Can You Hear Me?

I’ve said those four words probably hundreds of times since the start of the pandemic and my shift to working from home.

For any webinar that I deliver I have to produce joining instructions way in advance. Then I check my slides and notes the day before (and on the day) to see what needs updating. I draft follow-up emails beforehand, do a quick run-through of key points, check all of the tech is working well and make sure I have my water bottle filled. I check I have my notes, I check if my wife is going to be home while I’m delivering the session. Then I get things going and finally I ask,

“Can you hear me?”

There’s a lot of really practical steps to delivering one of my sessions.

And I also write out an overview each time even though my notes are onscreen for me to see. I write out a five-point list of things to remember and focus me that is the same for every session. I listen to a short playlist of music that gives me energy and helps me to feel confident. I have a picture on my desk that my daughter made for me, and a small paperweight that is comforting to hold at times while I talk to everyone through the camera.

There’s a lot of really personal steps to delivering one of my sessions.

The practical steps are necessary because I couldn’t do the work at all without them. The personal steps are necessary because I wouldn’t feel like me and I couldn’t do the work as well without them.

Over the course of a PhD, a postgraduate researcher has to do the work. They have to do the research and practical steps that lead them to completion. But to feel right they also have to pay attention to the personal work that can help them feel confident about their ability.

 

For your viva, you have to have done the practical steps for your research and the personal steps for you and your confidence, just like I do for delivering a webinar.

Does that make sense? Can you hear me?

Prepare For The Challenge

The viva is most likely the final challenge of your PhD. Corrections are work, but in most cases they’re simply editing or amending what you’ve already finished. The viva is the big thing you need to focus on and get ready for.

So prepare. Find out what’s involved. You have a lot of skill and knowledge when you submit: you need to know how to apply that to the challenge. You need to know what the viva is all about. You need to know how you can be your best in that situation.

You’ve risen to so many challenges over the course of your PhD. You can rise to and succeed at this final one.

Take a little time to get ready. That’s all you need.

A Bit Nervous

You might feel a bit nervous for your viva. You might even feel that for submission. It’s understandable. Your thesis, your viva and your PhD are all important, so of course you could be a bit nervous.

At the same time you could be a bit confident.

A bit certain of what to expect.

A bit sure of who your examiners are and what they might want.

And more than a bit talented, definitely good enough, to pass your viva.

Nervousness can make you a bit uncomfortable. Try to put that into perspective with everything else you can be, feel and know for your viva.

Setting Expectations

Happy New Year from Viva Survivors!

 

I’m often asked “What are vivas like?” I can help with that, as can a candidate’s friends and colleagues. No-one can guarantee what a viva will be like beforehand but there are enough stories that we can piece together expectations.

Vivas tend to be a certain length; they tend to start with these sorts of questions; vivas are structured, and so on.

That’s one kind of expectation. Another kind are the expectations you have for yourself at the viva.

You will be prepared. You will pause when you hear a question. You will take your time to respond. You will use every opportunity to share your research.

 

There there are the big picture expectations you set for yourself. What kind of researcher do you want to be? How are you going to get your PhD finished? And what kind of person do you want to be?

There are pros and cons for setting New Year’s Resolutions, but I think it’s a good idea to start a new year by setting expectations for oneself. What do you want to demonstrate and do as you go through the next 365 days? How could you do that? What kind of a difference are you trying to make?

Here’s to a good year, with very best wishes from me and my family to you and yours 🙂

Best of Viva Survivors 2021: Viva Prep

It’s an established tradition at Viva Survivors that I finish each year by sharing a selection of posts before the New Year. Over the coming days I’ll share long posts, short posts and posts on confidence; today we start with the important topic of viva prep. In many ways viva prep isn’t complicated, but there are lots of ways someone could get ready for their viva. Here are some ideas:

Getting ready for the viva involves doing the work – but it doesn’t have to be a burden. Sketch a plan before prep time comes, spend time with your thesis, spend time on practice and you’ll be ready.

Tomorrow: a selection of some of my favourite long posts from this year!

It’s The Thought That Counts

For Christmas gifts, even if the present is not quite what you wanted, when someone gives you something it really is the thought that counts. Someone took the time to think about you and wanted to do something that’s nice. It’s not quite right but it’s the thought that counts.

The same sentiment isn’t true for viva prep.

There’s lots of thinking involved – reading your thesis, rethinking as you check papers , considering what matters as you write a summary – but thinking alone isn’t enough for the viva. You have to speak. You have to engage with your examiners’ questions and respond.

You have to think to get ready but you also have to talk: mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars could all be great ways to improve your confidence for engaging in the viva.

Simply thinking for your prep won’t be enough.

Make Space

Doing your viva prep might mean that you need more space or time than you currently have. You already have a busy life and now there’s one more thing to do. It’s only for a limited time but it could feel like a lot.

Thankfully, taken together, all of the tasks you might do to get ready for the viva don’t amount to much. Making space to do them means, depending on how busy you are, just finding a little room:

  • Breathe. Remember that many, many people have had their viva and have got ready for it. You can too.
  • Plan. Think ahead. Explore when you need to start and sketch out when you will do certain things.
  • Get help. There are many people around you who can give you support. Ask!
  • Do a little work, often. You don’t need to spend hours at a time. Small tasks build up how ready you are.

Thinking ahead and planning can create the space and environment you need to do the work as stress-free as possible. You’re busy, but only a little space is needed to get your prep done.

Final Prep

What’s the last thing you will do to get ready for your viva? What final action will leave you satisfied, a small smile on your face that you’ve done all you can?

When will it be? The morning of your viva, a final check of some detail? The day before, deciding what to wear? A few days ahead of your viva when you have a final chat with your supervisor?

Sketching out a plan for prep helps to make it real. Knowing the final step can give you something to guide you. Deciding for yourself what that final task will be really cements that this is for you.

Your research. Your prep. Your viva.

Change of Plans

I’m thinking back to this time last year. In the UK there were various permissions extended to allow families and friends to meet over Christmastime-

-and then there weren’t.

Very quickly plans were changed, compromises were reached and make-do decisions were made.

That was hopefully just for one year. If you’ve had to make a similar change of plans for your PhD since March 2020 then that could have had a big and continuing impact on your PhD journey. Everything from a lack of access to equipment or materials and reduced meeting opportunities with your supervisors, all the way to a fundamental change of direction to your research.

It’s natural to be concerned about the questions that could be asked about this at the viva. It’s natural to worry. Not just common viva nervousness from anticipation of the event, but concern for communicating the practical changes and the impact – perhaps even wondering about what might have been.

It’s also natural to expect your examiners to be understanding about how the pandemic has had an impact on your PhD. They will know the changing situation of the last two years will have been difficult: in whatever way it comes up in the viva they will simply want you to be clear. Be clear about the impact. Be clear about how you changed your plans. Be clear about how you navigated the work despite the situation.

Be clear. They will understand.

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