Four Years

That’s how long I’ve been writing this blog. Longer than I spent on my PhD!

I started with the following short post in 2017:

I’ve got a few questions for you: Did you do the work? Did you show up at the library or the lab or the office? Did you overcome obstacles through the tough times? Did you learn, did you grow, did you develop?

If you did all of these during your PhD, how could you be in a bad position for the viva?

It’s understandable if you are nervous, but it’s no accident that you’ve got this far. Keep going.

I’ve written about a lot of different aspects of the viva in the last four years, over 1400 posts, but this remains a core message of the blog. The final two words of that first post resonate personally, particularly given the last year or so.

Keep going. That’s my overall plan for this blog. I’m proud that Viva Survivors has reached so many people over the last four years, but equally happy that it’s had such an impact on me personally and professionally. I’ve been thrilled in the last twelve months to use this platform to reach out and share webinars. I’m looking forward to sharing more exciting things in the coming months.

If this is your first post or your hundredth, thank you for reading!

If your viva is coming soon, keep going. You’ll do it.

If your viva is behind you, keep going. There’s even better stuff ahead.

And again, thank you for reading 🙂

Still Interesting Times

A year ago, just before the first UK lockdown, I wrote “Interesting Times” – an extra post for March 16th, recognising that difficult change was coming hard and fast.

A year later, it feels like that change has never stopped.

It’s strange to read that I thought I would be working from home and doing webinars for “a few months”. That became a year. That will most likely be the rest of this year too. And that’s fine.

In the UK we have dates in the diary for the coming months when restrictions might lift and things could change. They’re all provisional though, and things could change again – conditions in the autumn or winter might make things harder for many people once more.

A year ago I wrote this:

I’m going to continue to publish and share a post every day about the viva. I don’t know how vivas will change, temporarily or otherwise, but I know what examiners are looking for, I know what candidates can do to meet the challenges of a viva, and I can help people to see the kinds of work or ideas that can help them be ready.

If you are struggling, ask someone for help. Ask me: email me, tweet at me, and if I can I will help. I may not have an answer that solves things for you, but I’ve helped a lot of people. If you need to, just ask.

In and amongst everything this last year, that’s stayed the same. It’s no silver lining that the interesting times of the last year have opened interesting doors for me to connect with PhD candidates, but within all the chaos I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to help. I’m grateful for more time with my family. I’m grateful to friends and colleagues I don’t get to see in-person any more who do amazing work to support researchers and inspire me to do more.

I finished Interesting Times by writing:

Ask for help if you need it. Offer help where you can.

Survive means “manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.”

Keep going.

Let me reframe: get in touch if you need help. Help your friends, family and colleagues. Survive, keep going.

Pause, reflect, reset – change tactics if you need to – but keep going.

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)