The viva matters:
Importance and nerves travel
Hand-in-hand with you.
(for more viva-related haiku, click here)
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:
“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.
They matter. But the little things that evade memory or fast recall probably don’t matter as much as you think they do.
You’re primed to notice the little things you forget more than you notice all of the things that you easily remember.
If nerves about remembering everything before the viva appear, banish them by thinking about all of the things you do know, rather than the tiny fraction of details that don’t snap into focus.
I often write about looking for ways to boost or find confidence. I’m not sure I’ve wondered too much about why someone might have a lack of confidence on the blog, except for mentioning surface level things like “what if my mind goes blank?”
For a long time before, during and after my PhD I would be hyper-nervous on any occasion I would have to speak in public. Eventually that went away, through a lot of practice. But at the root was a worry that people would judge me somehow, not like me or what I had to say.
Where did that come from?
In my dim and distant memory I remember being in a play as a teenager, to an audience of mostly teenagers, and no-one liking it. A really different kind of situation to the situations in my PhD and afterwards. Somehow different anxieties had tied together over the years.
It’s freeing to remember it now. I’m older, more rational, and can look on it differently: I can think about what it means, what I can do about it. I still get nervous, like anyone does, but thinking about where those worries came from has helped me to do something about them.
If you feel nervous or anxious about any aspect of the viva, then don’t look first for things to boost your confidence. Search instead for what might be at the root. What is causing you to doubt? What is holding you back? What does it mean?
What are you going to do?
Stress and nerves are not penalised in the viva. If you’re anxious or hesitant you don’t get extra questions or corrections. Your examiners will not think less of you if you’re worried on the day.
The real question is what are you going to do about your nervousness for your own sake? Do you need a couple of butterflies in your stomach to help you? Or would it be good to banish your anxieties entirely?
It’s not enough to say “I feel nervous” or “I feel worried” for the viva. There are two questions that follow when you feel something negative about your viva. First, why do you feel that way? Second, what are you going to do?