? And what do you need to do?