Vision For Your Viva

Recently I was preparing for a talk and reflecting about the idea of “having a vision” for what someone does. My vision for this blog is:

To help all PhD candidates see the viva is a great big manageable challenge!

That’s the purpose, the goal, the reason I keep doing this. After nearly five years I’ve shared a lot – but there’s more to say. I sit down regularly and write because there’s more people to help. That’s why I do what I do. My vision statement helps remind and reinforce the why that I work towards.

Having a vision can help in so many ways. It can help keep you going, help you make decisions, help remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

What’s your vision for your PhD? What’s your vision of your viva like? Reflect on how clear your vision is and think about how it aligns with what you’re doing. Then explore how you can steer yourself more towards your vision. What can you do to make that your reality?

I Do This

I got a new logo for my business a few months ago.

new logo, Nathan Ryder, helping PGRs become PhDs

I like it. For the longest time I struggled with how to explain what I did:

  • I’m a freelance skills trainer.
  • I’m a skills trainer for PhDs.
  • I’m a skills trainer and writer.
  • No, not with maths, I did a PhD in maths but I’m not a tutor…
  • I’m a researcher-developer.
  • I’m an independent researcher-developer.
  • I’m an independent researcher-developer and writer.

No. Simply: I help PGRs become PhDs.


What do you do? How do you define what you do with your skills, your work, your research, or with the outcomes or mission?

When you can find greater clarity in explaining it to others, you might find some interesting or surprising things for yourself. Consider that, particularly as you prepare to explain who you are and what you do at your viva.

What do you do?

My Vision

I started the year helping to deliver a Leadership In Action workshop in Manchester. As part of the course, each of the facilitators had to deliver an “insight” – a thirty minute, one-off presentation about something connected with leadership.

I chose to do mine on “Vision”.

I had ideas I thought would be useful, and also thought it would be helpful for me to practice what I was preaching, dig through what I thought about vision. What was my vision for my life? For my work? For Viva Survivors?

I’m still working on the first of those, but my visions for work and Viva Survivors crystallised very quickly when I reflected. My work over the last decade or so comes down to “helping PGRs become PhDs”. That realisation has helped me to think about my opportunities (particularly in our current changing landscape) and fine-tune my decision-making processes.

My vision for this blog is “I want to help candidates see that the viva is a great big manageable challenge.”

The viva is a big deal. There are lots of things to consider, and it is a challenge, it is non-trivial, and at the same time it is manageable. It is survivable. You can do it. My vision, my work, is to try and help people realise that. That’s what I’m aiming for, but it’s not a goal: it’s the principle behind it all.

What’s your vision for your thesis? For your research? What guides it all? What’s guiding you?

Reflecting on that might help you sharpen your explanations or the background for your viva. You don’t need to have a big picture vision for the potential future of your work (you may not have one or want one), but having a way to frame what you’ve done and how you got there is useful.

So what’s your vision?

A Useful Vision Of The Viva

What’s your vision of your viva?

Lewis Carroll is misquoted as having written, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” He didn’t write that, but it’s a neat way to summarise a short exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I think there’s a lot in there, when you reflect on it.

It’s really a warning.

If you don’t know what you want your viva to be like, it doesn’t matter what you do to prepare.

If you don’t know what vivas are like generally, you can’t know if your preparations are really useful.

If you don’t know what examiners are generally interested in, you can’t be sure you will be able to engage with them well in the viva.

Find out about the viva. Build a vision, then decide what you are going to do to make that vision a reality.

Perhaps, from another perspective – through the looking glass? – we can see Lewis Carroll’s unquote as,

“If you know where you’re going, you can find a way to get there.”

I’m convinced that’s true for the viva.

True North

A good compass points true north. You can find what direction you need regardless of where you are and what’s around. If you have a clear aim or objective the same can be true in the work that you do. Problem is, we have distractions everywhere. I have a couple of projects at any time that I’m actively working on, but there are always more ideas coming in. It can be hard to put them to one side, they can be all exciting and new, shiny and interesting or just something that seems difficult but useful.

A few years ago my friend Dee-Ann Johnson ran a workshop on establishing a vision, something to help guide you, like a compass. One of the session outputs was to get people to boil their vision down to three words. This was massively helpful to me. My three words are “Family, Writing, Play” – these are the words that help steer my projects and my work. I have them pinned on the wall in front of me. I want my work to be balanced so that I can spend as much time as possible with my family; I want my work to involve and allow for writing; I want my work and life to be filled with play. Sometimes these words help me pick my projects, other times they help me think about hard choices. Occasionally they remind me why I’m doing some of the tasks I don’t particularly enjoy (often because doing them allows me to spend time on family, writing and play).

My thought for the day: find three words to help yourself. Find three words that could help you through tough times. Find three words to be your viva vision.