Your thesis doesn’t appear by magic. Your results don’t just happen. You are good.
Your thesis is there because you are good at what you do.
You must be good to have come so far.
There are lots of reasons. Any one of the following might be enough:
Taken in combination, they paint an impressive picture for the outcome of your viva.
There are many more reasons you will pass your viva, specific to you, your thesis and your research journey. The many reasons you’ll pass align with reasons you could be confident about your performance in the viva.
You’ve not got this far by accident; you’ve not got this far by only showing up.
While your examiners will want to explore your research with you, they also want to explore your capabilities as a researcher. To prepare for your viva you need to explore your research, but also invest time in reflecting on your own development.
What’s in your bag of tricks? What can you do that others can’t? What have you learned over the last few years doing your PhD?
Where is it? How do you define best when it comes to your research?
It’s vital to acknowledge that you have really good ideas in your work. You have achieved a lot to get this far. Don’t hide it or hide from it.
Dig deeper by asking yourself why after all of these questions.
And remember this is your best so far. Better is still ahead.
Noun. Expert skill or knowledge in a particular field.
You are the best in the world on the subject of your thesis.
You did the research. You wrote the thesis. Thousand and thousands of hours of work.
It will take people with expertise to read your thesis and get something from it.
No-one else will have the expertise that you do. That might not be enough to help you feel completely confident for your viva, but it’s a good starting point.
I’ve always loved science-fiction. I really love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was a child when I first watched it, and over thirty years later the best of it still has a special place in my heart. I was hooked when I saw planets and stars in the opening credits and heard Patrick Stewart’s opening narration:
Space… The final frontier…These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds…To seek out new life and new civilizations…To boldly go where no one has gone before!
The mission never ends. There are new things to learn and see and do, new ways to be tested – and all of the new experiences follow the one decision to explore.
The viva is part of your continuing mission. Your PhD is a journey of discovery. It’s right to think of the viva as one more step rather than a final chapter. It’s the next thing, not the last thing. Something new, something different, but not something beyond you. All of the talent from the rest of the journey is available to you; all you’ve learned and all you can do can help you to pass.
Make it so.
Let’s imagine you get good at walking on a tightrope that’s six inches off the ground. Weeks of practice, perfect balance, good footwork. You can do it in front of people with a smile on your face, step, step, step, all the way to the other side.
So let’s put you twenty feet in the air. Walk the tightrope now. Just step, step, step to the other side. It’s exactly the same, you have the skills, you have the practice, so just get to it!
………but of course it’s not the same. Of course there’s a great big difference. Even with all the practice, even though the practical, physical skills being used are the same, the situation makes it very different. The potential outcomes make it very different.
Like the viva. The skills being used are the same as if you were in conversation with friends. The same as if you were answering a question after a conference talk, or in a meeting with your supervisor. You need to know about your work, about your field, and have what it takes to do research in an appropriate way. And you’ve got that covered. You have plenty of experience by the viva.
But there’s a big difference because it’s important.
It’s important, important in a way that coffee with friends is not. Way more important than just another meeting with your supervisor. Important because of the consequences.
None of that importance takes away from your skill, talent and knowledge though. You have all that practice. The importance doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
You’ve walked across the high wire many times during your PhD. You can do it one more time with your examiners watching.
Your Worst Critic?
It’s probably you. Pulling yourself down for slips, failures and mistakes. Overly critical of things that could be better. Berating yourself for things that are difficult. And the Worst Critic within is self-perpetuating, it’s hard to get away from the voice.
But you can try. If you hear your Worst Critic creeping up the backstairs of your brain place a call to your Biggest Cheerleader.
This could be you too!
Ask your inner cheerleader to tell you something good. Not just something positive and nothing false, just something truly good about what you do and how do you do it. You need your critic, but only so long as they don’t drown out your cheerleader. You need your cheerleader to help you believe in your talent. As you get close to the viva, there’s a place for both of them.
You need to think critically: to be clear, to be honest, to be able to engage well as a researcher with your examiners.
You need your cheerleader to remind you: you’re great, you got this, you can do this, you’re amazing.
The PhD is not a sprint or marathon. The closest is maybe the hurdles event: a series of barriers to be cleared. Literature review has to be cleared so you have a good background understanding. The transfer viva has to be vaulted so you can progress to second year. Submission has to be jumped over to get you to the viva.
The viva, the final hurdle. Since you have cleared all of the others to get this far, why would you fall at the last one? Is it really higher or more difficult than everything else you’ve done?
You still have to leap, but you’re good at that. You have to be ready, but you can be ready. You have to be talented – and you have to be talented.
How else have you got this close to the finish line?