You Got This!

Your viva is coming up and you got this!

Whatever questions, comments or criticisms your examiners have, you got this!

Whatever pressures you faced throughout your PhD, you got this!

However the pandemic impacted your work, you got this!

Whatever challenges you face in your prep, you got this!

However you feel – nervous or excited, anxious or eager – you got this!

Because if you don’t, who does?

Something To Look Forward To

Can you feel excited for your viva?

Or if not, can you feel excited that soon everything you need for your PhD will be done?

Whatever challenges we face, it can help to have something to look forward to. If that’s not the viva that is coming your way, then perhaps look beyond to your celebration, the relief of passing, the next big thing that you’ll be doing.

What do you have to look forward to?

Fuses & Feelings

My mum called in a panic: her electricity had gone off and she had no power.

By the I time I got to her house, she had checked and reset the main fuse box. The power was on again. It was still a mystery though. What happened? It just went off? The TV was the first thing she noticed… Hmm…

We decided to relax with a cup of tea. My mum set the kettle to boil and the power shut off again. Five minutes of careful trial and error helped us realise it was not the TV, the main fuse box or the electrical socket in the kitchen that was at fault. The kettle was no longer safe and was tripping the mains fuse, in turn, shutting off the power.

With the fault diagnosed, my mum didn’t have a kettle for a day, but everything else was fine.

 

This reminds me of so many times I’ve found myself cross, worried, anxious and unsure. Sometimes I feel one of these ways and I just don’t know why.

Taking a step back helps.

Reflecting helps.

Thinking about what happened in the lead up can help too.

How you feel about the viva has an impact on how you get ready for it. If you feel anxious or worried then it’s worth trying to unpick what the cause is. Anxiety and worry are right on the surface. Explore what’s underneath.

There are many possible causes, including:

  • Not knowing about an aspect of the viva;
  • Having a concern about what to do to prepare;
  • Being unsure of how to respond;
  • Being worried that you won’t be able to respond at all.

There will be many more, much more personal reasons to feel anxious. Something could just trip the fusebox of your feelings. Reflect, explore and find out the cause – then think about what you can do to set that right.

Worry

It’s Friday the 13th and I’m not worried. I’m not particularly superstitious, so when this date rolls around or a black cat crosses my path or I spill some salt I don’t worry that that means something bad is about to happen.

But I am, by nature, a worrier!

Before the pandemic I worried about train times, the distances between a hotel and a venue, and whether or not the seminar room I would be in would have what I needed. Now I sometimes worry about whether or not my broadband will keep going, or if an image choice for a slide will work in communicating what I want.

Most of the time, before the pandemic and in the present, my worries were a distraction. For all the worry, even when things went wrong, I still figured something out.

Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” He probably wasn’t the first person to say it, but it’s a helpful reflection. It helps me when I am tempted to imagine worst case scenarios or start problem solving before it’s even certain that there is a problem.

It’s natural to be nervous about your viva. It’s understandable to be anxious if you have a specific problem. But if you find yourself worrying, perhaps stop and ask if you really need to. Do you need to worry? Is there a problem or just something that’s getting in the way?

And if that’s the case, and perhaps the thing you’re worrying about isn’t that likely to happen, is there something you can focus on instead that will help more than worrying?

Dealing With Doubt

When doubts creep in before the viva they can be difficult to remove. By the time you recognise them for what they are it may feel like you simply have to feel them and feel bad. There is hope though: you can’t simply press a button and change how you feel, but you could do something or a series of things that would help the situation.

If you doubt that your viva will go well, then find out more about the viva. Look at the regulations, ask questions about other’s experiences and talk to your supervisor about what to expect.

If you doubt that you’re good enough or that your thesis is good enough then reflect on how far you’ve come. Write down a list of your successes. Write down a list of things that you know have improved in your ability as a researcher. Talk to your supervisor or others to get their reflections.

If you doubt you can speak in the viva, or if you doubt that you will be able to answer questions, then practise. Rehearse with a mock viva. Present your work and take questions. Do things, as uncomfortable as they might be at the time, to build up your confidence and comfort for meeting your examiners.

It’s very human to doubt. It’s not wrong to worry. But you’re not alone and you’re not without hope. If you feel doubts then act to remove them.

Thrills!

It could be exciting to have the chance to sit down and talk with your examiners!

You may be eager to finish your PhD journey!

Getting ready for your viva might have put a smile on your face as you realised just how far you’ve come – and just how much you’ve done!

And equally you could be nervous, anxious, worried or uncertain about everything.

You might not be able to resolve every issue or problem you have before the viva. You may have a few particular worries and what ifs rattling around your brain.

But you can also prepare for the viva. If you have gaps in your knowledge you can work to fill them. If you’re unsure of what to expect you can ask. You can go to the viva nervous, but also certain of what you have done and what you are capable of.

You might not dance into your viva and high-five your examiners as you greet them, but I hope you can feel some of the positives about the occasion!

At Your Viva

You can have reasonable expectations of what your viva might be like, but you won’t know until you’re inside it. You can rehearse responding to questions but you won’t know how you’ll really feel until they’re being asked by your examiners.

You can wait and anticipate and wonder what will happen – and then before you know it the whole thing will be done. All the time you spent getting ready, wondering how long you might be, and you might blink and miss what happens at your viva.

On Banishing Impostors

Impostor syndrome is a commonly discussed topic in academia. It’s not unusual for a postgraduate researcher to feel they’re somehow not good enough as they get closer to their viva.

I don’t know that anyone has a 100% solution to getting rid of these sorts of feelings, but I have some ideas of what you could do if they feel particularly difficult around your viva.

  • Check in with friends. Talk to trusted friends and colleagues who have already passed their viva. Ask about how they felt. While it’s not comfortable to feel like an impostor, knowing you’re not alone can be the start of helping yourself.
  • Be honest with your record. Look at your progress, the real progress you’ve made. Look at what now exists that did not before. Reflect on how and why that has come to be: you did this work.
  • Imagine what an impostor would really do. How would they act or behave? What would they know? Now compare that to yourself. Do you act or behave like a fake?

I think most thoughtful PhD candidates and academics would admit that they are not perfect. They’re always learning and always will be. Sometimes knowing you don’t know everything or can’t do everything can make you compare yourself falsely to others. Sometimes being around other talented people means that you feel smaller by comparison.

Start by being honest with yourself. Not only about how you feel – because then you can act to change that feeling – but also with the reality of the situation. You don’t feel good, but you couldn’t have got as far as you have if you hadn’t done the work and found success.

It’s Not Wrong To Be Nervous

Feeling nervous means you recognise that something is important. Humans feel nervous about all sorts of things, from weddings to wars, because they recognise that what is happening matters. They might be deeply involved or a bystander: if the outcome is important and they’re paying any attention then they might feel nervous.

Your viva is important. You, of course, are deeply involved. The outcome matters. Of course you might feel nervous, and if you do there is nothing wrong.

If you feel uncomfortable as a result then that’s not great, but that’s not the end of the story. You can talk to others to get help and put your feelings in perspective. You can reflect and help yourself to get things sorted out. You can work to build your confidence.

It’s not wrong to be nervous, but it might not be comfortable. If feeling nervous isn’t helping you then consider what else you can do to change how you feel.

Viva Feelings

You can feel happy about your viva or sad.

You might feel ready to get started or nervous about what your examiners might ask.

You might feel certain of what you’ve done or unsure about work from several years ago.

There’s many things you might feel about your viva. How you feel could change with each day. The viva isn’t the most important thing you will ever do but it does matter.

As you get closer to your viva, if you find yourself feeling a strong emotion – good or bad – take a moment to ask yourself why. Take a moment to reflect on what it means. Take a moment to think about what you could do as a result.

Your feelings about the viva aren’t static, but you can’t simply change them. You can steer how you feel though.

How do you feel? What do you need to do?