Everest

The viva is often framed as the top of the mountain after an epic climb. It’s taken a long time, a lot of work, but finally you reach the summit of your PhD. Some people take the story even further, “it’s all downhill from here, hahaha…”

I think it’s more accurate to see your thesis submission as the summit. The viva comes a little later. The viva is talking about the climb, how you did it, what worked, what didn’t and maybe how it compares to other climbs.

While you’re up at the summit though, pause, look around. What’s on the other side of your PhD-mountain? Where are you going to go next?

Lightbulb Moments

What were your lightbulb moments during your PhD? When did you find yourself getting something, suddenly, maybe inexplicably, like someone just flicked a switch? What was happening? What had you tried already? How did you make that connection?

Last year, I wrote about a real lightbulb moment during my PhD. It’s no exaggeration to say that this idea, when applied, helped me to write three chapters of my thesis. It was a tiny result that allowed many others. It came to me like magic.

But it wasn’t.

It was work.

It came after weeks of exploration. Lots of failed attempts. Dozens of diagrams, calculations and notes that went around and around. And then the answer came, after work has made it possible to see the connection.

Sometimes results or ideas in research seem to come out of nowhere. Conclusions jump out from a sea of ideas and data. They’re a product of work, not luck.

Look back over your PhD before the viva. Find your lightbulb moments, then deconstruct them. How did you get to that moment when the light came on?

Episode 56: Q&A Special 1

Hello!

A few weeks ago I asked for your questions for a Q&A episode, and here we are! Thanks to those of you who submitted questions; there were only a couple of you, but the questions that were asked are really important to the viva process. I hope that the answers are helpful, I was able to share a mix of some of the research I’ve done in the last few years and also some of my opinions about how to prepare well. One of the questions wanted to know about the comparison between vivas in the UK and in Europe, something I don’t know a lot about: if anyone has any links to resources about this area then do let me know!

I had fun recording this episode, and if it seems like a useful thing then let me know, and maybe it can become a quarterly bonus or special episode. You can find me on Twitter as @DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors, or you can email me. And please get in touch if you want to come on the podcast to share your PhD and viva experiences!

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Q&A Episode Coming Soon

Hello!

One of the few podcasts I regularly listen to is the Tim Ferriss Show: I highly recommend it, Tim interviews people about how they manage to be excellent in their fields. It’s a wild ride sometimes, and he has a huge variety of people on his show. I don’t think that the Viva Survivors Podcast is a “wild ride” but I think it’s great that there is such a variety of PhD graduates who come on here to share their experiences.

A few times now, Tim has had special Q&A episodes and listeners ask him all kinds of things – anything and everything really. It struck me a month or so ago that this might be a useful thing to do on Viva Survivors, at least every now and then. I used the poll function on Twitter to see if this was interesting to followers, and got a couple of positive votes, and also heard from several friends to say that this was a neat idea.

So let’s do it!

Read More

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out!

"The Viva: Who? What? How?"

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out now!

What is this?

An ebook. Twenty-seven chapters, nearly 20,000 words, and answers to the most frequently asked questions about the PhD viva in the UK. I deliver viva preparation workshops, and over the last five years I’ve got a great understanding about the questions that distract PhD candidates. This book helps eliminate those distractions.

There are more details below, but if all you want are the purchase links, here they are!

  • In the UK, The Viva: Who? What? How? is in the Kindle Store here.
  • In the UK and around the world, The Viva: Who? What? How? is available from Payhip here.

Read More

Episode 38: Dr Robin Wilson

In this episode I’m chatting with Dr Robin Wilson, who had his viva in January. Robin’s PhD at the University of Southampton was in remote sensing, and it was really interesting to hear about how he got interested in that area, as well as the results and applications of his research. Robin also shared some of his experiences of doing his PhD in a Doctoral Training Centre – something that is becoming more and more common. You can find Robin on Twitter as @sciremotesense.

If you’ve got any questions or comments about this episode, then comment on this post, tweet @VivaSurvivors – or email me! And please get in touch if you’d like to appear on a future episode. I’m always looking for more PhD graduates who are happy to share their research and viva experiences. I’m also looking for academics happy to talk about Academic Jobs or what it is like being an Examiner for future specials.

Thanks for listening! (and reading!)

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

The Podcast is 2 and my Ebook is 99p!

Viva Survivors Podcast turns 2!

Two things happened last Friday – the podcast turned two (Happy Birthday Viva Survivors Podcast!) – and the Twitter account for the podcast picked up its 1000th follower, which is kind of neat. So… What to do to celebrate this?

A special edition of the podcast where I invite everyone back to give updates? I wish I’d thought of that sooner.

A series of Google Hangouts where I look at various parts of the viva or preparation process? Not yet, but I’m thinking about that for August (message me if you’re interested!).

A bottle of champagne? A cup of tea?

For Four Days Only!

How about… Until midnight on Friday I drop the price of Fail Your Viva to 99p (and $2.99 in the US)?

This will run from 8am Tuesday 10th June 2014 (GMT in the UK and PST in the US) until  Friday 13th June 2014 at midnight in the appropriate time zones. If your viva is coming up and you’re looking for something concentrated to give you some idea of what to expect and what you can do to prepare, then give it a go. Ben Libberton of Literature Review HQ described it as “a great book to read cover to cover if you’re anxious about your viva.”

Thank You

Thanks for coming and listening to the podcast over the last few years, for all your help in helping me to share the stories of PhD graduates – and more recently for all your help with my research into the UK PhD viva experience. The results of that will  come out over the summer, and I’ll keep looking for an appropriate way to present things as I compile the results.

Many, many thanks to the Viva Survivors who have shared their stories for the podcast – you can see all of their names on the Archive page. They’re awesome and amazing for giving their time and being so willing to help others in this way. Thanks guys.

Now, all of you 1000+ Twitter followers: go and buy a copy of my ebook for 99p (or $2.99 in the US) and tell all your PhD friends to do the same! 😉

Until next time, thanks for reading – and thank you again for all of your support over the last two years.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 26: Dr George Julian

In this episode I’m talking to Dr George Julian, who completed a PhD in the Psychology of Special Education in 2003 at Cardiff University. George is the creator of VivaCards, a great little innovation in viva prep. As well as talking about her PhD and viva, we also had a chat about where these cards came from, how they might be used and what the reaction to them has been like. I bought myself a set last month and think they’re really cool: they’re great for either self-directed preparation or for helping others to ask you helpful questions.

If you’ve got any comments or questions about this or any episode, please get in touch! You can leave comments on all of the episode posts, drop me an email or tweet. I’m always looking for more people who would like to share their experiences – it would be great to hear from you.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 25: Dr Nathan Ryder

No, that’s not a mistake in the title! For this episode I asked my good friend Dr David McGrogan (who you might remember from Episode 16) to interview me about my PhD and viva. I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about my doctoral experiences over the previous twenty-four episodes, but thought it might be interesting to talk about the viva as a whole. In the autumn it will be ten years since I started my PhD at the University of Liverpool, and so it seemed like a good sort of time to look back and reflect. I hope you find it interesting!

Just in case you don’t know, when I’m not doing the podcast I work freelance as a skills trainer in Higher Education, working primarily with postgraduate researchers all over the UK (and soon, the world!). In the last few years I’ve met close to a thousand PGRs on a workshop that I deliver called Viva Survivor, which was the inspiration for this podcast. In turn, that workshop inspired me to write Fail Your Viva, a book about viva preparation (despite the title!).

So that’s what I do in a nutshell! If you have any questions or comments about this or any other episode then please get in touch: comment on a post, email me or tweet away!

Thanks for listening,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Survey Update 5: 384 is the Magic Number

As a pure maths PhD graduate you might expect me to be in love with numbers a bit. To think that they are quite special in fact. And I do! I’m just amazed by how amazing they are. For example, it’s possible to calculate how large a sample you need to take from a population in order to get results that reasonably represent that population!

And that’s exactly what I’ve done for tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. 384 is the magic number: 384 responses from PhD graduates of UK institutions will help to make sure that the pool of data I’m drawing from is as valuable as possible. 384 responses means that I can be 95% confident in the conclusions I’m drawing, and also give me a reasonable interval around the numbers that come out.

384 responses by 30th April… Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate so far by the responding and sharing that people have been doing on Twitter and in other places. At the time of writing (11am on April 23rd) there are 245 responses to the survey, and however many I get I know that the results are going to be really valuable to the people I share them with… But if I can, I would love to hit those “significant” numbers!

Seven days, 139 responses. Can you help? If you’ve not taken the survey yet, there are seven quick questions – it will take two minutes of your time and it’s here: tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. Thank you! If you’ve completed the survey, and can share it any way shape or form, even to just one other person, please consider doing so.

I can’t wait to start analysing the data from this research, and to see what the responses say, and what picture they paint of the viva from the perspective of PhD candidates/graduates. And when it is complete, it will be the start, not the end of research in this area for me. Best to finish one project first though!

If you have any questions about this research (tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey) please get in touch, it would be great to hear from you.

Thank you for your time,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – there is a new podcast today!