Refresh Your Memory

Read your thesis, at least once, before your viva. Once might be enough to help you recall the general flow of what you’ve set out and remember the most important details.

Write out a paragraph for each key project you’ve done, to refresh your memory of how you got started.

Read the most recent paper by each of your examiners and look at their staff pages to ensure you know a little about them.

Make a bullet-point list of your results and conclusions. Make another list of all your achievements from the course of your PhD.

You don’t need to have a photographic memory to succeed in the viva. Being able to recall key information easily can help though – and reminding yourself of your achievements can help ground you in the hard work you’ve done and the talent that has helped you to do it.

Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.

Six Steps For Friction-free Prep

In preparing for the viva you have your thesis, your knowledge, your talent…

…and a lot of things potentially in your way, stopping you from getting ready! Busy days, family ties, worry, uncertainty over what to do – there’s lots to slow you down!

Thankfully, there’s a few simple steps you can take to remove the obstacles in your way:

  1. Make a plan. Just a short one, just an idea of when you need start, when you need to stop and what you need to do.
  2. Get your materials together. You need your thesis, some stationery, some paper and some papers you’ve referenced too. Get it all together, don’t leave things for later when you can procrastinate and avoid prep because you don’t have that paper you need.
  3. Find a prep space. It might be your dining table, it could be your office, it could be a cafe. But find a space that you can work well in.
  4. Tell others what you need. Probably, you need them to leave you alone from time to time! Get the space you need.
  5. Do at least one thing every day. Read a chapter, write a summary, check a reference – do something so it becomes a habit. Small tasks add up.
  6. Make a task list for your plan. What are all the tasks you have to get done? Cross them off as you go to see your progress as it happens.

Be practical. Don’t stay in your head with worries, doubts, procrastinations. Work better by removing things that create friction as you get ready to pass your viva.

Refresh

It’s important to read your thesis as part of your viva prep to refresh your memory: a valuable check against mistaken impressions and details gone astray.

It’s useful in another sense of the word too: the modern, computing sense where you refresh a webpage to see what has changed. You read your thesis but it’s you who is refreshed. You spot something, a new thought occurs or a previously unrealised connection is seen.

And a possible third sense: after so long spent bringing your thesis to life, it could be refreshing to read it and be happy that it is done!

Find The Vague

When you come to viva preparation time you will read and re-read your thesis. And you will find typos. That’s to be expected: spellcheck won’t catch everything, and neither will you. It’s not so bad though: make a note of them when you find them and you can correct later.

Instead of going on a typo hunt though, I’d recommend purposefully looking for vague sections of your thesis. Read your thesis carefully, line by line, and see what doesn’t quite make sense. What could be clearer? What might someone struggle with? Spend some time now making notes on that.

Your examiners can probably read past a typo, but they’ll notice something vague and be more likely to dig into it with you in the viva. If you find the vague ahead of time you’ll be more prepared in case it comes up, but you’ll also be better at explaining things in the future.