Simulated

Rehearsal for the viva is essential because it simulates some of the aspects of being there. If you’re nervous about how you will respond, what will come up or what it will feel like to be there then you can’t do better than rehearse in some way.

A mock viva is the best way to simulate the viva experience. Questions from experienced academics in a relevant field or disciplines. Time to think and be in a viva-like environment. Facing uncertainty of what the next question or opinion will be. You can practise what you will do and get a sense of how you might feel.

A mock viva, a simulation, however polished, can’t be as accurate or as good as the real viva. How will it differ from the real thing? You can’t know beforehand. You can simply be better prepared for talking to your examiners.

Managing The Mock Viva

A key part of viva prep is using opportunities to rehearse for the viva.

You have to read your thesis to prepare, make notes, check references you might have forgotten, and so on – but in the viva you need to talk. You’re not called on simply to present but to respond to questions. You have to be ready to be a participant in the discussion your examiners are facilitating.

A mock viva is probably the best opportunity you could have to rehearse. By design it is supposed to be like the viva you’re expecting. It’s run by your supervisor and maybe a colleague of theirs; while they may not have had the full prep time your examiners will have, they can draw on their own relevant experience to help you prepare.

A mock viva doesn’t have to be a big deal to arrange but there are key questions to consider first:

  • Do you really want one? They’re a great opportunity but not for everyone. Think carefully about yourself, your relationship with your supervisor and what you need for your prep.
  • When could you have one? Talk to your supervisor about their availability and schedule a time that will suit you both – giving plenty of time to debrief and build on your rehearsal.
  • What do you need to do to be ready for the mock? Probably everything you’re already doing to get ready for the viva at that stage, so nothing else!
  • What do you want to get from the experience? If you just want to have something like the viva, then you don’t need to ask for anything else. If you want questions on a specific topic or aspect of your work then prime your supervisor.

Remember that this will not be a run-through for your real viva. Your real viva will be different. Your real viva will matter more, have different questions and come with the real expectations and anticipations of the day. A mock viva helps you rehearse how you might feel and behave on the day, rather than allow you to test responses to questions.

There’s not a lot to manage to have a mock viva. Think ahead a little and you can manage your expectations, then do something to help with your viva preparation.

Mocks Are Maybes

We don’t own a toaster.

The rest of our family think we’re really weird. They can’t wrap their heads around why we choose not to have a toaster and prefer to use our grill. We still toast things! We just don’t use a toaster.

 

You might not want a mock.

Madness!!! – is what some well-meaning people might say. You need a mock to rehearse for the viva! Or how will you get a feel for being in the viva?? Well-intentioned comments but you might not want or need a mock.

A mock could feel stressful to you. It could be that you think your supervisor wouldn’t be the best choice to help you. Or you might want a mock but not be able to have one because of your schedule.

And all of that is fine.

Instead, you could have discussions with friends over coffee, deliver a seminar or find some other way to get more comfortable with being in the kind of situation you’ll find in the viva. A mock could help, but all of these other options could be just as helpful for you.

 

In our house we need a way to toast bread – but we don’t need a toaster.

You need a way to rehearse and practice for the viva – but you don’t need a mock viva.

Needing A Mock

You don’t need a mock viva. You need practice for the viva, a rehearsal space to think and respond like you might do in the viva. You don’t need a mock viva, it’s just one of the ways that you could rehearse.

You don’t need a mock viva, it’s just supposed to be like a real viva, with substitute examiners who will be well-placed to ask you relevant, helpful questions to give you a sense of kind of discussion that arises in the viva. You don’t need a mock viva, there are lots of ways to get help, but given that it’s supposed to be like the viva it could be a really useful opportunity if you have the chance.

You don’t need a mock viva, you need to be ready: a mock is a means to an end, not the end itself. There are other things you could do that would help.

But if you have the chance, a mock viva could be exactly what you need. A small, self-contained piece of preparation. A boost to confidence, to awareness, to expectations. A chance to rehearse and build. A chance to get ready.

You don’t need it. But it might help a lot if you have 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.

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.