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!

Being a STAR

Long time readers will know I like acronyms. STAR is another good one. It’s typically used by people applying for jobs. STAR lets you frame and tell a story that demonstrates your skills:

  • Situation: where does this story take place, what’s the context?
  • Task: what were you asked to do?
  • Actions: what approach did you take to tackle the task?
  • Results: what happened, how successful were you?

This sequence can create a story to convince someone you’re good at something. Whether you apply for a job, pitch some work or are networking, STAR can help you show you’re the right person.

Your viva is coming up. It’s not a job interview, but STAR can still help you to frame the story you tell about your research:

  • Situation: why was the area something you wanted to research?
  • Task: what were you trying to contribute to your field?
  • Actions: how did you do your research?
  • Results: what did you find and what does it mean?

STAR is a valuable tool: good for telling stories to others, for framing your research and for reminding you just how good you are.

SMART Viva Prep

I’m a big fan of SMART, the acronym of criteria for effective goal-setting. There are various definitions; my personal flavour of SMART is Specific, Measurable, Advantages, Realistic, Time-bound. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve banged my head against a wall with a project, then realised it was because I wasn’t really defining what I was trying to do. SMART always brings me back on track.

Want to set a good plan in motion for your viva prep? Use SMART and the following questions to help frame your prep plans:

  • Specific: what exactly are you going to do? “Read my thesis” isn’t specific; read Chapters 2 and 3 is specific.
  • Measurable: how will you know when you’re done? It’s easy to keep going and going. What tells you to stop?
  • Advantages: why are you doing this? (hopefully easy in the context of viva prep!)
  • Realistic: is it do-able given your time and resources? It’s important not to try to squeeze too much in to a limited schedule.
  • Time-bound: how much time are you aiming to give to a task? And what will you do afterwards?

Being SMART will remove some of the challenges. You’ll still have to do the work, but you’re used to that by now. Plan your success.