Six Short Summaries

Six viva preparation ideas. Get a piece of paper and pick one of the following to write about. You don’t need to do all of these. Each one offers a different perspective on your PhD.

  1. Answer the question, “What’s important about my research?”
  2. Write about your conclusions and where they come from.
  3. Detail the helpful steers your supervisor gave you during your PhD.
  4. Write about what you found difficult during your research.
  5. Answer the question, “Who would find my work interesting?”
  6. Write down the first ten words that come to mind about your PhD. Expand on each.

A little thinking, and a little time spent on putting those thoughts into words on a page.

Find Your Firsts

Build your confidence by identifying your achievements from your PhD. There’s more than just your thesis. Reflect on the first time you…

  • …gave a seminar in your department. When was it? What did you talk about?
  • …delivered a talk at a conference talk. Where was it? How did it go?
  • …wrote the first draft of a chapter. What feedback did you get? What did you learn?
  • …networked. Who did you meet? What did you share?
  • …realised you were going to finish. When was it? What prompted that thought?

Find your firsts: these are key moments in your PhD. They plot out a fantastic journey that’s brought you to today.

Five Day Thesis Breakdown

Your thesis is an expression of your research. But in the viva, and at any time when someone asks you about your work, you can’t just hand them this great book you’ve made and say, “Read it!”

I like thinking about ways to help candidates reflect on their work. I like exploring ways to help people explain their ideas concisely. Here’s a plan of how to spend five days in short activities to break down your thesis and your research contribution.

Day 1: Describe the Why-How-What of your PhD in a single page, no more than 300 words.

Day 2: Use Day 1’s page to write a single paragraph about your PhD. Try to keep it under 100 words. Remove the inessential.

Day 3: Use Day 2’s paragraph to write a sentence describing your PhD – no more than 20 words. You’ll never be able to say everything, so don’t try. What can you get across?

Day 4: Use the work of the previous three days to write down five words. What are the themes of your work? Think about where it all started, how you did it and what your outcomes are.

Day 5: Write down one word. The Big Picture. What is it that stands out?

It’s unlikely your examiners will ask you to describe your research in a single word, but they will ask you to talk about your work. An exercise like this can help you think about your PhD a lot before the viva. You might never say to someone, “In one word, my research is all about…” but I think you’ll get something valuable from following this process.

VIVA and the Viva

I’ve shared a few acronyms in posts over the last year but today’s tool is different because I invented it!

VIVA is very useful to help with exploring your thesis before the viva; it’s a directed thinking tool in the same way that SWOT is used to analyse a situation. VIVA can be used simply. Take a sheet of paper for a chapter in your thesis and divide it into four. Then use a different word in each section to direct your attention as you make notes about the chapter:

  • Valuable (to others): what would someone else find valuable in this chapter?
  • Interesting (to you): what interests you about the work?
  • Vague: what doesn’t seem clear when you read it?
  • Ask: what questions would you like to ask your examiners if you had the opportunity?

This can help to draw out key points for your thesis. If you do this kind of analysis for each chapter then you build a really interesting summary. From considering what’s Valuable you unpick the contribution that you’ve made in your thesis, and by thinking about what is Interesting you rediscover your motivations. If you look for what’s Vague then you find what you need to strengthen ahead of discussion in the viva, and if you consider what questions to Ask you think ahead about the way the conversation might unfold.

I came up with VIVA about four years ago and it’s become one of the most useful ideas I’ve shared in my workshops. I’m surprised in looking back over this first year of the blog that I’ve not shared it here before! I hope you find it helpful ahead of your viva, and find some interesting ideas when you analyse your thesis.

In short: use VIVA to help with the viva!

Summary Fundamentals

A summary is an answer to a question. For a postgraduate researcher with their viva in the future the question could be:

  • How can I describe this concisely?
  • How can I explain this to a novice?
  • How can I display this visually for myself?
  • How can I outline my thesis?
  • How can I arrange what I know to most help myself?
  • What’s the story of my research?
  • What are the essential facts of my thesis?
  • What does my thesis look like?
  • What matters most about my work?
  • What stands out about my research?
  • Why is this a valuable contribution?

There are many, many useful questions to help create summaries. And there are many ways that you can arrange or display the content of an answer to create a summary. The act of making a summary is a useful tool for viva preparation. If you ask a better question you can find a more valuable answer.

Reflect a little. What kinds of information formats help you? So what kinds of summaries could help you?

So what kinds of questions could help you?

Start With One

There’s a time and a place for detailed plans, complex strategies and exhaustive lists. But figuring out everything you need to plan or do or check is hard. And when you get a list together it can be overwhelming. Instead, start with one thing.

  • Start with one person who can tell you about their viva.
  • Start with one chapter of your thesis.
  • Start with one question to help you unpick your results.
  • Start with one paper that has been really helpful.
  • Start with one idea of how to explain your thesis.

There may be more to do. Once you start you have momentum. Keep going.

Top Ten Top Fives

I often encourage people to use “top fives” to start a summary or reflection. Get a list of five going and you have something to build on. There’s a lot you can think about when you’re preparing for the viva, so here’s my top ten list of top five topics!

  1. Top Five Contributions To Your Field That You’ve Made!
  2. Top Five Papers That You’ve Referenced In Your Bibliography!
  3. Top Five Questions You Might Like To Ask Your Examiners In The Viva!
  4. Top Five Pages You Want To Find Easily In Your Thesis!
  5. Top Five Things You Really Need To Remember!
  6. Top Five Questions You Don’t Want To Be Asked By Your Examiners!
  7. Top Five People You Can Turn To For Help!
  8. Top Five Steps You Need To Do To Feel Prepared!
  9. Top Five Proudest Moments Of Your PhD!
  10. Top Five Things You Can Do To Be Confident On The Day!

Lists are fun. Structure helps. What makes your list(s)?

Best of Viva Survivors 2017: Questions

I’m rounding 2017 off with five days of link sharing for five different areas I’ve posted on this year. Today we’re exploring posts about questions. I love using questions to help people unpick all sorts of aspects of the viva, from prep through to feelings and questions that candidates can work through and answer to get as ready as possible.

Questions help because they lead to answers. I like series of questions for digging into a topic, and hope to write more posts like this next year.

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!

Best of Viva Survivors 2017: Viva Prep

I’m rounding 2017 off with five days of link sharing for five different areas I’ve posted on this year. I’m starting today with the topic of viva prep which is something I think about every day. How can we best approach it? How can I help people think about it and then do something effective? Here’s a list of some of the best posts from 2017 to help with preparing for the viva!

I hope these posts are really useful for you. There are hundreds of posts on the blog from 2017, so go looking and see what you find.

Found something else on viva prep 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!

What Did You Learn?

If that question seems too vague, consider:

  • What did you not know at the start of your PhD but know now?
  • What can you do now that you couldn’t at the start?
  • What were the false starts and dead ends that still helped?
  • What can you pass on to others?
  • What can you do to keep building on your talents?

A thesis has to have a significant, original contribution to knowledge. I think a PhD graduate has to have made a significant change in themselves to complete. What’s yours?