In-Person or On-Video

It used to be that an in-person viva was the right way to have a viva. Video vivas were anomalies, rare arrangements made out of necessity.

Then they were the necessary arrangement. For a time they were the only way of doing things.

 

And now some candidates might have choice over which format they would like for their viva. Which brings a new question: is it better to have an in-person viva or an on-video viva, if the choice is put before you? What are the pros and cons?

Having thought about it I don’t think there are negatives to either. They’re just different. The viva is the viva: a different medium allows some things and not others. It makes some aspects less of a challenge perhaps, but neither format is worse.

An in-person viva allows you to make more of a connection perhaps. It would be the best situation if you were looking to build a connection with your examiners.

A video viva would allow you to control the space that you’re in. You could make an environment that you would feel comfortable and confident in.

These are my general thoughts – of course, it’s a negative to you if you don’t like having a meeting over video. Or it’s a negative if meeting in public is something you don’t want to do just now.

Then you have to think: what are your pros and cons? How do you weigh it up?

A viva is a viva, in-person or on-video. If you have the choice, reflect on how you feel and consider how you could make the most of the opportunity of your viva.

Tech Woes

In over eighteen months of delivering sessions from home I’ve had many minor tech problems.

My connection has failed. I’ve been caught out by lag and not realised people were trying to catch my attention. I’ve displayed slides and they’ve not been seen. I’ve had mics act up, cameras turn off and so many other little things – like forgetting to use an option or remembering I needed something to hand.

Over time I’ve found ways around these problems so that they don’t have an impact.

Using different software and practising with it has helped. Upgrading my connection and wifi router has really helped. Having a checklist before I go live has been a lifesaver. Rehearsal has helped me move past frustration and woe to being able to do what I need to do.

Most of these solutions apply to video vivas too. There’s no great secret or hidden knowledge: if you have a video viva coming up, check everything.

Practise with friends. Get used to the delay of saying something and seeing the other person respond. It’s not quite real time and you need to practice to feel happy in that space. Be sure your tech is working well. Know where all the buttons and options are.

Tech woes don’t have to get in the way of having a great viva. A little time invested in advance can make a huge difference.

A Different Set of Challenges

Is an online viva “worse” in some way? No, it’s just different.

Is it “harder” in some way? No, it’s just a different set of challenges.

It could be harder to engage. It could be harder to have free-flowing discussion. It could be harder to show your personality over video – a particular concern I’ve heard from many candidates over the last year or so. It’s understandable and there’s no quick fix, but you could act in advance to help get closer to the ideal viva you hold in your mind.

  • Rehearse. Use the platform you will for your actual viva and have a mock. Practise with friends. Get a feel for the delays and restrictions of the platform – and consider if there are opportunities too.
  • Explore your setup. What could you do to make your space better for you? How would you arrange where you will sit or how you will be? What could you have around you to show something of yourself?
  • Dress to impress – yourself! What can you wear to help you feel good? What can you wear to help you feel comfortable and confident? Could this help your personality shine through, even if it’s being directed at a camera rather than across a seminar room table?

Rehearsing is key. It shows the limits but also shows what you need to help you.

You don’t have to play a character for an online viva, but you can make sure the stage is set for success.

Arriving

You might not have to travel for your viva, but it’s still good to consider how you’ll arrive.

What will the journey be like, possibly from one room to another? What could you do to help you transition from a space in your home to the space for your viva?

What will you wear? Hopefully something comfortable, but could you also wear something that helps your confidence?

What will you take with you to the viva? What do you need when you’re there?

A little thought on arriving, even if it’s in your home, can be a great boost for how your viva starts and how you’ll feel throughout.

Video Viva Prep

Let’s keep it simple.

  • Check the regulations and requirements for your institution. Find out who will organise the viva, what platform you will use and the procedure for a video viva.
  • Practise using the tech. Check you can use the software, so you know where the buttons and options are. At the same time check your wi-fi and internet connection are up to the task.
  • Consider where you will be for your viva. You may have a regular workspace, but that might not be the best place to have your viva. Think about light, think about quiet and consider your options. There won’t be a perfect place, but there will be a best option.
  • Rehearse using the tech. Practise means knowing how the software operates. Rehearse means investing time to simulate the experience of being in the viva with your examiners. Do this to get confident in your ability to manage the practical elements of that situation.
  • Let go of the idea of a video viva being “wrong”. Put to one side the idea that it would be better to have your viva in-person, in your department, around the seminar table at the end of the corridor.

These points are all simple. The last one, however, might not be easy.

Connecting In A Video Viva

It makes a difference that you’re not in the same room as your examiners if you’re over Zoom. Delays due to a poor signal, tech failure or less body language to read could all make it harder to engage with your examiners. These factors might even create a sense that there’s something wrong with the viva.

You can make a positive difference too though. You can practise with friends or in a mock viva to get a feel for delays in communication and grow comfortable with the video format. You can explore options to help your tech situation. You can read your examiners’ work to help you connect with them. You can prepare for your viva to be as confident and ready as you can be for the situation. You can do a lot to build yourself up.

Don’t forget that whatever might interfere – tech, signal, the size of the screen on which you see your examiners – everyone involved wants the viva to go well. The online element shouldn’t interfere with any good will when it comes to connecting with your examiners, or interfere with the outcome of your viva.

Video Viva Checklist

When you submit, you’ve done a lot already that helps you in the viva. After submission you have an opportunity to do a little more work to help you get ready. If your viva is over video, you can do a little extra to help you be ready for that particular situation. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things that could help.

  • Practise with the technology. Ask friends to do rehearsal calls. Find the location of basic on-screen buttons and prompts. Don’t assume that it will simply run fine on the day.
  • Find a space and setup that works well for you. What do you want to have behind you? Do you need to elevate the camera that you’re using? For all my webinars I have to put my laptop on top of a boxfile so that I’m not looking down at the camera!
  • Check your connection. See if you have a stable connection over wifi. Explore whether or not you need to use an ethernet cable.
  • Be certain of the plan for your viva. Know which software, what time and so on. Know what the backup plan is or how to get in touch if something unexpected happens.
  • Decide how you might support your verbal responses. Will you use an onscreen shared whiteboard? Or use a small whiteboard at your desk and then display to the camera? Or perhaps even use a second camera to show sketches?

Like most in-person vivas, video vivas are typically fine. They’re not meant to be ordeals. Preparation can ensure yours won’t be.