Words & Wonder

About eleven years ago, just after I finished my PhD and started to explore researcher development, I learned of the Sagan Series and the Feynman Series, two science engagement projects by Reid Gower. Through a combination of beautiful images, inspirational music and wonderful words by two great science communicators, these videos hooked into my brain. As I was starting on a path thinking about how to share things with others, this helped me to see that you had to do more than just say the words to communicate.

I saw just how important it is to choose your words carefully. You have to play, practise, listen… Maybe then you can find a way to connect.

Eleven years on, and when autumn arrives I think of these videos. I press play on my playlist and see what they make me think of today. Today they make me think about how one might inject a little wonder into your words. How will you choose your words for the viva? How could you frame your research to make it connect with your examiners and others?

Perhaps, more importantly, how could you describe it for yourself? Not to boast or brag or deceive yourself – how could you make your thesis feel even more wonderful and inspiring than it already has to be? And how might that help you?

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“There’s No Miracle People”

Today is the centenary of the birth of Richard Feynman. Since I first heard about this Nobel-winning physicist/mischief-maker/inspiration I’ve not stopped looking for documentaries, books and more about him. He was, quite simply, an amazing human being and researcher; he made an impact that will be felt for generations.

I have a lot of favourite Feynman stories and quotes. One that came to mind thinking about today, and thinking about the viva, is from an early-1980s BBC short film, right from the start of the programme:

…I was an ordinary person, who studied hard. There’s no miracle people. It just happens they got interested in this thing and they learned all this stuff… There’s no talent or special miracle ability to understand quantum mechanics…that comes without practice and reading and learning and study…

You might not be studying quantum mechanics, but if you’re a PhD candidate then Feynman’s observation holds true. You got where you are because of what you did: all the practice and reading and learning and study. You’ll get through the viva for the same reasons.