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.

A Trial Run

Mock vivas have always been a good idea. A space to rehearse for the viva, an opportunity to build confidence at responding to questions and gain certainty that you’re prepared for the real thing.

Now, more than ever, a mock – or something like one – is a very good idea.

If your viva is going to be over video link of some kind then have a trial run. It would be great to do that with your supervisor. Have a formal mock, get a feel for the technology and the flow of conversation when people are at a distance.

Then explore the software so that you have an idea of keyboard shortcuts if you need them, screensharing if it might help or whiteboards functions. Get a friend or two to have test calls with. Look into the camera. Check to see what you look like. Check to see what’s behind you. Check with someone on the other end that they can hear you well enough.

For your actual viva, everyone will be understanding if the signal drops out. Everyone will be understanding if you don’t have a perfect study or bookcase behind you.

Take a few occasions before your viva, if it will be a remote viva, to test the situation. Get a feel for what it will be like. A bit strange, but fine.

Something you can survive.

Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.

Mocks Aren’t Magic

A mock viva is not a silver bullet that will solve all of your nervous feelings about the viva.

What are you looking for from your viva preparations?

  • Confidence?
  • A better picture of how you see your work?
  • A clearer understanding of what the viva is like?
  • Opportunities to practise?
  • Opportunities to think and get your head straight?
  • A chance to check your own talents?

If you know what you’re looking for, you can think about how you might find it. And while it’s not a magic solution that solves everything, when you think about what it can do, a mock viva could help with all of the above.

A mock viva is not a silver bullet, but maybe it’s good enough that we can think of it as a bronze arrow?

Isn’t One Viva Enough?

“Do I really need to have a mock?”

I get this question from nervous PhD candidates. They’re nervous about the actual viva and that carries through to any idea of a rehearsal. They’ve heard of mocks and all they can think is that it is one more thing to worry about.

No-one needs a mock viva in the way they need oxygen. You can get by without it. But there are good reasons to have one.

A mock viva can help bring a little confidence through practise. It’ll never be the same as the real one, but it allows you to be in a similar sort of space. Your supervisor might offer, but you should feel alright about asking. It’s a reasonable request to make. You’ll need to give a little notice to set it up, but it shouldn’t be a problem. Afterwards you’ll probably have some questions and answers to reflect on, but you’ll have a little more comfort for being in your real viva.

One viva is enough – but the mock isn’t a second viva. It’s a rehearsal, a practice, a sort-of-but-not-really-viva. Make the most of the opportunity if you have one.

Do I Need To Have A Mock Viva?

Nope.

If your supervisor offers you can say no. You don’t need to ask for one. You can just leave it be.

Of course, most people who have one find it useful, but you don’t have to have one. It’s not a viva pre-requisite. If you’re busy, or you already feel ready, or you just think there’s something else you could be doing instead that will help more, then don’t have one.

But if you’re worried then think twice. Think back to Monday’s post and explore for yourself: Why are you worried about having a mock viva? What’s at the root of that worry?

You can still say no to the mock if you’re worried, I’m not advising you go ahead with it – but you should probably do something about the worry.

There are lots of good reasons to have a mock, and plenty of reasons you might not want to. Make sure you focus on the right reasons either way.

Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

Let’s categorise!

Bad Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

  • You want to see exactly what your viva will be like.
  • You want to rehearse answers to specific questions.
  • You want to be grilled by your supervisor and prove yourself.
  • You want to perfect yourself before you meet your examiners.

Good Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

  • You want to see what vivas are typically like.
  • You want to see what other people might ask about your thesis.
  • You want to see how well you can answer unexpected questions.
  • You want to boost your confidence for the real thing.
  • You want to see if there’s anything else you need to do to prepare.

If you think a mock viva might help, it probably will. If you think it will do all of the work to make you “perfect” for your viva, it probably won’t. It’s practice, not perfection. Make sure you have the right reasons in your mind.

Rehearsal

The mock viva is generally valuable because of the kind of practice it provides. Your supervisors might have some clear ideas about what a mock should be like. But if you think about it, the mock is a sort of test run for later success.

So think: what do you need to succeed?

  • Are you looking for certain types of questions or a particular focus for the discussion?
  • Do you want practice or pressure?
  • What kind of feedback would be most useful from the experience?

Think about what might help you. Everyone has different needs. It’s not wrong to think about how you can make the most of the opportunity.

Record Your Mock Viva

I came across this tip while listening back to episodes of the podcast: if you have a mock viva, record it so that you can review it later.

Listen to check whether or not you paused to think about answers. Listen to think about whether or not there were other things you could say. Listen to see if, with hindsight, there were questions which surprised you or which you might want to practise further.

Listen to hear someone who is just around the corner from passing their viva.

Pre-Corrections

Nearly every person that I’ve spoken to about mock vivas had theirs about two weeks before the actual viva. For them it was a chance to explore their thesis, get questions about their work and see how they would feel responding in a viva-like situation. Most people want something like that from the mock.

A while back I spoke to someone who had their mock viva a month before they submitted their thesis. They wanted to see how well they were communicating, both through their thesis and through the answers they gave to questions. Their early mock viva gave them a chance for “pre-corrections”: based on questions and feedback they tried to improve their thesis as much as possible before submission. That didn’t mean that they weren’t expecting corrections later but they were using their mock to make their thesis the best it could be.

I’ve never interviewed anyone else who has had such an early mock viva. It might not be a terrible idea to do something like it though. Why not host a seminar or have a series of conversations to unpick how well you’re communicating your research? What could you do to improve?