Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered

I’ve had a lot of fun delivering Getting Creative and 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva in the last month, and been floored by the support people have given them and how valuable they’ve said they were. So I decided to keep going with new ideas and a new session!

Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered is a 1-hour webinar on Wednesday 13th May 2020, and is for anyone who has questions about the viva.

Maybe you want to know… How long are vivas? What are they like? What if I feel nervous? How do they start? What if I forget something?

These questions are really common, and it’s OK to ask them at the session. It’s OK to ask uncommon questions. It’s OK to ask general questions, vague questions, hypothetical questions; questions that come from not knowing something, questions that come from worrying about something, questions that come from being uncertain and being concerned. All questions are welcome, but the session is probably most valuable to PhD candidates who have either submitted and have their viva soon, or who have a few months to go before submission.

Tickets cost £3, £5 or £7 – you choose the price based on what you think is fair – places are limited to 75 participants and at registration you’ll be asked to share any questions you need answers for, so that I can create a structure for the session.

If you have questions about the viva, then please explore this site for help. Ask your supervisor, ask your friends, ask your institution – there are lots of people around you who will be able to help you with your questions.

Please also take a look at Viva Survivors: Your Questions Answered too, running on May 13th, to see if it might be useful 🙂

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?

Advice and Action

When I did my PhD there was very little help available for viva candidates. Now there is help everywhere.

There are scores of advice articles for the viva and probably hundreds of blog posts about personal experiences – you can find a link to some of them here!

Universities have staff who are there to answer questions, academics with experience who can tell you what’s what and resources to help get ready for the viva – it’s worth checking out what’s available at your institution!

And Viva Survivors has dozens of interviews with PhD graduates, lots of free resources – and over 850 daily posts of viva help!

There is a super-abundance of help for the viva out there. A wealth of information, ideas and advice that can be accessed by any PhD candidate who wants to know what the viva is about and what they can do to be ready.

So: what will you do to get ready?

Because now all of this help is out there, the only thing stopping you being ready is your decision about what you will do.

Why I Do This

I’ve been asked a few times recently why I do a daily blog. The inspiration to do it came from Seth Godin, a person I greatly respect, who has published a daily blog for many years. I saw someone trying something I thought was a good idea – but that’s more about what I do, not why I do it.

It’s hard to pin down a single reason for why I do a daily blog on the viva. Five that come to mind:

  • I wanted to help more people prepare for the viva.
  • I wanted to do something that would give me a space to create.
  • I wanted a regular practice to get better at something.
  • I hoped it might lead to more opportunities for work.
  • I wanted a new challenge.

A daily blog on the viva has given me plenty of ways to satisfy these reasons, and more. In eighteen months I’ve been amazed by how many people have read it; floored by how many have let me know that it has helped; I’m proud of how much it has helped me refine and build on what I do. And ideas lead to more ideas, opportunities lead to more opportunities: doing this has presented me with challenges many times over!

Still, the daily blog is what I do, not why I do it.

Your thesis is what you’ve done, not why you did it.

Get back in touch with that. Reflect on why you started, and whether or not your why changed as you went through your PhD. How have your research and your thesis resulted from your why? What is the journey that connects the why and the result?

Where will your why take you next?

Five Years

Viva Survivors started as a podcast five years ago today. A lot has happened. That’s an understatement, but a good starting point.

In five years I’ve produced over sixty episodes of the podcast, written three books, delivered hundreds of workshops to thousands of PhDs and that’s scratching the surface. That’s just the numbers, not the real achievements, not the real milestones.

Viva Survivors started as a podcast, and has only recently broadened out with the daily blog. With the Other Resources, Books and eBooks pages, there has been more than just interviews for some time. It was only seven weeks ago that I “officially” threw the switch that changed things, but the change was coming for a while. I’m really happy with how it is going and am looking forward to share more posts every day, along with more new original resources for viva prep soon.

At this five year mark I want to say thank you to everyone who I’ve interviewed; thank you to everyone who has shared or tweeted about the site; thank you to everyone who has come to a workshop; thank you to everyone who has bought one of my books; thank you to everyone and anyone who has been a supporter. Viva Survivors does not have a staff of hundreds: there’s me and my wife and our business. This “side” project would not have got anywhere without thousands of other people who have helped our work along.

A question: how has your life changed in the last five years? If you’re finishing up a PhD, what numbers or achievements are you most proud of? Why?

Episode 64: Q&A Special 2

Hi!

This episode has been a long time coming through one thing and another. I had to get a new laptop in the last few weeks, and then configure everything, so while I had this second Q&A Special recorded I couldn’t edit it. But hurrah, I’ve done it!

I got a couple of questions via email for this episode, and decided to add to those by sharing some answers to interesting questions I got at workshops in the last few months. I’m going to put an open call for questions out on Twitter and on the podcast from this point on! So whenever I get, say, six or seven questions in the list I’ll record a new Q&A Special and put it in the schedule.

This episode also marks a change of music! I had been thinking about a new theme tune for some time, and then heard of Jukedeck, a service that uses AI to compose music. I found a tune that it had composed and tweaked a few parameters, and it gave a really cool new piece of music that I’ll be using from now on.

Would you like to come on a future episode of the podcast? Email me, tweet at me or leave a comment on the site and I’ll reply. Send questions about the viva for a future special and if you’re looking for more help with viva preparation, you could also check out my books and ebooks.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Coming Soon: a new Q&A episode!

Hello!

I’m recording two new episodes of the podcast this week. I plan to record several more interviews in the next few weeks too. I like that the bulk of the podcast’s archive is about sharing stories and experiences, but I’m also happy that there’s been space now and then to do things which are a bit different – like the Academic Jobs Specials, the chances to reconnect with past guests, and the Ask An Examiner special. Last year I tried a Q&A episode, and while only a few questions came in, it ended up being one of the most downloaded and listened to episodes that I released last year.

Everyone loves a sequel

Since we’re at the start of a new year, it seemed like a good time to return to this and do another episode which is all about answering your questions about the viva. So:

  • Got questions about effective viva preparation? Ask!
  • Want to know about viva expectations in the UK? Ask!
  • Thought about doing a podcast but unsure of where to start? I’m happy to help!
  • Got ideas for future episodes you want to throw past me? Please do!
  • Curious about how a shy pure mathematician ended up interested in the viva? I’m happy to talk about it!

Whatever you want to know, please ask, either in the comments on this post, or by tweeting at me. Or you could email me, but in any case you’ve got until February 8th 2017 to get questions in to me. I plan to record the podcast soon after that, with an eye to publish on Monday 13th February.

Ask away

Really: this episode won’t work without your questions. Just let me know what you’d like me to cover. If you don’t have a specific question, but rather a general theme, that’s fine too – just let me know. Thanks for reading this post, please share it with others who might have questions!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Hiatus

What happened?

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a new episode, and I’m sorry to say that there might not be another before the end of 2016. Episode 63 came out a few days before we went on a family holiday. When we came back we had the convergence of a busy work period and our daughter started nursery, which has added a new adjustment to the flow of our daily lives here at Casa Ryder.

It dawned on me recently that I had forgotten to follow up with a few people who had volunteered to come on the podcast – and then it dawned on me that I had forgotten to even promote the podcast through the Twitter feed. Recently, I’ve been working on a few new projects and a few old ideas, and the podcast has slipped through the cracks as a result.

So what now?

  • I need to spend time to shake up the design of the site and get the Other Resources page up to date;
  • I need to follow up with people who have volunteered to come on the podcast and share their experiences;
  • I need to book a window in my diary to start a new research project and I want to ask both for your help to promote it, and for question ideas;
  • And I need to do another Q&A episode, because I enjoyed the challenge of making the first one.

If I spend a bit of time now and think it through, make a proper plan, then I can get 2017 off to a good start!

In the mean time…

…if you’ve been in touch before about coming on the podcast, expect an email in the near future. If you’d like to come on and share your research and viva experiences, then please get in touch. If you’re looking for viva experiences from a wide range of PhD graduates then check out the Archive. And if you’re looking for a bit of extra support then check out my ebooks and print offerings – including the ultra-concentrated Viva Prep Handbook!

Thanks for reading, thanks for your support and thanks for listening to the podcast.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 63: Dr Daniel Soule

Well hello there!

In this episode I’m talking to Dr Daniel Soule, who completed his PhD in 2007 at the University of Glasgow. Dan’s thesis was on nationalism and post-devolution elections in Scotland, and we talked about how he did his research, how he prepared for his viva, and what happened on the day.

We also talked about research writing: through his training business, Grammatology, Dan’s worked with thousands of researchers to help them write better. We chatted about some of his experiences and advice for researchers at all stages. Check out his website, and you can find him on Twitter as @grammatologer.

Would you like to come on a future episode of the podcast? Email me, tweet at me or leave a comment on the site and I’ll reply! Similarly, if you’ve got comments or questions about this episode or the viva in general then please drop me a line. If you’re looking for more help with viva preparation, you could also check out my books and ebooks.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

New Viva Preparation Workshop!

Two posts in one week! 🙂

Eagle-eyed visitors to the site might have spotted a new addition to the pages; that’s a link to a description of the Viva Survivor workshop that I’ve been delivering at universities since 2010. I thought it would be useful to make that connection on here – some people know me for the podcast, some people know me for the workshop, now everyone will connect me to both.

I love doing Viva Survivor, and I’ve delivered it to almost 2000 PGRs around the UK. For the longest time I’ve wanted to deliver an independent workshop to PGRs. I plan to keep delivering the session in universities for a long time to come, but I’ve been thinking about new challenges for a while. An independent viva prep workshop that was open to PGRs from any university seemed impossible for a long time until I visited Ziferblat, a really great meeting space in Manchester.

As a result of finding that venue, I present Viva Survivor, a three hour viva preparation workshop in Manchester on the afternoon of June 29th 2016. Full details are at the Eventbrite booking page, but here’s the short version: Viva Survivor is a workshop designed to help PGRs effectively prepare for the viva. If you come then by the end of the session you will have

  • identified what examiners are looking for when they examine your thesis;
  • discussed the many ways that others can support your preparation;
  • explored valuable viva preparation methods;
  • established realistic expectations for your viva;
  • discussed common questions about the PhD viva.

I want to make this an amazing experience: I want people to leave knowing that they are set for the viva, that they know what to expect and what to do. I’m going to be providing excellent supporting materials, including ebooks, print books, handouts and more, maybe a few surprises to make people smile! And Ziferblat is going to be providing an excellent venue and refreshments for the day.

Sound good? I hope so. Please come! More details and booking is on the Eventbrite page; places are limited and while I want to run more of these in the future I have no dates or plans at the moment. Please share this with others, let them know that there is an independent workshop happening to help PhD students prepare for the viva. Come along and meet PGRs from other institutions, find out how to prepare and what to expect.

If you want to know more, then get in touch: drop me an email, tweet at me or leave a comment here! I’ll be posting details about the workshop over the coming weeks, announcing things that I’m excited about. If you want to know more now then please contact me.

Thanks for reading, and if you can, please help me share this exciting new opportunity with others.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

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