What Matters

An incomplete list of what matters about you, your PhD, your thesis and your viva:

  • That you did the work;
  • That you put the time and effort in;
  • That you feel reasonably confident for the viva;
  • That you prepare for the viva;
  • That you have examiners who have done their prep;
  • That you have done something meaningful;
  • That you have talent and are a capable researcher in your field.

An incomplete list of what DOESN’T matter about you, your PhD, your thesis and your viva:

  • That you do or don’t have a certain number of publications in print or forthcoming;
  • That you have decided to stay or not in academia after your PhD;
  • That you feel nervous;
  • That you have typos in your thesis;
  • That you will get corrections in your viva;
  • That you haven’t read everything in your field;
  • That you don’t know everything.

In my experience, sadly, candidates pay a lot of attention to the second list but mistakenly think that the items either matter a lot or are problems that have to be solved.

Which list will you focus on?

Some Significant, Original Questions

A thesis needs to contain a significant, original contribution. A viva needs to have some exploration of this. So in preparation for the viva’s discussion, it makes sense to spend some time reflecting and exploring these factors.

On significant:

  • Why is your work valuable?
  • Who is it valuable to?
  • How would you describe the importance of your research?
  • What makes it special?
  • What makes it matter?

On original:

  • What aspects are novel?
  • In what ways is your work different?
  • What exists now that didn’t before?
  • How does your work change your field?
  • How can you qualify the originality?

Not every useful viva prep question is typical of a question you might get in the viva. Not every question might prompt an answer for you. Some answers might overlap. The point is to get thinking and writing and see where this leads you.

The Anti-Top Ten Top Fives

Lists can be a good way to start reflections and summaries. I’ve previously shared Top Ten Top Fives and Ten More Top Fives as prompts to get candidates thinking about the best of their research. They can be a nice way to highlight valuable aspects of your PhD ahead of the viva.

But can we find something useful in taking another point of view? Looking at the negative or the worst aspects? Let’s see!

  1. Top Five Bad Papers You’ve Read!
  2. Top Five Worst Talks You’ve Attended!
  3. Top Five Frustrating Challenges Of Your PhD!
  4. Top Five Typos In Your Thesis!
  5. Top Five Examiners You Don’t Want!
  6. Top Five Mistakes You Made!
  7. Top Five Changes You Would Make!
  8. Top Five Things You Don’t Want In Your Viva!
  9. Top Five Ways You Could Improve Your Skills!
  10. Top Five Improvements You Could Make To Your Thesis!

Some of these might seem silly but remember: this is the start of a reflection or summary.

After you list these details, keep going. Ask why. Ask how. Ask what you learned from your mistakes. Think about how you overcame your challenges. Why were those papers bad? How would you improve your thesis?

Simply dwelling on the negative isn’t often helpful, but you can use it as a springboard to something great.

One Minute Prep

No, you can’t prepare for your viva in just one minute, but there are tasks you can do to help your preparation which only take a minute. Most of them lay foundations for later, deeper work.

Here are ten ideas; some might seem like little things, but all will help!

  1. Stick Post-it Notes at the start of every chapter in your thesis.
  2. Take a minute to write down any questions that come to mind about your research.
  3. List keywords you associate with your contribution.
  4. Gather stationery to help annotate your thesis.
  5. Decide on whether or not to have a mock viva.
  6. Find your examiners’ staff pages on the internet and bookmark them.
  7. Record yourself describing why you wanted to explore your thesis topic.
  8. Message a friend to come for coffee with you and listen to you talk about your research.
  9. Think about what you need to feel confident for the viva.
  10. Subscribe to Viva Survivors and then get posts in your inbox every day!

The little things you do for prep can add up, just like in the rest of your PhD.

(and in life for that matter)

20 Uses For Post-it Notes In Viva Prep!

Post-it Notes are some of the most useful things you can use to support your viva prep. They are excellent for helping to annotate your thesis. Raid the departmental stationery cupboard, then begin:

  1. Mark out the start of each chapter.
  2. Bookmark important parts of your thesis you want to be able to find easily.
  3. Stick in a small square summary at the start of a chapter.
  4. Stick in a small square conclusion at the end of a chapter!
  5. Highlight an important reference.
  6. Expand on a point.
  7. Explain jargon.
  8. Summarise key points in a section.
  9. List notable questions on a piece of theory.
  10. Use as a placeholder for a future correction or update.

And this is just a sample of what you might stick in your thesis!

You could also use Post-it Notes to:

  1. Map out your preparations.
  2. Jot down notes about examiners.
  3. List key points about aspects of your work.
  4. Make notes for your mock viva.
  5. Prompt your reflections.
  6. Remind yourself of important points.
  7. Leave an uplifting message for your future self.
  8. Draw attention to an important paper you need to check.
  9. Sketch out a step-by-step process.
  10. Count down the days until you’re all done!

As ever with viva prep, consider what you might need to feel ready for your viva, then what you might do to get to that feeling.

This Post-it Note post not sponsored by Post-it Notes!!! 😀

Best of Viva Survivors 2018: Lists & Questions

To finish 2018 I’m sharing my favourite posts from the last year. I find lists helpful. I find questions helpful. A list of posts about lists and questions should be super-helpful! Structure helps, and having organised sets of tasks can make prep or thinking about the viva better. Useful questions to dig into topics helps a lot too.

A real mix of topics in today’s post. What did you like? What other areas would you like to see me explore? Drop me a line and I’ll add it to my musing for 2019. Do share this post if you think it will help someone else!

20 Small Steps To A Better Viva

Your viva can’t be the best, but there are many steps you could take to make yours better.

  1. Proofread your thesis before submission.
  2. Read your institution’s thesis examination regulations.
  3. Take a break after submission.
  4. Put Post-it Notes in your thesis to mark the start of chapters.
  5. Do a little research on your examiners
  6. Plan how you will get to the viva on the day.
  7. Have a mock viva.
  8. Talk to PhD graduates about their viva experiences.
  9. Talk to your supervisors about the choice of examiners.
  10. Annotate your thesis.
  11. Read your thesis carefully at least once between submission and the viva.
  12. Take steps to boost and maintain your confidence.
  13. Reflect on your research contribution.
  14. Explore your bibliography a little.
  15. Re-read any sections of your thesis that are conceptually difficult or tricky to explain.
  16. Figure out why you’re stressed (if you are).
  17. Help your friends and family to understand what the viva is all about.
  18. Take a bottle of water to the viva.
  19. Remember how much work you’ve done to get this far.
  20. Plan how you will celebrate passing your viva.

How you feel in your viva is not down to luck. Do everything you can to make your viva better.

Little things add up.

7 Questions For Selecting Examiners

Need some help thinking of who could examine you? Start with these six questions to get a list of names:

  1. Whose work have you built on in a meaningful way?
  2. Who have you met at conferences?
  3. Who has a good reputation?
  4. Who is an expert in your field?
  5. Who have you cited a few times?
  6. Who do you think you can trust to do a good job?

With these six questions you can get a long or short list quite quickly. Then you have to figure out how you narrow it down so that you can have a chat with your supervisors.

A more useful question perhaps: what are you really looking for in an examiner?

Once you know the answer to this, you can have a more meaningful conversation with your supervisors about who might be a good choice.

Ten More Top Fives

Earlier this year I shared a list post, Top Ten Top Fives, that had ideas on how to get started with thinking about the viva and viva prep. A simple setup, prompts to get ideas flowing and start making notes.

Today seemed like a good chance to add some more prompts:

  1. Top Five Academics Who Would Be A Good External!
  2. Top Five Tips You’ve Heard For Viva Prep!
  3. Top Five Expectations For Viva Day!
  4. Top Five Questions You Think You’ll Be Asked!
  5. Top Five Help Requests You Can Make!
  6. Top Five Questions For Your Supervisor In Preparation!
  7. Top Five Challenges You Overcame In Your PhD!
  8. Top Five Annotations You’re Going To Make In Your Thesis!
  9. Top Five Unanswered Questions From Your Research!
  10. Top Five Things You’ll Do To Celebrate Passing Your Viva!

There’s inertia to overcome with thinking about different aspects of the viva. A little nudge, a good prompt, can get things moving.

Ten Questions For Pre-Viva Nerves

It’s understandable to be nervous, anxious or scared about the viva. It’s not just any other day of your PhD.

You can be nervous, and hope that it doesn’t affect you too much, or you can be nervous and think about what you can do to make things better. Here are ten questions to help you unpick and cope with pre-viva nerves:

  1. How nervous do you feel on a scale of one to ten?
  2. In what ways are your nerves getting in the way of your prep?
  3. What do you think lies at the root of your nerves?
  4. What could you do to make yourself feel one bit less nervous?
  5. What will you do?
  6. How many positive things can you think of to boost your confidence?
  7. What ones do you think you could try in the next seven days?
  8. What ones will you try?
  9. What are you feeling most anxious about the viva?
  10. What are you going to do about it?

“I’m nervous” or “I’m anxious” isn’t enough. You can’t stop there. You have to work past worry I think, not be stopped by whatever barriers are going up. It’s easy for me to just say that, but if you’re in that place you have to do something about it.

I hope these questions help. Take a look at the following tagged themes on the blog too – worry and viva anxiety – there may be something useful among these posts for you.