Now I Forget

I remember checking in with my supervisor half an hour before my viva and asking him about a key definition. I don’t remember seeing him at all later that day, but he must have been there. Right?

I shared an office with four other people at the time, but don’t recall any of them being there on my viva day. Isn’t that strange? A Monday in early June and no-one was around. Did that happen? Or do I just not remember?

I started my viva with a presentation. I remember my examiners asking me questions almost immediately, as I was sharing a summary. I remember difficult questions about my explanation for some results. However, I don’t remember any questions at all about the key result of my thesis. Isn’t that strange?

I remember passing but have a hole in my memory until that evening, a celebratory dinner in a restaurant with my family. I don’t know if my examiners gave me a list of corrections after my viva. I don’t know if I saw any friends around the department. I don’t know if I called or texted anyone to let them know I was done.

 

I’m starting to forget my viva. I remember a story, a fragment of what happened, but not the day.

Maybe it means my viva really wasn’t that big a deal compared to everything else in my PhD. Maybe it means I’ve finally finished thinking about that day – unlikely as that may seem!

Why am I sharing this? To offer a little perspective, for those who have their viva in the future. It matters. Your viva is important. But it won’t be the most important thing you ever do.

The viva is one day on your journey to getting your PhD.

And maybe one day you’ll realise you’ve forgotten all about it.

Final Thoughts

The viva might be the final challenge of your PhD, but it’s not the final challenge you’ll ever face.

The questions your examiners ask might prompt the final big discussion you have about your PhD research.

Your final preparations for the viva are building on a foundation that has taken years to create.

Before you start your viva take a final deep breath and remind yourself how you have got this far. Not by luck. Not by chance. Through work, determination and ability you have reached the one of the final things to do for your PhD.

The Next Steps

At some point your PhD will be finished.

Then what?

You don’t need to have all the answers. There’s no single right path that should be followed by a PhD candidate as they prepare to finish. It will help though to consider, while you’re writing up and getting ready, what your next steps might be.

  • Perhaps explore what excites and interests you. Where could you find opportunities that would allow this?
  • Maybe necessity governs your next actions. What needs must be satisfied by work, in terms of time, money and location?
  • It could be that you need to take simple steps before then. Is your CV up to date? Do you need to get help from others? When will you make time to do what needs to be done?

To figure out your next steps you probably also need to look back at the journey so far. This can help you decide what you have to do or what you could do, but it also helps prepare you for the viva too. Looking back could bring into clarity the trajectory that you’re on, both for the viva and for life after the PhD.

Finding Next Steps

At some point you have to finish. No more reading papers, no more ideas. Your thesis has to be complete. Enough, done!

In preparation for the viva, checking recent publications shows you are a capable researcher. Thinking of how you might develop your work also shows your talent. It could be you don’t want to pursue any of these ideas because you have other plans for your life. That’s fine. Still spend a little time exploring what could be done with your research.

If you have trouble imagining future next steps, ask some of these questions. Reflect and write down your ideas:

  • What are some easy ways to go further with your results?
  • In what other areas might your approach be useful?
  • What does your work mean for other researchers?
  • What does your work mean for the theory of your discipline?
  • What does you work mean for the practical applications?
  • What would you love to do with your research?

Remember: you don’t have to do any of this. You can be clear about that.

Thinking about it could not only lead to some interesting ideas, but perhaps a different appreciation for the work you’ve already done.