Good Answers

Good answers don’t just appear on the day.

Good answers to your examiners’ questions happen because you’ve done the work.

Good answers happen because you know things.

Good answers happen because you’re talented.

I think great answers in the viva come when you give yourself a few extra seconds to think…

…what else do I know?

…is that the best thing to start with?

…what did I say in my thesis?

…what did I do like this in my research?

A few seconds can make good into great, but don’t stress.

Good is enough.

Unlucky For Some?

If the viva came down to luck, I’d be worried if mine was on Friday 13th! But it’s not about luck.

  • You’re not lucky if your thesis passes with minor corrections.
  • You’re not lucky if your examiners say nice things.
  • You’re not lucky if you feel good about your viva.

Your PhD comes down to effort, actions and talent: the things you do over a long period of time put you in a good position for the viva.

You can be fortunate, but that’s different. Fortunate is something good happening as a result of effort. You can be fortunate throughout your PhD as a result of the questions you ask, the risks you take and the good work you do. You’ll likely be fortunate in the viva, because of all the work that you’ve done, and the talent you bring with you.

It’s not likely that you’ll be unlucky (or lucky).

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.

Examiners Are Not The Enemy Either

They’re not out to get you, with malicious ideas and opinions. You’re not locked in their sights, and they’re not on a mission to make the viva uncomfortable, unenjoyable and un-passable.

They have to do their job. They have to examine your thesis and you. They have to be experienced and knowledgeable, they have to be prepared for the viva. That can sound intimidating, but all of these are good things.

Remember that you’re the expert in your thesis. Your examiners might have more general experience than you, but no-one else in the world has as much experience with your work as you do.

Your examiners are not faceless and unknown. See what you can learn about them and their work. Explore what you can find that will help you feel confident meeting them to discuss your research.

Persist

I wonder if the key common attribute for researchers is persistence. Not smarts or know-how, not project management skills or effective presentations. Persistence. If you don’t keep going when things are tough, if you don’t keep going when you reach a gap and need to learn (or jump!) then you’re stuck.

I’ve not met a researcher or graduate in the last decade who hasn’t had a problem of one sort or another during their PhD. Some of them severe. Yet they persisted. Kept going until the answer was found. Kept going until they saw a way forward. Kept going until they knew more or could do more.

The viva is the final bit of persistence. Continue to know you’ve done good work. Continue to remember you must be talented. Continue to believe you have all the skills and talents you need to meet the challenges of the viva.

Don’t stop now.

Paper Armour

Your thesis is armour to protect your ideas. Well-conceived, long-considered and oft-checked.

But it’s still just paper. Flaws can make it on to the page. It’ll be good, but it won’t be perfect. There’ll be nothing terribly wrong probably, but your research needs something else to protect it in the viva. Your thesis needs someone to help it shine.

A champion. Skilled, trained, clever, capable, someone who can make ideas move.

Sound like anyone you know?

Foundations

I sometimes think viva preparation is like renovating a house.

Annotating your thesis is like hanging wallpaper. Making a summary is like knocking a wall through to let in more light. A mock viva could be repairing the roof, making sure the house is ready in case of a storm.

None of it helps if you don’t have a good house and foundations: your thesis and the research you’ve done to get you there.

Renovation takes time. Viva prep takes time too, but if you feel stretched because of work, because of life, then breathe. It’s OK. Do what you can, and remember you’ve done the hardest part of your PhD.

You laid strong foundations over years of work.

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