Video Viva Checklist

When you submit, you’ve done a lot already that helps you in the viva. After submission you have an opportunity to do a little more work to help you get ready. If your viva is over video, you can do a little extra to help you be ready for that particular situation. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things that could help.

  • Practise with the technology. Ask friends to do rehearsal calls. Find the location of basic on-screen buttons and prompts. Don’t assume that it will simply run fine on the day.
  • Find a space and setup that works well for you. What do you want to have behind you? Do you need to elevate the camera that you’re using? For all my webinars I have to put my laptop on top of a boxfile so that I’m not looking down at the camera!
  • Check your connection. See if you have a stable connection over wifi. Explore whether or not you need to use an ethernet cable.
  • Be certain of the plan for your viva. Know which software, what time and so on. Know what the backup plan is or how to get in touch if something unexpected happens.
  • Decide how you might support your verbal responses. Will you use an onscreen shared whiteboard? Or use a small whiteboard at your desk and then display to the camera? Or perhaps even use a second camera to show sketches?

Like most in-person vivas, video vivas are typically fine. They’re not meant to be ordeals. Preparation can ensure yours won’t be.

7 Questions To Help You Annotate Your Thesis

Annotating your thesis is useful viva prep. You have to really think about your thesis while you do it and you create a more useful resource for afterwards. I have general ideas I think are good for annotation, but every candidate has to do something that works for them. With that in mind, here are seven questions that could help you:

  1. What do you want to find easily?
  2. What is important in your thesis? (bonus question: how are you defining important?)
  3. Where do you need to add short notes?
  4. Where do you need to add longer notes?
  5. What pages would benefit from a few sentences to summarise them?
  6. What do you need to underline? (bonus question: why?)
  7. What do you need to highlight? (bonus question: why?)

Annotate your thesis so it is useful for you. Ask questions and set parameters before you start. Figure out what you need to do and then go do it.

Mock Viva Dos and Don’ts

Do have a mock viva because they’re generally seen as a useful part of viva preparations, but…

  • …don’t have a mock viva if you want to go through a script.
  • …don’t have a mock viva if you’re not prepared.
  • …don’t have a mock viva and expect that your actual viva will mirror what happens in the mock.
  • …don’t have a mock viva at short notice.
  • …don’t have a mock viva without thinking about what you want to get from it.

Do have a mock viva! Rehearse the general situation of your viva – what to expect, how to respond – and most importantly, what it feels like to be in that situation.

9 Short Posts On A Break Day

Hopefully, as it’s a public holiday in the UK, you can have some downtime today. I hope you can rest. If your viva is coming soon and you want to think a little about it, here are nine little posts from the last three years that might help, and a micro-commentary on each:

But maybe just save them for tomorrow! Rest today if you can 🙂

 

The Final Checklist

If you can mark off most of the following then you’re good to go for the viva:

  • I did everything I needed to for submission.
  • I’ve read my thesis at least once since submission.
  • I’ve checked out my examiners’ recent publications.
  • I’ve annotated my thesis in a useful way.
  • I’ve found opportunities to practise talking and answering questions.
  • I have a useful set of expectations about the viva.
  • I’ve written some helpful summaries of my thesis to make my thoughts clear.
  • I know when and where I’m going on viva day.
  • I’ve decided what I’ll wear.
  • I know how I’m going to get to my viva.
  • I know what I’m taking with me.
  • I am confident in my abilities as a researcher.

Gut feeling helps. Perfection is impossible. If you can get to submission, you’re most of the way to viva success. It takes only a little more.

Keep going!

7 One-Pagers For Prep

Take a single sheet of paper, your thesis and half an hour to an hour and you can make something really useful for your viva prep. A summary of something, answers to a few key questions or thoughts on what makes your thesis special. Here are seven one-page ideas for viva preparation:

  1. Write “What’s important?” at the top of the page. Answer the question on the rest of the sheet. You could do this for your whole thesis or go chapter-by-chapter if you want to have room for more details.
  2. Write a page about your examiners and their interests. What do you know about them? What have they published recently and how might that connect with your work?
  3. Use the VIVA tool to analyse a key chapter or your whole thesis. Explore different aspects of your work to bring useful ideas to the forefront.
  4. Summarise the tricky parts of your research. Create a cheatsheet that details how you can explain difficulties.
  5. Write “What’s my contribution?” at the top of the page. Answer the question on the rest of the sheet.
  6. Create an edited bibliography. This might be a little tricky on a single sheet of paper, but could be done!
  7. Write out responses to a mini-viva! Select a set of questions from here and divide your page up as directed.

One page of A4 and an hour isn’t going to be all you’ll need to get ready for the viva. You can use it as a helpful exercise one day though. Structure helps get the work done!

Probably Not

It’s the answer for many questions around the viva…

  • Will you remember everything?
  • Will you forget something important?
  • Will you go blank?
  • Will your examiners like everything?
  • Will they hate everything?
  • Will you demonstrate perfection?
  • Will you be cool, calm and collected?
  • Will your nerves get the best of you?
  • Would any of these things really make a difference on how things might go?

You don’t need to be perfect, and you don’t need to recall everything; you don’t need to fret over forgetting or going blank; you shouldn’t expect your examiners to rip your work to shreds and you can’t realistically expect that they won’t have questions or comments.

You can be ready. You can have realistic expectations. You can go prepared to meet any challenges.

Will you face another challenge like this in your life? Probably not.

But will this be the biggest thing you ever do? Probably not.

Fun Viva Prep

Just because the viva is serious, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your preparations.

  • Buy some nice stationery to write notes on.
  • Use bright colours to highlight your thesis.
  • Have coffee with friends while you discuss your work.
  • Find interesting questions to answer about your thesis.
  • Consider unusual ways to summarise your research.
  • Host a prep party – a seminar with added cake!

Make your preparations fun and you probably make them easier to spend time on.

10 Questions To Reflect On Originality

Your thesis has to contain a significant, original contribution to knowledge.

When I work with researchers I tend to focus on “significant” a lot, but originality is a useful concept to dig into before the viva. I get the sense that a lot of candidates instinctively know they’ve done something original. Perhaps defining what makes it original can be trickier.

Reflecting on your research before the viva is a good thing. It can give new ideas, help you see other perspectives, come up with different ways of thinking about your research. Here are ten questions to help unpick what makes your work original:

  1. In what ways is your work different from previous research?
  2. How do you differ in your methods from other researchers?
  3. What is now known as a result of your work, that wasn’t known before?
  4. How could your work change opinions in your field?
  5. What can people do now as a result of your work?
  6. What new techniques or ideas can people see in your thesis?
  7. What ideas have you tested for the first time in your research?
  8. What new theories does your thesis propose?
  9. How does your work combine prior knowledge of your field?
  10. What does your thesis add to knowledge?

Write something or record yourself thinking about a question. See where it leads you. Review later to see how you now think about the original nature of your research. How could it help you share that originality with your examiners in the viva?

7 Questions For Interdisciplinary Researchers

Interdisciplinary researchers produce fascinating theses. I enjoy listening to the amazing ways disciplines collide. I’m no longer surprised though when interdisciplinary researchers tell me they have concerns about their viva. An examiner might be highly capable in one field of the researcher’s thesis, but not another. What then?

I’m not sure there is a great problem here. In my experience, examiners do their homework. They learn what they need to in order to understand a thesis. They’ll work to grasp aspects not related to their field. Still, that might not be enough to satisfy the concerns of an interdisciplinary researcher. I hope the following seven questions might help some more:

  1. How does your work differ from your examiner’s particular experience?
  2. What ways can you find to relate your work to your examiner’s field?
  3. How is your work similar to your examiner’s recent publications?
  4. What are the trickiest aspects of your work to explain to a non-expert?
  5. How can you make these easier to communicate?
  6. Where do you anticipate problems in explaining your work?
  7. What can you do about those problems?

Let me be clear: examiners should make efforts to unpick and understand a thesis not in their field if they have agreed to act as examiner. But for confidence, for peace of mind and for general preparation, these questions could be useful to reflect and act on for interdisciplinary researchers preparing for the viva.

(they’re probably quite useful for all candidates preparing for the viva!)