I really like the following lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Whenever I’m trying to analyse a problem and get stuck, I think about these six starters and search for questions that will help.

They are valuable when unpicking the contribution you’ve made in your research. As your viva approaches, consider taking the following six questions as a starting point for reflecting on what you’ve done.

  • What was the result of your research?
  • Why was it worth doing?
  • When did you arrive at your main ideas?
  • How did your approach change during your PhD?
  • Where did you learn the most during your PhD?
  • Who do you think would be interested in your work?

There are many other questions you could use to reflect on your work. Start with these, see what thoughts and ideas they lead you to.

And Then A Decade Passed

I passed my viva ten years ago today. It sparked an interest for me that I didn’t know would become a passion and a vocation…

…but a lot of my viva is gone from my memory now. I remember bits and pieces; that’s to be expected I guess.

I remember not sleeping very much the night before.

I remember feeling nervous but not too nervous.

I remember feeling surprised that my examiners asked questions during my presentation.

I remember my internal using the phrase “proof by gravity” and wished I had thought of it.

I remember wondering if everyone stood for their vivas (they don’t – I’ve never met anyone else who has).

I don’t remember 90% of the questions I got.

I don’t remember 95% of the corrections I got.

I don’t remember why I wore a sweater for my viva which was in one of the hottest rooms in the maths building.

I don’t remember who the first person was that I told the result to.

I don’t remember seeing my supervisor afterwards, but he must have been around.

It was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. My viva was important, but it’s not the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Your viva will be a milestone, but you have to put it in perspective. There’s a lot you’ve done and a lot you will do that will probably matter more.

I remember feeling happy afterwards. I hope you will too.