Three Questions To Reflect On

First: What question do you hope your examiners don’t ask in the viva?

Second: …whatever the question was that you thought of in response to the question above!

Third: Since you can’t do anything to prevent the question from potentially being asked in the viva, what can you do before the viva to help you be in a better position to respond?

 

And a fourth bonus question: more generally, what can you do to put yourself in a good position for your viva?

More Starters

I was playing with the random post link when I came across Starters (from a few years ago) and was once again reminded of these very helpful words 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.

If you’re starting your viva preparations, and perhaps want to shake loose some thoughts about what you’ve done, consider the following questions inspired by the words above:

  • What’s been your aim for the last few years?
  • Why did you start a PhD?
  • When did you find your greatest idea to date?
  • How have you approached your research?
  • Where do you think your research could be applied?
  • Who are you now, compared to when you started?

Reflect on your research and your journey to start your viva preparations. You may not be asked these questions directly, but you can be sure they will uncover ideas relevant to the discussions you’ll have with your examiners.

You Have To Get Better

Think of three things that you’ve got better at by doing a PhD.

  • First list them: how would you specify these skills, processes or knowledge areas?
  • Write a few sentences for each about how you started your PhD: how would you qualify your ability or awareness then?
  • Write a few sentences for each about where you are now: how good are you today?
  • Write a few sentences for each about what made the difference: how did you get from where you were to where you are?

You have to get better at lots of things during a PhD, but progress and change can be so small day-by-day that it’s hard to see. Look back now, reflect and convince yourself.

Your development can be one of the roots of your confidence for your viva.

And So On

A question in the viva cannot prompt you to talk in minute detail about the sum of three or more years of work. Every response for every question that you are asked will take up a few hours at most.

A response could be short because that’s what it needs to be. It could leave details out because they aren’t as important as what you keep in. It could be incomplete because the complete details would take too long, or you don’t have them, or for some other reason.

A response may or may not be an answer to the question. It may or may not move the conversation in the direction you or your examiners want. It may be that you have to stop before you really want to, or just give an indication of what you mean, rather than the full picture.

Remember: you can always pause and think, and your examiners can always ask for more if they need it.

BOOST Your Mini-Viva

I like my mini-vivas resource, a tool to create valuable practice responding to questions before the viva.

I like the acronym BOOST for feedback – Balanced, Observed, Objective, Specific, Timely – a neat way to remember how to frame constructive feedback.

I’m always tinkering at the back of my mind with various resources, and have a notion these two might fit together quite well. As a starting place, how about the following sets of questions for feedback or reflection after a mini-viva?

If you use have a mini-viva by yourself, try these to help you reflect afterwards:

  • What stands out to you as a good response? What made it good?
  • What questions were challenging for you? Why?
  • What can you take away from this? How is that valuable to you?
  • What might you need to explore next?

If you have a friend help you by steering a mini-viva, then prompt them with the following to get feedback afterwards:

  • What did I communicate well? Why was it clear?
  • What did they not understand? What could I try?
  • What else did they want to know?
  • What other questions would they ask you now?

Having a mini-viva, giving a presentation, having a full mock viva – all of these things by themselves can be useful to give you a space to practise. You can “boost” the benefit you get with some targeted questions and reflections afterwards.

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 🙂