Six Songs For The Viva

Something different for a Bank Holiday Monday!

I’ve made a YouTube playlist, six songs that make me think about the viva, about getting ready, the end of the PhD and all of the feelings that swirl around. My reasons for these picks are below, but note that as this playlist is on YouTube, if you do click through there might be adverts between some songs and they have nothing to do with me!

The Final Countdown, Europe – I think this is the first thought that comes to people when their viva is near. The days and weeks leading up feel like a ticking clock to something momentous.

Happy, Pharrell Williams – this is my secret wish for everyone going to their viva. I’d like everyone to go to it feeling good about talking to their examiners.

My Way, Frank Sinatra – part of the viva is talking about what you did, how you did it, why you did it. While the viva isn’t quite the end of the PhD it has a feeling of “the final curtain”. Hopefully not too many regrets, hopefully not sombre or sad. Hopefully you can stand proudly and say you did it your way!

Make Your Own Kind Of Music, Mama Cass – this is a very particular thought for the viva. Some candidates worry that examiners will tell them that what they’ve done isn’t right or appropriate. Worry that there won’t be an answer or a way to explain yourself is real, and there isn’t a silver bullet answer. Perhaps the best thing you can do is work to be as confident as you can in explaining your research. You’ve gotta make your own kind of music/Sing your own special song…

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), R.E.M. – people forget the words in the title’s brackets! The viva might feel like the end of your world, you might be worried – but you can be fine, and you most likely will be fine!

Blackbird, The Beatles – “you were only waiting for this moment to arise…” When you get to the viva, you don’t need anything other than who you are, what you can do and what you have done. You were only waiting for the day to come when you could demonstrate who you’ve become.

I’d be very interested to know what songs make you think of the viva. Let me know if you have any bright ideas!

Best of Viva Survivors 2018: Reflections & Summaries

To finish 2018 I’m sharing my favourite posts from the last year. Today we’ll take a look at several posts on the topic of reflections & summaries. It’s useful to take a step back from your research and your thesis and think about what it all means. If you can then create a concrete resource from that – a written summary, a list of points or a mindmap – then you’ve made something valuable.

I hope these posts help you reflect on your research as your viva approaches. I’m really quite proud of 7776 Mini-Vivas and if you’ve used it do drop me a line to let me know what you think! And do share these “best of” posts over the coming days, retweets are always welcome!

Looping Thesis Reflections

I like Pat Thomson‘s recent post about looping. In it she describes a useful writing method to quickly expand on a topic, then reflect to distil down, before expanding again. It seems like a nicely structured approach to get yourself started on a topic, or begin exploring new ideas.

It strikes me that it would also be really neat for reflecting on your research as the viva gets closer:

  • Pick an aspect of your work and just write freely about it for fifteen or twenty minutes.
  • Then take some time to reflect: What have you been writing about? What are you getting at?
  • Summarise your reflections in one sentence.
  • Now use this sentence as a starting point for a new period of writing.
  • Reflect and repeat until you feel satisfied.

I like Pat’s idea of reading through and thinking about everything that’s been written at the end too. An hour or so of writing and reflecting in this way could do a lot to get you exploring your thesis in a new way at the end of your PhD. A neat method for shaking off the cobwebs and seeing what else is in your work.

Pat’s a very generous academic, and shares brilliant ideas every week on her blog. I’d recommend you take a look at her past posts because I’m sure you’ll find something useful!

Changing Focus

If I’m working from home then I love to walk my daughter to nursery to start my day. After I’ve dropped her off, I’ll often continue my walk near the River Mersey.

The view from the promenade looks towards Liverpool. I often take pictures of the city from the same spot on my walk.

Some days I focus on the beach…

…other days I’ll look up to the sky…

…and sometimes the sun shines just right and I capture something truly beautiful.

Changing my focus just a little can make a big difference. It’s the same city in the distance, but a little to the left, a sunny day or the tide being in can mean a radically different picture.

When you’re preparing for the viva, take time to look at your thesis in new ways. Ask yourself questions you’ve not considered before. Make summaries to tease out certain kinds of information. Reflect on what you’ve done and look from a different perspective.

You might see something interesting.

You might get some new ideas.

You might just see something beautiful.

Unstuck Thoughts

I’ve been using questions and prompts to unstick my thinking a lot lately, like the question I mentioned in the recent Easy Viva Prep? post. I have a lot of projects and ideas I’m developing, and all have challenges or problems with non-obvious solutions. It’s hard to see something new sometimes, when you’re so used to looking at it in a certain way.

The same goes for a long research project, like a PhD. Here are seven prompts to help you explore your research ahead of the viva. Use these to start some positive unpicking through free-writing or reflection:

  1. The most simple way to explain my field to a lay-person is to say…
  2. The most influential paper I’ve read during my PhD is…
  3. The most difficult conclusion I reached in my research is…
  4. The best thing about my thesis is…
  5. The hardest thing I did during my PhD was…
  6. The best feedback I got was when…
  7. The best way to explain my contribution is…

Dig deeper with any of these prompts by asking yourself “Why?” after you answer. See what thoughts you can shake loose.

More Why-How-What

About six months ago I shared Why-How-What as a simple framework for talking about your research. There is a value in using interesting opportunities to think more and talk more about your work. It boosts your confidence for when the moment comes that you have to talk about your research: you will find the words. I’ve had a few more ideas about how Why-How-What can help frame stories about what you’ve done and how you’ve done it:

  • Why did you start a PhD? How did you feel at the start? What did you think you would do?
  • Why was it worth exploring the area you did? How did you initially approach your research? What did you hope you would find?
  • Why were you up to the challenge of doing a PhD? How have you developed along the way? What can you now do that you couldn’t before?
  • Why had your topic not been covered in this way already? How did you spot that you could do something about it? What are some ways that it can be explored more in the future?

There are many, many more setups like this that could help get your thoughts in order. There are thousands of questions that could come up in the viva. You can’t prepare for them all, but you can take opportunities to think more and talk more about your work. It will help. You’ll find yourself in a better place when your viva day comes around.

The Happy Viva

What do you need the viva to be like for you to be happy?

Does it need to be short?

Do you need to know all of the answers?

Do you need your examiners to tell you what they think right away?

Do you need it to be at a certain time of day?

Do you need to set yourself up well on the day?

Do you need a particular kind of atmosphere in the room?

You can do something about some of these things, and nothing about others.

A better question might be: what can you do to be happy in your viva?

Answer the question, get some ideas, start some meaningful actions.

Best of Viva Survivors 2017: Reflections

I’m rounding 2017 off with five days of link sharing for five different areas I’ve posted on this year. Reflections is the catch-all category I have for posts which are when I’m pondering and musing over the viva. I spend a lot of time thinking about the viva and how to help people prepare for it, so it’s not all that surprising that this shows up.

There will be many, many more reflections from me on the blog in 2018. I hope that some of these have helped you think about what your viva will be like. See you here in 2018: tomorrow! 😀

Found another post that you think is awesome? Let me know! And please share my best of 2017 posts with anyone who might need them. Retweets are always welcome!