Q&A Episode Coming Soon

Hello!

One of the few podcasts I regularly listen to is the Tim Ferriss Show: I highly recommend it, Tim interviews people about how they manage to be excellent in their fields. It’s a wild ride sometimes, and he has a huge variety of people on his show. I don’t think that the Viva Survivors Podcast is a “wild ride” but I think it’s great that there is such a variety of PhD graduates who come on here to share their experiences.

A few times now, Tim has had special Q&A episodes and listeners ask him all kinds of things – anything and everything really. It struck me a month or so ago that this might be a useful thing to do on Viva Survivors, at least every now and then. I used the poll function on Twitter to see if this was interesting to followers, and got a couple of positive votes, and also heard from several friends to say that this was a neat idea.

So let’s do it!

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Survey Update 2

Hello! How is your month going? Is March treating you well? And can you believe that it’s almost the end of March?

There: that’s three questions, and how easy were they to answer, right? A doddle! The survey that I am running on PhD viva experiences for graduates from UK universities has only seven short questions, so that won’t take long to fill in either! Thanks to the generosity of people sharing the survey and responding there are now 208 responses (at time of writing) – over halfway to the initial goal of 400 responses!

The survey will be open until the end of April to try to get as many responses as possible. With so much data already gathered, my plan for this week is to start going through the responses I have so far and start standardising the data set (e.g., some people have put “January 2004” as the when for their viva and others have put “01/04”) and also separating out some of the fields (three words that people use to describe their viva separated into three distinct data fields). This will allow me to start analysing the data after everything is collected and since there is going to be a lot of questions I’ll be asking of the data it’ll really pay off for me to get cracking now.

Hopefully soon I can talk about an interesting opportunity that has come up in relation to the research; I’m working out some of the details, but when they’re done I’ll be happy to share – perhaps it will be something that others want to pick up on as well… [/mysteriousness!]

208 down, 192 to go – and then more! Can you help me to spread the word about the survey and the research that I am doing? Have you had your viva since the year 2000 at a UK institution? Can you spare two minutes to fill in my quick survey? The link is tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey and every response will help to generate a picture of the UK viva process, as well as allow me to look for interesting patterns and commonalities.

If you have any ideas for how I can share the survey with more people, or contacts that it would be worth me getting in touch with, either drop me an email, comment below or tweet me!

Thanks!

Nathan (on Twitter as @DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Survey Update 1

My survey “UK PhD Viva Survivors (2000-2013)” has been running for a week now, and in that time with the very helpful assistance and generosity of people on Twitter and Facebook I have managed to get 138 responses! This is fantastic news, as it gives me hope that I can obtain enough data to produce something with statistical significance.

I’ve mentioned before that my first data collecting goal is to obtain 400 responses. This will provide a minimum in producing a picture of “the average viva” if such a thing could be said to exist. One problem with this minimal size is that when one considers subsets, say, of the arts and humanities and the STEM subjects, it may be that those subsets do not have enough respondents for the results to be meaningful. That’s why 400 responses is my bare minimum: and after that point I will take a first look at the data coming in, and see what the makeup is like. It may be that more targeted recruitment will allow for individual pictures of subjects or fields to be painted. If that goal of 400 responses is met, then I’ll take a look at the statistics again to see what the next goal might be, and what confidence one could have in those results.

(As an interesting side note, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve got responses. After tweeting yesterday morning, someone sent out their own tweet about it, and this tweet was RTed over 20 times, which meant that I almost doubled my number of responses in under 24 hours. It’s these sorts of network effects that I am hoping will really produce great quantities of data for my analysis.)

Today is the 12th of March, and so we have good deal of time until the 30th of April, when I’ll end data collection. I won’t be resting on my laurels and just waiting for data to come in. When I get a chance my next targets/thoughts are to email and tweet some university alumni accounts, as well as keep tweeting and linking and hashtagging to get as many responses as possible. If you know someone who might be happy to answer seven quick questions about their viva, then please share tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey with them – or if you have the means to share the link more widely then please do so. You’ll be helping to create a picture of the PhD viva in the UK.

If you have any thoughts about what else I can do to share this survey – or interesting thoughts on questions to ask the data set when the responses are in, then please get in touch, either in the comments or by email.

Thanks for reading,

Nathan (you can email me here, or tweet at @DrRyder or @VivaSurvivors)

Site and Sounds

Hello all!

It’s been a while since I updated, work and personal life have intruded and made it more difficult for me to record and post. That’s all coming to an end though! Although I have a major life change coming up (impending fatherhood), the podcast will continue. And the site is looking a lot better than it did already.

A week ago I went to an Intermediate WordPress course held at the Omniversity of Manchester, and I was shown just what I could get WordPress to do with a bit of thought and time. The site is by no means finished though, although improvements so far have included

  • a much nicer theme – this is the 2013 theme from WordPress!
  • better sharing buttons – so if you like something and want to tell other people please do!
  • better commenting – spam is now being blocked by Akismet!
  • a Twitter feed – because, well, you might not be following @VivaSurvivors yet!

Another piece of infrastructure that is being put together is the Viva Survivors Podcast Newsletter – I don’t have all of the answers about this yet, but soon I’ll have a subscribe option for this, along with details of what to expect and when to expect it. This isn’t the first stage in sending you lots of advertising, just a means to send on links and thoughts about the viva that don’t fit with the main podcast (at the moment). I’ll write again when the newsletter is started, but keep an eye out for that.

The last thing I want to mention for now is that I have been collecting links to articles, blogposts and media related to the PhD viva. One of my goals for the next week is to sensibly curate that for a new Links and Resources page on the site. If you know of any really valuable thoughts/links to share, then please let me know so that I can pass that on via the site.

That’s all for now: keep an eye on @VivaSurvivors on Twitter, and please comment or email me if want to get in touch!

All the best,

Nathan

Episode 13: Dr Liz Walder

In the first episode of 2013 I talk with Dr Liz Walder, who had the viva for her PhD in Architectural History at the end of November. It was really great to talk to her about her viva, and also to hear about her experience as a part time research student. Liz has some materials on the Royal Institute of British Architects website about the Royal Gold Medal, the subject of her thesis. You can find her on Twitter as @WalderWit.

Any questions or comments? Then please leave them in the comments below! If you’d like to be on a future podcast or have ideas for any special episodes that might be cool to do then please email me. Also tell your friends and colleagues about the podcast: you can find it on Twitter at @VivaSurvivors.

Note: there is a little distortion/fuzziness at a few points in the audio for this episode, sorry about that! Hope it doesn’t spoil your listening experience.

Episode 9: Dr Nadine Muller

In Episode 9 I’m talking with Dr Nadine Muller, a lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. She received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Hull earlier this year for her thesis “The Feminist Politics of Neo-Victorian Literature, 2000-2010”. It was really great talking to Nadine about her research and her viva, as her field is something really different to my PhD research, and to the research of other interviewees in other Viva Survivors podcasts so far.

Nadine also has a great interest in supporting postgraduate and early-career researchers, so we had a lot to talk about. She is the creator of the #phdadvice hashtag on Twitter, a community sharing their experience of postgraduate research. Her Twitter handle is @Nadine_Muller.

Any questions or comments? Let me know, either drop me an email or leave them below. Share your postgraduate experience and advice with Nadine’s #phdadvice hashtag. And keep track of the podcast on Twitter by following @VivaSurvivors!

What Else?

Last week I tweeted, asking

I’ve got one response so far:

This is definitely something that is in my mind, and I’m going to look around my contacts and see who has experience that they can share.

I’ve also been thinking about sharing some funny viva-related pieces. Many of you might be familiar with PhD Comics, which I am sure has had some viva-related humour in the past. As well as that I was forwarded a really funny piece of thesis examination preparation, care of McSweeney’s, “FAQ: The Snake Fight Portion Of Your Thesis Defence“.

Q: Would someone who wrote a bad thesis and defeated a large snake get the same grade as someone who wrote a good thesis and defeated a small snake?
A: Yes.

You can go and read the rest of it here – I am extremely thankful that I defended my thesis in the UK, where you simply have to know a couple of sets of Morris Dancing, rather than have to fight a snake!

To come back to my main question though: what else might be good to include in the podcast or on this site? What helpful resources or conversations could I try to provide? Let me know in the comments or email me!

Slight Delay

Hi all, hope that you’re finding the first two podcasts interesting. It has been great to see so many people downloading the podcasts already and I’d really love to hear from you if you have any questions for future interviewees, or just questions about vivas in general.

There’s a slight hold-up in getting the next few podcasts ready for upload: I’m directing GRADschools for the KESS programme, so it’s going to be next weekend before Episode 3 goes up. Sorry, I had hoped to get it ready sooner.

It’s worth waiting for though! I’m interviewing Dr Jennifer Cromwell, an egyptologist at Macquarie University in Australia. I really enjoyed talking with her, and I think that you’ll find her perspective interesting! Stay tuned, follow Viva Survivors on Twitter for more updates, or drop me a line.

Episode 2: Dr Anna Tarrant

In Episode 2 of Viva Survivors I talk with Dr Anna Tarrant, who had her viva last year for her PhD in social geography at Lancaster University. Anna is a Research Associate at the Open University, and is also the Managing Editor of PhD2Published, a site that

“offers a wealth of hints and tips for early-career academics on how to get published as well providing discussion on the future of academic publishing in the e-age”.

PhD2Published looks really cool, and they also have a weekly livechat over Twitter using the hashtag #acwri.

Episode 1 of Viva Survivors is here, and the next episode of Viva Survivors will be along some time in the next ten days; check back for details, or follow us on Twitter: @VivaSurvivors.