7 Questions To Help You Annotate Your Thesis

Annotating your thesis is useful viva prep. You have to really think about your thesis while you do it and you create a more useful resource for afterwards. I have general ideas I think are good for annotation, but every candidate has to do something that works for them. With that in mind, here are seven questions that could help you:

  1. What do you want to find easily?
  2. What is important in your thesis? (bonus question: how are you defining important?)
  3. Where do you need to add short notes?
  4. Where do you need to add longer notes?
  5. What pages would benefit from a few sentences to summarise them?
  6. What do you need to underline? (bonus question: why?)
  7. What do you need to highlight? (bonus question: why?)

Annotate your thesis so it is useful for you. Ask questions and set parameters before you start. Figure out what you need to do and then go do it.

Disagreeing With Your Supervisor

It’s possible your research went down a path you didn’t choose. Your supervisor insisted. You followed. Whatever that meant for your research, you still disagree with the approach or idea now.

OK.

…That’s it. You disagree. That’s OK. Disagreement by itself is not a problem.

Did it stop you doing your research? Did it remove possibilities? Did it help the research but was tricky to do? Was it a tough conversation?

What’s the real problem?

If there’s something to explain in your viva as a result, you might want to think carefully about the words you use. If there is bad feeling, think about how you express that if you want to – but who would that help? You can still say you disagree with something from the course of your research.

Explore and explain. If there was disagreement with your supervisor about something, it would be good to reflect before the viva so you have key points to reference if you need to talk about it.

Disagreement by itself is not a problem: the situation might be, but the disagreement itself is not.

OK?

Who Do You Need?

Today’s post is even more personal than yesterday’s question. It depends on who is around you, in your circle, and what they can practically offer or do for you, as well as what you really need.

The cast of characters in your preparation play could include supervisors, mentors, colleagues, friends, university staff, family members – and from a distance your examiners too.

You might need someone to ask you questions.

You might need someone to check in with you.

You might need someone to get facts from (or, in the case of examiners, facts about!).

You might need someone to tell you what you need to know.

You might need someone to tell you it’s going to be OK.

You might need someone to tell you all about their viva.

Who do you need? It could be more useful to think about what you need others for first. Once you know that, you’ll know who to ask.

What Do You Need?

Before submission you need your research to be finished and your thesis to be done.

Before the viva you need to prepare your thesis and yourself. You need to read, to think, to speak and get ready.

In the viva you need your thesis, something to write on, something to drink and anything that will help you feel good in those few hours.

After the viva you need a way to celebrate – and you will need to celebrate!

And you might need other things, far more personal than I could know or guess. What do you need? How can you make sure you have them?

Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered

I’ve had a lot of fun delivering Getting Creative and 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva in the last month, and been floored by the support people have given them and how valuable they’ve said they were. So I decided to keep going with new ideas and a new session!

Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered is a 1-hour webinar on Wednesday 13th May 2020, and is for anyone who has questions about the viva.

Maybe you want to know… How long are vivas? What are they like? What if I feel nervous? How do they start? What if I forget something?

These questions are really common, and it’s OK to ask them at the session. It’s OK to ask uncommon questions. It’s OK to ask general questions, vague questions, hypothetical questions; questions that come from not knowing something, questions that come from worrying about something, questions that come from being uncertain and being concerned. All questions are welcome, but the session is probably most valuable to PhD candidates who have either submitted and have their viva soon, or who have a few months to go before submission.

Tickets cost £3, £5 or £7 – you choose the price based on what you think is fair – places are limited to 75 participants and at registration you’ll be asked to share any questions you need answers for, so that I can create a structure for the session.

If you have questions about the viva, then please explore this site for help. Ask your supervisor, ask your friends, ask your institution – there are lots of people around you who will be able to help you with your questions.

Please also take a look at Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered too, running on May 13th, to see if it might be useful 🙂

Final Chapter

Following Wednesday’s post, you could be a person, in a place, with a problem at the end of your PhD too. The mammoth task of submitting your thesis is done, but then you wonder:

  • What if my examiners don’t like something?
  • What if I’m wrong?
  • What if I forget everything?
  • What if I’m too nervous?
  • What if I go blank?
  • What if………

Sometimes you might have more than a hypothetical problem too. Maybe there’s a genuine error in a chapter. Perhaps you realise now there’s something else you wanted to say. You feel a gap in your knowledge.

None of these situations, hypothetical or definite, are insurmountable. None of them are beyond you.

Postgraduate researchers, as a rule, are are not just problem solvers: they are problem seekers. A PhD journey is built on finding problems to explore and (hopefully) solve. You have to. It’s not showing up for a 9-5, the same thing every day. No: you have to find problems, possibly problems that are beyond you at times, and rise to meet them.

Why should the end of your PhD, prep for the viva or the viva itself, be any different?

Of course there’ll be more problems. For someone like you, there will always be more problems to solve.

And for someone like you – capable, talented, knowledgeable – there will be answers too.

The final chapter of your PhD story sees you with obstacles still to overcome, challenges that may test you, but more capable than ever to meet them. Your story comes to a conclusion not simply with a person, in a place, with a problem.

It’s you, here, to get this done.

Go do it.

Taking Stock

Today is the last day of the tax year in the UK, and time for me to take stock of things. I’m asking myself questions like:

How much came in? How much went out? How many invoices? Do I have all my receipts?

I need to answer these in order to fill out my tax return. But there are other questions I need to prompt myself with:

How many seminars did I deliver? To how many people? At how many universities?

I need to earn money, but I want to serve others. So it helps me to look into those details too and take stock. Nevermind the number of words I write here too! And there are still more questions I need to ask, because there are other important aspects of my life too:

How many hours did I work? When did I take breaks? When did I work overtime? When did I have proper holidays?

There are many, many more questions I could ask, which would take this little life and business and put it under the microscope. The answers would be useful for some people (including me) and interpreting those could help prompt future action (thinking about holiday times or working hours in the past can influence or change practices in the future, for example).

Taking stock is important. It’s essential before the viva.

You’ve asked a lot of questions to get you to where you are. Now, more questions are needed.

Some will come from your examiners, and you can prepare for them even if you can’t know what they will be necessarily. You can get practised through a mock viva or seminar, building your confidence for meeting them. You can ask yourself more questions to explore your research from new perspectives.

What have you done? How did you get here? What matters more?

You could use many questions to unpick and explore your research. Start with some big ones. Find a way to capture your thoughts rather than simply losing them to abstraction. And maybe share them with others to find opportunities to explore them more deeply.

Every Single Question

Every single question in the viva comes as a result of your research and your thesis. While you can’t predict every question, nor know a perfect response for every one, you do have everything you need to be able to respond.

Every single question in the viva is being asked for a reason. It might not be immediately clear to you what that reason is.

Every single question in the viva is going to be asked by one of your examiners, or by you. You can’t know what questions your examiners will have, but you might have ideas. Prepare for your examiners’ questions by rehearsing with a mock viva or in conversation with friends. Don’t create model answers, instead build experience of responding to questions. You can know what questions you would like to ask your examiners; think about this topic in advance, write a list of questions you’d like to ask.

Every single question in the viva is NOT every single question you could possibly be asked about your thesis and your research. Rather than focus on trying to anticipate every single question, focus on being knowledgeable, confident and prepared for the questions as they come.

3 Questions To Ask Your Supervisors Before Submission

Viva preparation starts after submission, but the right questions – asked in advance – can help you submit well and set up your success in your preparation and viva. Before submission, ask your supervisors the following and build on these in discussion:

  1. Who do they think would be good examiners and why? Many supervisors invite opinions from students; final decisions rest with supervisors. You could offer ideas, but understanding the criteria they are using (or the names they are choosing) can give you confidence for the process and useful information.
  2. In advance of submission, what constructive feedback can they offer of your thesis? Make the most of this. Use their thoughts to help how you communicate your research.
  3. What are some of the trickiest areas they see candidates struggling with in the viva? Generally, what questions or topics do they see problems with? Or what are topics that they see as perfectly natural to talk about, but which candidates might not prepare for?

These questions will not paint the whole picture for your thesis, your preparation or the viva. They will be a good start. You can trust that your supervisors want you to pass, and want to give you appropriate assistance.

Use these discussions to help your submission and state of mind as you head towards the viva.

Ask Me Anything

Seriously. If you need to know something about the viva and you think I might have an answer or opinion or advice, please ask me. You can send me an email, or just tweet at me, I don’t bite!

I keep office hours, so I might not reply within five minutes or one day, but if you have a question about the viva then you can write to me and I will write back to you as soon as I can to try and help.

And I’m not the only one: there are people all around you who can help.

  • Ask your supervisor for help (that’s kind of their job).
  • Ask your graduate school for help (ditto).
  • Ask your friends and colleagues (not a job, but sort of a responsibility).

PhDs and vivas can be struggles – in a way, they’re supposed to be – but you don’t have to struggle through everything alone.