The Most Helpful Question

Why?

If you don’t know something in the viva, ask yourself “Why?”

If you feel stuck during your prep, “Why?”

If your supervisor makes a suggestion and you’re not sure about it, ask them “Why?”

Or if your external says they’re not convinced by something in your thesis, ask them “Why?”

(politely, of course!)

The single most helpful question to have on the tip of your tongue, for reflections, for preparation, for meetings, for discussions and in the viva is “Why?” It opens things up, prompts, allows for exploration and probes to the heart of everything. It may not always lead to “the answer” but always generates a response.

Keep it in mind for your submission, preparation and the viva.

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?

What’s Your Why?

Almost finished your PhD but getting discouraged? Take a minute or two to reflect on one of these questions:

  • Why did you get originally get interested?
  • Why was this something worth doing?
  • Why had no-one else done this before?
  • Why have you kept going?

Whatever your why, it matters. If the end of your PhD starts to drag, if it becomes a grind to get it done, then return to your why.

And keep going. The end is in sight.