My Dinosaur Socks, My Purple Sweater

These are my two biggest confidence boosters, at least in the winter and early spring. Summer is on the way, and so my purple sweater will soon be folded and stored away. My dinosaur socks can still provide an extra layer of help to me; I have music and routines that help steer me – both when I deliver workshops and when I’m working at home – but as my sweater goes away I’ll be looking around for other helpful primers and reminders.

Confidence for the viva doesn’t solely depend on tricks, but it’s helpful to look for and find things that help you. It’s not just hoping things go well, but it’s not magic either. Explore: what will make the difference for you? What will help lead you to being your best self in the viva?

Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

I love Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, the web series by Jerry Seinfeld where he interviews comedians in ca- well, you probably get the idea. One of my favourite episodes is with Steve Martin. It’s funny and well worth a watch, and his book Born Standing Up is also really great. In the episode, he describes how in his early career he made a conscious decision to “fake confidence.” He wanted his audience to think he was happy and at ease with what he was doing.

Seinfeld asks how that is any different from actually being confident, because presumably the output of confidence or faking confidence is the same – people think you are!

“Fake it ’til you make it!” I see this advice a lot. Show confidence even if you don’t feel it. Don’t let them see fear. But that kind of pressure can take a toll. If the output of faking and being confident – assuming that you can successfully fake it – is the perception of confidence… wouldn’t it be better to work on being confident? If someone feels nervous or uncertain, and if that goes so far as to knock their confidence, it would be so much more rewarding to do something to build confidence back up rather than try to fake it.

When it comes to the viva, I hope that every candidate feels confident – which doesn’t mean that they won’t feel nervous, they could still have some anxieties. To my mind there are three areas in particular that any viva candidate can feel confident about:

  • They can feel confident in their work, which has taken time to develop.
  • They can feel confident about the choices they’ve made, and if they have to, can explain them.
  • They can feel confident in their talents, their competence, their abilities as a researcher – things which have necessarily developed over the course of research.

If you’re near the end of your PhD, viva just around the corner, it’s OK to feel nervous – but it’s right to be able to look at yourself and everything you’ve done to get there and feel confident in your achievements. You didn’t just stumble upon the end of your PhD.

When it comes to the viva, it’s not fake it ’til you make it: you’ve made it.

Magpie

“Hello Mr Magpie, how’s your wife?”

If you see a lonely magpie then you’re supposed to ask where his wife is, supposedly to ward away sorrow or bad things. I don’t know where the superstition comes from, I heard it at a very young age. I would never consider myself to be a superstitious person, but for some reason this has hooked into my brain. I can’t get rid of it. Whenever I see a magpie I look around hoping to see a friend for it, and if I don’t I whisper, “Hello Mr Magpie, how’s your wife?

I wouldn’t class myself as superstitious, but I did wear a pair of my “good day socks” to my viva.

I often listen to Daft Punk while I set up for a workshop, it puts me in a happy sort of state that I find really helpful.

You should do none of these things. These are things that help or have helped me. You can call them superstition, ritual, process, practice, whatever. For the viva, think about the things that help you: a good night’s sleep, psyching yourself up, listening to music, three coffees, someone saying good luck (or not). Find what helps you.

But if you see a lonely magpie, say hi from me.

Tuning In

For the first half of 2016 I would listen to a string quartet doing covers of David Bowie songs whenever I was setting up for workshops.I listened to the songs one day and had a great workshop. It started as a little ritual but blossomed into priming: priming myself for confidence, tuning myself into a certain mode of thinking. After the summer break and a little reflection I switched to Daft Punk. I’m generally in a very happy space when I’m presenting, or I want to be, and Daft Punk is music that makes me happy.

So, an idea: What music makes you happy? What music do you associate with being the best version of you? What music tells the story of your PhD? There are a lot of things you could do to contribute to being viva ready – read your thesis of course, practice answering questions, make notes – but something helpful could be as simple as listening to a soundtrack that helps you focus well.

What’s on your playlist?