Love Letter For Your Thesis

Viva coming up? For one day, pause your usual preparation. Don’t analyse the contribution in each chapter. Don’t frantically search for typos. Don’t read through and worry what your examiners will say about this chapter or that choice.

Just take a page and write down what you love about your thesis.

What do you really love about it? What ideas do you adore? How does it make you happy? (it’s OK if “it’s done!” is the answer!)

What are you grateful for in your thesis? What inspires you? What can’t you wait to show others?

Find all the good stuff, and use that to motivate you for the rest of your prep and the viva.

Easter Eggs

Not the chocolate kind, the DVD extras. The secrets. The small, special things that only certain people will look for or notice.

My thesis had a few Easter Eggs. As a mathematician, it was about proving much stronger results than I needed for my theorems. As a metaphor, I needed to boil an egg, but what I did was write a cookbook called Everything Eggs: An Infinite Recipe Book With Yolks.

On a few occasions in my thesis I was able to include little things that were much more impressive once you looked closer. Little things, nice, but not necessary, but a contribution in their own way.

What are the things you’re proud of in your work even if others might not find them or know to look? Where are they hidden? Why did you do them? What do they mean?

Your thesis and research Easter Eggs could help or delight lots of people if they find them. Don’t forget them when you review your progress. They add something special to your research journey.

Seeds & Fruit

At the start of a PhD, seeds are planted. Ideas. Questions are asked. It takes time to see these seeds grow, flower, bear fruit.

Some won’t make it. Hunches and ideas don’t always lead to what you think. Some seeds are planted late in the season and still lead to something valuable.

As you get ready for your viva, think about the seeds of your research and the fruit. What seeds did you plant? How did they grow? What fruit did you harvest?

What’s Your Contribution?

Be as grand as you like. The question could finish with many things: what is your contribution…

  • …to your field?
  • …to research?
  • …to knowledge?
  • …to the world?

Turn it around a few times in your mind. Examine your work from a lot of perspectives. The scope of the answer could vary too. It may be that there are a handful of researchers who will really care, and a few dozen more who will be interested. It may be that your research could impact millions.

I have heard from many people who have had to answer a question about their research contribution at some point in their viva. Do you share your contribution in three bullet points? Can you share it that way? Do you start with why? Do you start with how you were inspired?

There are many ways to explore the topic of contribution. You need to find some way to think it through. You need to make opportunities to practise talking about it. When you do you unpick why your research is valuable. You explore why it’s worthwhile. It makes sense that your examiners would bring it up. What’s the best way you can explain your contribution?

Connecting

My daughter is nearly four. While she seems to be changing all the time, there are some constants. Since a very early age we’ve read her a bedtime story every day. My wife and I love reading and telling stories and we want our daughter to be the same. Of course, we want her to simply enjoy stories at bedtime, but we hope it will make a connection for her life too. Books are great, stories are important.

Throughout your PhD you’ve built some strong connections with your research. Take a step back and think: what are they? Where do you feel personally involved with the research and the outcomes? If your viva is coming up, what new connections can you try to build between now and then? Look for new things in your thesis that are great, look for the parts of your research that are important.

Research Update 2: Big Spreadsheet is Bigger

It’s almost four weeks since I last updated with news of the research. This is largely because I’ve been quietly finding half an hour here and there to standardise the dataset and start to look at some basic patterns in the information. It’s going to take time, and I’m staying focussed at the moment on making sure that I have something valuable to share with people. In early July I’m delivering two sessions where I’m being asked to share my findings, so that will be the first public venue for telling people, which is very exciting.

I’d not thought about it until just as I was writing this post, but the podcast itself would be a good means for sharing what I’ve learned – perhaps a couple of shorter episodes that are targeted to specific parts of the survey? What do you think?

This is just a short post really because I wanted to ask for YOUR thoughts. I asked seven questions (eight, if you count the optional email/Twitter request) in the survey. Given the following seven questions, to which I got 302 responses, what sort of questions might I ask of the data? And what sort of things would be good to look for?

  1. When was your viva?
  2. Which university did you do your research at?
  3. What was your research field?
  4. How long was your viva?
  5. What kind of pass did you get? (No corrections; Minor corrections; Major corrections)
  6. Were you told that you had passed at the start or the end of the viva? (Start; End)
  7. What three words come to mind when you think of your viva?

Over to you: what might I look for?

Please let me know what you think, either by leaving a comment here, tweeting at me, or even drop me an email!

Thanks for reading,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Research Update 1: Big Spreadsheet Is Big

Hello!

How are you doing this fine sunny day? (fine and sunny around Liverpool on 6th May around 11:15, your experience may vary!) I’ve switched the title on these irregular updates now, as I’m switching my focus from tweeting and sharing the survey as much as possible to delving into the responses. I’ll still accept any and all people who want to respond now, but I’ve stopped actively sourcing more.

302 responses!

You guys are amazing. I started this survey thinking that I might get 150/200 responses, which would start to sketch a picture of what the viva is like in the UK, but 302 is awesome. This gives me confidence that as well as a sketch we’re going to be able to colour that picture in! Over the coming weeks I’ll be spending evenings and free time unpicking just what I’ve collected and then delving into what it all might mean. Read More

Survey Update 5: 384 is the Magic Number

As a pure maths PhD graduate you might expect me to be in love with numbers a bit. To think that they are quite special in fact. And I do! I’m just amazed by how amazing they are. For example, it’s possible to calculate how large a sample you need to take from a population in order to get results that reasonably represent that population!

And that’s exactly what I’ve done for tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. 384 is the magic number: 384 responses from PhD graduates of UK institutions will help to make sure that the pool of data I’m drawing from is as valuable as possible. 384 responses means that I can be 95% confident in the conclusions I’m drawing, and also give me a reasonable interval around the numbers that come out.

384 responses by 30th April… Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate so far by the responding and sharing that people have been doing on Twitter and in other places. At the time of writing (11am on April 23rd) there are 245 responses to the survey, and however many I get I know that the results are going to be really valuable to the people I share them with… But if I can, I would love to hit those “significant” numbers!

Seven days, 139 responses. Can you help? If you’ve not taken the survey yet, there are seven quick questions – it will take two minutes of your time and it’s here: tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. Thank you! If you’ve completed the survey, and can share it any way shape or form, even to just one other person, please consider doing so.

I can’t wait to start analysing the data from this research, and to see what the responses say, and what picture they paint of the viva from the perspective of PhD candidates/graduates. And when it is complete, it will be the start, not the end of research in this area for me. Best to finish one project first though!

If you have any questions about this research (tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey) please get in touch, it would be great to hear from you.

Thank you for your time,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – there is a new podcast today!

Survey Update 4: Outcomes

The outcome I'm aiming for!
The outcome I’m aiming for!

On Tuesday I was fortunate to be asked to deliver a Creative Thinking and Problem Solving workshop at LJMU. I love helping people explore creative thinking, and as part of the activities that we looked at I mentioned the survey and the outcomes I’m aiming at.

Looking towards outcomes can be a really helpful part of the creative process. After using a series of questions to explore some of the facts and feelings that people had about the outcome they wanted for their challenge, I encouraged the participants to create a picture or some images that represent the outcome they want. To illustrate this I doodled the image at the top of this post to show the outcomes that I’m aiming at for the research from this survey.

First of all, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some meaningful results from the questions and the answers – and be able to analyse the data to get something which I will be able to present to others sensibly. (I’ve also got ideas about how I could represent the data really visually; I’m a closet data visualisation fan!)

Second, I’m excited about the possibility of presenting the outcomes of the research to others. I’ve accepted one invitation already, and am happy to be contacted about other opportunities.

The bottom row of images show the ultimate aims: I’m hoping that this research will allow me to write and share more on the viva, to help PhD candidates and those who support them. And I’m really hoping that this will inform my own best practice in the viva preparation workshops that I deliver.

So if you haven’t responded to my survey yet and would be eligible to – looking for PhD graduates of UK institutions since the year 2000 – please click on this link: tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. And if you are able to share this with friends, colleagues or your Twitter followers that would be a massive help!

Further posts on the research coming soon… Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)