The Possibility of Disruption

Most of the time viva prep goes well. Most of the time nothing goes wrong in the viva. Despite concerns, most video vivas have no real problems.

But there’s always a chance that something could happen. Not unexpected, just unlikely, and definitely unwelcome.

  • A last-minute crisis leaves you less time to get ready.
  • A delay on your viva day means someone is running late.
  • A glitch means you can’t see your examiner or they can’t see you.

There’s a chance something could go wrong; whatever that might be you can work to make it better.

And sometimes it’s worth planning just in case the unlikely happens.

  • Sketch a plan for your prep so there’s space for last-minute crises.
  • On viva day, be organised so there’s much less chance you’re late.
  • Practise with your equipment and check your wi-fi so you can be confident it will all work – and arrange a backup plan!

There’s a possibility of disruption to your best laid plans around your viva. But you can do something about it. Either by planning ahead of time or acting when the moment comes, you can make sure your viva is the best it can be.

If something goes a little wrong, pause – be shocked, frustrated, cross – then think “what can I do?”

Video Viva Prep

Let’s keep it simple.

  • Check the regulations and requirements for your institution. Find out who will organise the viva, what platform you will use and the procedure for a video viva.
  • Practise using the tech. Check you can use the software, so you know where the buttons and options are. At the same time check your wi-fi and internet connection are up to the task.
  • Consider where you will be for your viva. You may have a regular workspace, but that might not be the best place to have your viva. Think about light, think about quiet and consider your options. There won’t be a perfect place, but there will be a best option.
  • Rehearse using the tech. Practise means knowing how the software operates. Rehearse means investing time to simulate the experience of being in the viva with your examiners. Do this to get confident in your ability to manage the practical elements of that situation.
  • Let go of the idea of a video viva being “wrong”. Put to one side the idea that it would be better to have your viva in-person, in your department, around the seminar table at the end of the corridor.

These points are all simple. The last one, however, might not be easy.

Snacks For The Video Viva

So your viva is going to be over video. That could feel rough at times, but there are some interesting possibilities too.

Why have a chocolate bar in your bag, like an in-person viva, when you could have a freshly baked biscuit on stand-by? Why have a half-cold cup of coffee for a few hours, when a friend or family member could be poised by the kettle if you have a break?

A viva over video can present some small logistical challenges, but it also provides opportunities to meet your needs. Snacks can be a little fancier, your space can be a little nicer. If your viva is over video, why don’t you do what you can to make things as close to your preference as possible? What could you do to make the space lovely for you?

What could you do to help you feel great about the occasion?

Remote Vivas

Virtual vivas, Skype vivas, Zoom vivas – I see lots of names being used for the same thing. The current situation in the world means some vivas will be delayed, and others will necessarily happen online. Remote vivas are needed, a sudden change in procedure, and so naturally that creates a space for worry and concern.

Thankfully, while previously rare, remote vivas aren’t new. There are people who can help you understand what might be ahead if your viva is in the near future.

Find academics and ask them about what doing a remote viva is like, what they might have to take into account. Ask PhD graduates who have had their viva over video, and see what that felt like. Set your expectations, and check if there is anything special you might need to prepare for. See if there was anything that surprised them – that perhaps now doesn’t have to surprise you!

A few weeks ago, when universities started closing their doors, I asked for help on Twitter. I knew a little about remote vivas, but it was more on the technical help side – check the software beforehand, check regulations, and so on. Thanks to the generous contributions of many Twitter users I was able to curate a thread of help starting here:

There are lots of valuable points here! If your viva is likely to be sometime in 2020, it’s probably worth taking a look.

By the end of the year, perhaps, universities will be opening their doors again. But it won’t hurt you to find out a little more. It’s always been useful for candidates to check expectations; it’s hard to prepare and feel confident if you don’t have a handle on what’s ahead.

Now particularly, when the backdrop of the world is a little more scary and uncertain, it’s important to bring your viva into focus. See what it might be like, as clearly as you can, and you can make your viva a little less scary and uncertain.

Interesting Times

I tend to write this blog many weeks in advance. As of today, Monday 16th March 2020, I have posts readied until April 5th, but today it felt right to pause and add an extra post.

The world is changing, quickly, and in some ways unpredictably.

Often, change seems gradual, perhaps so slow that we don’t even notice it happening. With some countries today in lockdown, social norms in flux, universities in the UK closing their doors for now, and all of this happening in the space of weeks, it’s difficult to see what happens next.

Last Friday I was in Bristol, delivering a Viva Survivor session, and in and amongst the questions about viva lengths, concerns about going blank or wondering what makes a good examiner, an important question came from the room:

What do I do if my viva is cancelled? I have a date, I’ve booked time off work to prepare, but it might be postponed or move online. What do I do? How can I get ready?

In that moment and since I have had a hundred and one thoughts about how to respond to this concern – a concern which must be going through a lot of PhD candidates’ minds right now. Here are a few:

  • If it’s cancelled, it will be re-arranged.
  • Your prep still counts. It adds to making you ready.
  • If you pause your prep, you can unpause later.
  • If your viva is online, you can make it work. Check details, check the systems involved.
  • If an examiner has to cancel, another will be found. Think about who else could meet the standard for a good examiner for you.

If you’re facing this situation won’t say “don’t worry”. That never helps. I’ll advise you to think – even if the timeline to your viva is now uncertain – think about what you can do today to make tomorrow better. Worry can’t be avoided, but worry won’t solve a situation. Your work will, your actions will. So what actions now will help you in the future for your viva? If you can’t yet act to reduce uncertainty, how can you act to increase your own confidence or talent?

I’m going to continue to publish and share a post every day about the viva. I don’t know how vivas will change, temporarily or otherwise, but I know what examiners are looking for, I know what candidates can do to meet the challenges of a viva, and I can help people to see the kinds of work or ideas that can help them be ready.

If you are struggling, ask someone for help. Ask me: email me, tweet at me, and if I can I will help. I may not have an answer that solves things for you, but I’ve helped a lot of people. If you need to, just ask.

In the short term, it looks like I’m working from home for at least a few months. There will be challenges with that, but also, perhaps, the space for new ideas or opportunities. A Viva Survivor session I was to deliver in person next week is now going to be a webinar. I have never delivered a webinar before! So this will be a chance to learn, grow and develop. We’ll see where that leads. I’ll be using some of my time at home to make more resources and find more ways to help candidates get ready for their viva.

Potentially, the situation in the world means some of my work will be cancelled. As a self-employed person that’s a little unsettling, at times it feels a little scary. But I feel confident that things will work out eventually. If you can help me, do check out my Ko-fi page, consider becoming a follower or supporter there. Or if you’re looking for general, considered viva support, take a look at my ebooks. Little things will help, and if you can help me, I thank you.

But help others first. If someone around you has their viva coming up, and because of the situation in the world they’re extra-worried, extra-nervous, consider how you can support them. Consider what little actions could help them to feel just a little better, because it all adds up. And if no-one around you needs help with their viva, consider how else you can be a helper for those around you.

Ask for help if you need it. Offer help where you can.

Survive means “manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.”

Keep going.