Make Space

Doing your viva prep might mean that you need more space or time than you currently have. You already have a busy life and now there’s one more thing to do. It’s only for a limited time but it could feel like a lot.

Thankfully, taken together, all of the tasks you might do to get ready for the viva don’t amount to much. Making space to do them means, depending on how busy you are, just finding a little room:

  • Breathe. Remember that many, many people have had their viva and have got ready for it. You can too.
  • Plan. Think ahead. Explore when you need to start and sketch out when you will do certain things.
  • Get help. There are many people around you who can give you support. Ask!
  • Do a little work, often. You don’t need to spend hours at a time. Small tasks build up how ready you are.

Thinking ahead and planning can create the space and environment you need to do the work as stress-free as possible. You’re busy, but only a little space is needed to get your prep done.

Final Prep

What’s the last thing you will do to get ready for your viva? What final action will leave you satisfied, a small smile on your face that you’ve done all you can?

When will it be? The morning of your viva, a final check of some detail? The day before, deciding what to wear? A few days ahead of your viva when you have a final chat with your supervisor?

Sketching out a plan for prep helps to make it real. Knowing the final step can give you something to guide you. Deciding for yourself what that final task will be really cements that this is for you.

Your research. Your prep. Your viva.

Need, Nice, No

When I work with final year postgraduate researchers I ask them to consider prioritising the work they think they have to do with three lists:

  • Need: the things that are absolutely essential
  • Nice: work that would be good to do but which isn’t neccessary
  • No: tasks or projects that aren’t needed to fulfil the main objective

Way back in the distant past of 2007/8 I had projects that would become chapters I needed in my thesis. I also had nice ideas which I didn’t have time to develop. My supervisor agreed they weren’t essential to my thesis contribution, so I put them to one side. There were also things I said no to. I said no to paid part-time work so I could focus on getting my thesis finished. I said no to new ideas as there wasn’t time to add more to my thesis. I said no to fun things that would have been a distraction.

This kind of prioritising can help with finding focus for the final year, but NeedNice and No can also help with getting ready for the viva.

Viva prep isn’t a great challenge, but there are lots of things you could do in that period. It helps to separate out the kinds of work that are essential from what would help if you had time – and also from what you don’t need to focus on to be ready.

For example:

  • Need: read your thesis, check regulations, use rehearsal opportunities…
  • Nice: re-read your key references, have a mock viva, practice sharing a summary…
  • No: look for typos, consider improvements to your thesis, become an expert in your examiners…

When you put something in the No category you free yourself to focus on what you Need. Prep tasks that are Nice you can do if you have time or if, like the mock viva, you feel it is right for you. Not every candidate needs a mock viva – although they can be very valuable – but every candidate needs to rehearse responding to questions as they would in the viva.

Find your focus for your viva prep. Reflect and think ahead. What do you need to do? What would be nice as you get ready? And what will you say no to so that you can focus?

Kind Prep

Bring a quality of kindness to your preparation for the viva.

Don’t overload yourself.

Don’t start late so that you put pressure on your work.

Don’t rush so that you can make the most of it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Be kind to your future self by taking some time to plan what you need to do. Figure out a good start time. Don’t overwhelm your future self. Make a good space to work in and organise a good flow to get the work done.

Viva prep is work, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Be kind to yourself as you get ready.

Your Way

In the end, getting ready for the viva comes down to you figuring out your way to make it work.

There’s a lot of viva advice, both general and practical. This site alone contains over 24 hours of podcast interviews and 1500+ blog posts. You can’t do it all. As helpful as I like to be you can’t apply it all to your situation.

You have to do it your way.

Your friends, colleagues and supervisors will be able to help. They’ll have their experience. They might have key information which could help you get ready. But they’re not you: your life, your research and your situation might be so different that to do what they advise might be stressful or even impossible.

You have to do it your way.

So listen. Find sources that you can trust. Ask questions, then check the answers against your situation. Find a way to make it work for you. There’s lots of good advice out there. There are lots of things that will help you be ready and feel ready. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to viva prep.

You have to do it your way.

Constrained

There’s no best, one-size-fits-all plan for viva prep. You have to explore what works for you, and if you’re busy that could feel quite stressful.

This blog contains lots of ideas for what might help someone get ready. How do you plan all that out? You explore by applying constraints to see what could work.

  • What if you started your prep four weeks before your viva?
  • What if you could only prepare for thirty minutes per day?
  • What if you used your Saturday mornings?
  • What if you thought it would take twenty hours?
  • What if you had a list of tasks or goals first?
  • What if you assumed a start or finish date for your prep work?

Exploring just a few constraints can help you arrive at sensible options for getting the work done.

Stop stressing about how it will all get done. Start exploring with useful constraints that will help you be finished.

Sensible Prep

Getting ready for the viva involves big pieces of work and little tasks.

It could feel like there’s lots to do, maybe even too much, especially if you have other responsibilities. Start the process by getting everything out from your brain and onto a space you can track.

Write a list. Jot things down on a whiteboard. Start a new document and type anything that comes to mind.

Once you think you’ve got everything out, try to put some order in place. What comes first? What goes last? How could you fit this jigsaw of jobs together?

It’s possible to get ready for the viva by simply doing something productive for an hour per day for enough days.

It’s sensible to get ready for the viva by thinking a little, planning a little and then getting to work.

Part-time Prep

Generally speaking, a candidate doesn’t need to take time off in order to get ready. If you have any typical responsibilities – a job, family, friends, caring responsibilities or your own needs – then viva prep can fit around everything you need to do.

If you feel pressured because you work full-time and have a life as well, then the only thing you need to do to get ready is plan and possibly start early. You don’t need to cram lots of things in your diary. A little organisation will help.

  • How could you find thirty minutes to an hour most days for viva prep?
  • If you can’t commit to most days, when could you make the time?
  • Would starting a month before the viva give you time to spread out the work you need to do?
  • Would that create a space with as little stress as possible to do what you need?

Prep is part-time. By submission there’s only a small amount of work needed to be done. If you have a full-time life there is still plenty of space for prep. A little planning and organisation helps make it less stressful.

The Prep List

A list and two questions could be a simple way to manage your viva prep.

What do I need to do? How can I be sure I’ve done enough?

For the first question: look at what others tell you might help, compare it to where you feel there are gaps in your knowledge or confidence, and then make a list of what needs to be done as a result.

Assuming you’ve done enough simple work for your list, responding to the second question is straight-forward: when something gets done, cross it out. Move on to another task and as you see fewer and fewer things on the list you know you are closer and closer to being ready.

Lots of questions that explore viva prep can help – when to start, how much to do, when to do it and so on. These questions are valuable, but first explore what you need to do. What kinds of work will help you get ready?

Make a list, then work towards crossing it out.

At The Last Minute

Don’t save your viva prep for the day before your viva.

Save that day for reminding yourself of your successes.

Save that day for reinforcing that you’ve come as far as you have by becoming more talented, more knowledgeable, more capable.

Save that day for remembering that you couldn’t have produced your thesis by being lucky – you must be good.

Save that day for relaxing.

Last minute viva prep can be stressful. Save those last minutes for looking back and simply reflecting. Remember that you’re good.