When have you been stretched during your PhD? What projects or work have you done that was a challenge to your skills and knowledge?

I think it’s unhelpful to view the PhD (and the viva) as the most awesome and incredible challenge in the world ever™ – but it’s also unhelpful to not recognise the growth that happens through the challenges someone faces along the way.

Reflect on the challenges. Reflect on the stretches – when they happened, why they happened, what you learned. You couldn’t have got this far without becoming better. Whenever your viva is, remember that throughout your PhD you have become more than what you were at the start.

More talented. More skilled. More knowledgeable. More accomplished.

All the stretches along the way have helped you become who you are today. Remember that and be confident for the viva.

Practised, Not Perfect

Remember that you don’t need to be perfect to succeed in the viva.

Remember that you will have invested a lot of time, effort and energy into becoming practised at all the things necessary for you to succeed.

You have read, you have written, you have learned, you have developed the skills for a researcher in your field and a lot more.

You’re not perfect. You are practised.

And that’s enough.

What Can You Do?

At submission you can apply everything you’ve done and learned to make your thesis the best it can be. It takes time but you can do it because you’ve been doing it for so long already.

After submission you can continue to do the work of a researcher in your field. You can take a little time to get ready for the viva.

During the viva you can take what you’ve been building for years and engage with your examiners. You can continue to prove yourself, despite doubts and worries.

There’s a lot to do but not too much. Not for you. When you face a challenge or problem, remember that you could only be facing a situation like this because you have already done so much – and you can do it again.

You Got This!

Your viva is coming up and you got this!

Whatever questions, comments or criticisms your examiners have, you got this!

Whatever pressures you faced throughout your PhD, you got this!

However the pandemic impacted your work, you got this!

Whatever challenges you face in your prep, you got this!

However you feel – nervous or excited, anxious or eager – you got this!

Because if you don’t, who does?

Keeping Score

To help remember your effort and progress – to then help build confidence for the viva – keep records of what you do and what happens during your PhD.

You don’t have to have a minute-by-minute journal of what you do: perhaps start a tally and for each day you show up to do something for your PhD, make a mark. Each time you finish a task, make a mark. Whenever you do something new, make a mark. Whenever you feel you’ve learned something, make a mark. And so on.

Whatever challenges you face, whatever gets in the way, – and particularly whatever makes you feel like you’re not going as far or as fast as you might want to – perhaps all you need is simply to show yourself, with a few marks, that you really are making progress.

You really are good enough.

Good Luck Isn’t

It’s nice when someone says, “Good luck!” before your viva. It helps to know that others are thinking of you and wish you the best.

At the same time it’s important to remind yourself that your success doesn’t need luck. The viva isn’t random; passing isn’t subject to simple good luck.

Through your PhD you will have been fortunate – you have worked hard and that has worked out – but you’ve not been lucky. Your success is built on foundations of time, skill, knowledge, effort and persistence.

“Good luck!” is nice and not to be discouraged – but don’t believe for a moment that your success on viva day is lucky in any way.

The Story Of Your PhD

Remind yourself at every opportunity that you have not got this far by being lucky. The unfolding story of your PhD features you front and centre: doing the work, making progress and getting close to viva success.

Nothing “just happens”. Your research outcomes, your personal growth and thesis submission are driven by you. Yes, you may have allies and supporters, but you are the protagonist of this tale. You are not in the background and you are not drifting along.

The story of your PhD is one of success through your effort. Remind yourself that your actions have got you as far you’ve come, whatever stage that might be, and that those efforts will see you through to a successful conclusion too.

Who Is It For?

Your thesis is not written for your examiners. You have to write it for your PhD and your examiners have to read it to examine you. It’s not written for them – the goal is to make a contribution to knowledge.

You don’t learn about viva expectations so you have a template you’re trying to complete. You’re learning more so that you can prepare well. You’re not trying to meet some ideal for your examiners.

Your prep is not done for your examiners. It’s for you. You want to be at your best, ready, refreshed, feeling confident – but that’s not for them. You want to to feel ready for you.

Remember to keep the focus where it needs to be for the viva.

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