Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.

Check Your Story

Essential on April Fool’s Day, and equally important if your viva is coming up.

Think about the story you tell yourself (and others) about your research journey. How did you get where you are?

I was lucky…

…it just sort of happened…

…I happened to notice…

…I just worked at it…

Little word choices can become focal points of the story.

“I just worked at it,” doesn’t do justice to your story. You worked and you worked and you worked at it. You kept going. You learned, you developed. You didn’t simply notice something, you saw it because you were looking. Things don’t just happen, you created opportunities.

Check your story: make sure the words you use are true, of course, but tell the best version of the story that you can. One that others will listen to with interest, and one that will also help you feel you’re ready for your viva.

5 Meetings To Have Before Your Viva

Getting together with others can make a big difference to your viva.

  1. Have a meeting with your supervisor to discuss possible examiners before submission.
  2. Ask a friend for coffee to talk about your research.
  3. Sit down with friends and family to help them understand what you’ll be going through.
  4. Pop in and see your researcher-developers to see what courses or resources might help.
  5. Arrange a mock viva with your supervisor to have a useful rehearsal for the real thing.

Perhaps meeting is too strong a word for some of these ideas, too formal maybe. Still, you don’t have to get to the viva by yourself: ask others for help and they will give it.

You have to do the viva alone, but plenty of other people can help you get there. Explore what you need and ask for what you need most.

Viva Survivors: Getting Creative

The last two weeks have been almost the definition of interesting times. Lots of changes in a short period. I feel some days like my head is swimming with the adjustment. I hope wherever you are, you’re keeping well.

I’ve seen some lovely, generous offerings from the global academic community on Twitter, and while I was frantically changing my work patterns and materials for online delivery, I was wondering what I could share to help…

I’m starting with Viva Survivors: Getting Creative – a free 1-hour session on creative and fun viva prep that I’ll be running over Zoom on Wednesday 8th April 2020. If you’re looking to kickstart your viva prep with a smile, or you don’t know how to start, or you feel blocked because of everything going on, this session is for you. In 1 hour we’ll cover the basics of viva prep, what it’s really for, and five creative responses. If you have questions about the viva or prep, this is a chance to get some answers too.

Full details are at the link and places are limited to sixty attendees. The session is free, but if you want to attend I’d encourage you to register soon. I hope to offer this or something like it again, but don’t have firm plans for future sessions at the moment. Ping me on Twitter or drop me an email if you have a question.

Stay well and safe, and take a look at Viva Survivors: Getting Creative!

Keep going.


Confidence Follows Your Actions

You can do more than hope you are ready for your viva.

Look back across everything you’ve done. How have your actions built up your research, your knowledge, your talent? To get to submission and then the viva you must necessarily be good at what you do. Look for the actions that have built you up. See how you can find confidence within your past actions.

Look at the place you are in now. If you need reminding of your talent or you need to do something to boost how you’re feeling, then take action. What helps you to feel confident? What puts you in that state of being? If you have no idea then ask others what they do!

Confidence follows your actions.

Short Thoughts On Viva Prep

Viva prep takes more than a day but less than a month.

Prep isn’t knowing everything, but believing you know enough. Read your thesis, make notes, check the literature and find opportunities to practise.

Know who your examiners and what they’ve done – but more importantly know who you are, what you’ve done and what you can do.

You’re not superhuman, but you are superpowered. You can do things that no-one else can.

Prepare for your viva to be able to show this on the day.

Acting On Your Worries

In life there are problems you can do something practical about, and there are problems that can only concern you. Realising you can do nothing to change a situation or problem doesn’t make it go away, or give you some kind of special awareness of it, but it can free you to work on problems that could respond to action.

So, as your viva gets closer, make a list of problems that worry you: your thesis, your research, your knowledge, your talent, your examiners, the viva, everything.

Then for each of these things ask yourself if you can really do something about it. Is this a problem that can be resolved or improved?

If it is, what could you do? Then what will you do? Great! Make the situation better.

If it can’t be resolved or improved, if it just is, then what will you do?

You could obsess about it, you could keep exploring to find a solution, or you could try to find a way to cope with it. Maybe all you could do is know it’s an issue, but choose to focus on things you can improve. That’s not necessarily easy, but it might be for the best.

Take time to see what’s really going on for you around viva time. It’s not always easy to change how you feel, but you do get to decide how you act.

Exploring Prep Ideas

The final flourishes that complete a piece of art. Shining your shoes before an interview. Proofreading and checking one last time.

All of these sorts of things can only make little differences, because the big difference has already been made (you’ve painted something, been accepted for interview, written something).

Viva preparation is the little differences you make to get ready; responses to things you see as gaps or absences in your readyness.

Make a list of the gaps, then explore each and think about what you could do. Why-How-What makes a nice structure for this exploration:

  • Why is this a problem?
  • How might you address it?
  • What will you do?

Explore what stands out to you as possible areas or tasks for viva preparation. Prioritise them if you’re busy: do the things that will have the biggest impact. Remember that this preparation is building on something that’s already pretty accomplished.

The Pieces of the Viva Puzzle

There’s a lot of things wrapped up in the idea of a viva. It’s uncertain sometimes, what to do, how to be, what do you need, what do you have… Keeping track of all of the parts can feel hard.

Maybe it’s like a 1000-piece jigsaw without a picture to guide you. Hard, but not impossible. A challenge, but there are methods for solving the problem: find the corners, find the edges, group colours, start building it up, and so on.

With uncertainty you can’t always have step-by-step instructions, but you can have a method that moves you forward.

Remember: you’re already moving when your viva comes around. This isn’t the beginning, it’s the next step. So where are you? How did you get here? What could you do that would take you closer to ready? And what are you going to do next?

What are the final pieces for your viva puzzle?

Build Your Own Resources

Whenever I commit the time to make a resource, I’ve chosen to make something as broadly useful as possible. The tiny book of viva prep is designed to be useful to everyone. The list of thesis examination regulations took time to do because I was trying to find all of the regulations.

I hope PhD candidates find my resources useful. As part of your viva prep I strongly encourage you to make your own too. Write summaries of key chapters of your thesis. Create a list of key references in your bibliography. Annotate your thesis pages to make them even more useful. Write lists of key questions you’d like to ask your examiners if you had the opportunity.

There’s a place for lots of useful viva prep resources: broad resources to start the process, and highly focussed ones just for you. There are plenty of people, me included, who can help with the generally helpful pieces. Only you can create the specific ones to help you get to and through the viva.

Remember the resources you build now are built on years of work too: you’ve created a lot of resources to get this far.