A Week Of Prep

Let’s say you’re a few weeks away from your viva. You’ve read your thesis and it feels familiar. You’re busy with life outside of your thesis. You want to be prepared for your viva, you feel the need to do something this coming week, but you don’t know what.

Block out an hour for each evening of the week ahead and try the following:

  • Monday: annotate your thesis. Put a Post-it at the start of every chapter, and anywhere in your thesis that is important. Highlight important passages or references to make them stand out. Make your thesis more useful for you.
  • Tuesday: create an edited bibliography. Explore which are the most essential references, and capture a little detail for each to explore why it matters so much.
  • Wednesday: have a mini-viva. Either write notes about each of the questions or capture your thoughts with a voice-recording app.
  • Thursday: use the VIVA tool to analyse a chapter of your thesis. Pick a good one, and spend fifteen minutes for each of the four prompts to explore the chapter.
  • Friday: reflect on your mini-viva from Wednesday. What details would you add? What stands out from your mini-viva?
  • Saturday: switch to mornings. Meet a friend for coffee or an early lunch. Get them to ask you relevant questions about your research.
  • Sunday: take only 15 minutes to review what you’ve done. What has helped this week? How are you feeling about your viva? Now map out the week ahead. What are you going to do to continue your preparations?

This post is a little idea of how you could break your week up, doing different, useful tasks to prepare for the viva. Customise in a suitable way for you.

Don’t drift to your viva; go towards it with purpose.

Explore Your Thesis With VIVA

I’ve shared my VIVA tool a few times: an acronym for exploring your thesis chapter by chapter as a valuable viva preparation. My quick directions for someone to try this would be to divide a sheet into four sections, and then use a series of prompts to reflect:

  • Valuable (to others): what would someone find valuable in this chapter?
  • Interesting (to you): what interests you about the research?
  • Vague (or unclear): what doesn’t seem clear when you read it?
  • Ask (your examiners): what would you like to ask your examiners?

I’ve mentioned before that this is a good starting point for reflection. One could dig quite deep using the tool. These four areas cover a lot of ground in preparation too. There are other necessary things a candidate would need to explore – who their examiners are, checking recent literature, exploring how their research connects to the wider field – but even that last point might be explored a little by considering what is Valuable (to others).

If you are preparing for your viva, I’d encourage you to try VIVA to start your reflections and summary creation.

Explore the content of your chapters with a little direction and see where that leads your preparations.

Digging Deeper With VIVA

Earlier this year I shared my directed thinking tool, VIVA, which is really useful for analysing chapters of your thesis in preparation for the viva. My general suggestion for VIVA is to take a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections. Then in each section make notes about the chapter you want to reflect on but directed by a specific keyword:

  • Valuable (to others): what would someone else find valuable in this chapter?
  • Interesting (to you): what interests you about the work?
  • Vague: what doesn’t seem clear when you read it?
  • Ask: what questions would you ask your examiners if you had the opportunity?

This kind of directed or prompted thinking can build a really interesting reflection and summary. It’s enough to simply reflect and make notes, see where your thinking takes you. You can go much deeper if you want to though. First, simply asking “Why?” after each of your responses helps:

Why would they find that valuable? Why are you interested in that way? Why is it not clear? Why do you want to ask those questions?

Or for Valuable you could dig into different audiences: is there more than one kind of value that someone could look for? Has the Interesting component of your research changed over time? How can you make something Vague more clear? If there was only time to Ask one question of your examiners, how would you prioritise?

Questions lead to answers sometimes. In my experience they nearly always lead to more questions. That’s not a bad thing if you’re trying to think deeply about something. If you use VIVA, think about how you can use follow-up questions to reflect on your research.

VIVA and the Viva

I’ve shared a few acronyms in posts over the last year but today’s tool is different because I invented it!

VIVA is very useful to help with exploring your thesis before the viva; it’s a directed thinking tool in the same way that SWOT is used to analyse a situation. VIVA can be used simply. Take a sheet of paper for a chapter in your thesis and divide it into four. Then use a different word in each section to direct your attention as you make notes about the chapter:

  • Valuable (to others): what would someone else find valuable in this chapter?
  • Interesting (to you): what interests you about the work?
  • Vague: what doesn’t seem clear when you read it?
  • Ask: what questions would you like to ask your examiners if you had the opportunity?

This can help to draw out key points for your thesis. If you do this kind of analysis for each chapter then you build a really interesting summary. From considering what’s Valuable you unpick the contribution that you’ve made in your thesis, and by thinking about what is Interesting you rediscover your motivations. If you look for what’s Vague then you find what you need to strengthen ahead of discussion in the viva, and if you consider what questions to Ask you think ahead about the way the conversation might unfold.

I came up with VIVA about four years ago and it’s become one of the most useful ideas I’ve shared in my workshops. I’m surprised in looking back over this first year of the blog that I’ve not shared it here before! I hope you find it helpful ahead of your viva, and find some interesting ideas when you analyse your thesis.

In short: use VIVA to help with the viva!