Facing Doubts

The end of the PhD can be an anxious time. If you’re worried, or unsure, or feel like an impostor, then you’re the person who needs to take action.

You don’t have to face everything alone, but you do have to face it. Don’t forget that there are people around you that you can ask for help. If you don’t need help then figure out what you’re going to do, and get it done.

Doubting if you’re ready isn’t enough. Thinking about why you have doubts isn’t enough. You have to work your way out of the situation.

Don’t Panic!!!

Don’t panic during your prep or in the viva.

Don’t do it. De-list it as an option. It’s not on the table.

Find something that looks like a mistake in your thesis? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

Examiner asks an odd question? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

Examiner makes a critical comment? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

If you weren’t allowed to panic, what would you do instead?

Dreaded Questions

What do you not want to talk about in the viva? What topics or questions do you dread?

Hoping they won’t come up won’t help. You have to engage with them somehow in your prep, otherwise you’re walking towards the viva with a big worry strapped to your back.

Consider the opposite: what do you want to talk about in the viva? What are you hoping your examiners will ask?

Reflect a little on the topics you want to talk about. What makes them that way? Work to make the topics you dread more like that. How can you improve your understanding of something? Can you get a friend or your supervisor to ask you questions? Can you write something that will help you unpick an idea?

It’s not enough to know what you hope won’t come up in the viva. You have to then figure out what you’re going to do as a result.

A Lack of Confidence

I often write about looking for ways to boost or find confidence. I’m not sure I’ve wondered too much about why someone might have a lack of confidence on the blog, except for mentioning surface level things like “what if my mind goes blank?”

For a long time before, during and after my PhD I would be hyper-nervous on any occasion I would have to speak in public. Eventually that went away, through a lot of practice. But at the root was a worry that people would judge me somehow, not like me or what I had to say.

Where did that come from?

In my dim and distant memory I remember being in a play as a teenager, to an audience of mostly teenagers, and no-one liking it. A really different kind of situation to the situations in my PhD and afterwards. Somehow different anxieties had tied together over the years.

It’s freeing to remember it now. I’m older, more rational, and can look on it differently: I can think about what it means, what I can do about it. I still get nervous, like anyone does, but thinking about where those worries came from has helped me to do something about them.

If you feel nervous or anxious about any aspect of the viva, then don’t look first for things to boost your confidence. Search instead for what might be at the root. What is causing you to doubt? What is holding you back? What does it mean?

What are you going to do?

Negatives

Anxiety and negativity crop up around the viva. There are lots of unhelpful associations. If you have negative thoughts then it’s important to take a step back:

  • Make a list, get it all out in the open, what are you really thinking about here?
  • Next, for each thing on the list, is there something you can actually do? (for example, you can ask friends to help you unpick possible objections to your work, but you can’t find everything you’ve never thought about before!)
  • Finally, make a list of concrete steps to take to reduce the impact of things you can do something about.

There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t alter. And there’s no sense in only worrying about things that you can work on.

Be clear about which is which, and then you’ll see what you can do.