Best of Viva Survivors 2021: Short Posts

There’s only a little of 2021 left, so today’s best of is nice and short: in fact these posts are among the shortest I’ve written and published on Viva Survivors!

Tomorrow we have the final Viva Survivors post of the year and on one of my favourite topics. If you haven’t already, perhaps subscribe to get it – and a daily email of viva help – in your inbox.

Unanticipated, Not Unmanageable

Every viva is “unique, not unknown” – always different, but following patterns from regulations, expectations and even traditions within departments or universities.

We can also say with confidence that a viva could be “unanticipated, not unmanageable” in how it occurs. A viva could deviate from expectations in a way that no-one could expect from the outset: a question could be unpredicted, a comment could seem random, a line of discussion could even be uncomfortable.

All of which would be unanticipated – but not unmanageable. Given the time a candidate would spend working on their PhD, investing in their development and getting ready, the viva could be surprising, more than the expected challenge, but still within the capabilities of the candidate.

Unique, not unknown. Unanticipated, not unmanageable.

Which is the short way of saying that you can have reasonable expectations, and rise to the challenge of anything you can’t foresee.

Even shorter: you can do it.

Bringing It All Together

Viva preparation is not the hardest part of the PhD journey by a long way, but it requires a little thought for it not to be overwhelming.

What do you need to do? Where do you see the gaps for yourself? If you have trouble remembering things, then re-read them and make useful notes. Consider what you could add in annotations to help your thesis more useful. Think about when to rehearse with a mock viva or a good chat with friends. Make a list of what you really need to do, rather than work in an ad hoc way.

When do you start? Consider your responsibilities, consider when you could fit in thirty minutes to an hour a day. It’s better to view prep as a daily practice in most cases, a gentle lead up to feeling you are prepared, rather than a last minute cram to get “everything” done.

It could feel like there’s lots to do to be prepared for the viva. In comparison to the time and effort of the rest of your PhD there’s really very little. If you have a busy life already then it’s worth planning in advance how you will make space for it.

But remember: you can do it.

Final Touches

A lot of universities (at least in the UK) will be closing for the holidays today. As a postgraduate researcher, a university being officially closed won’t mean that the work has to stop for you. There’s always more thinking, more reading, more catching up-

-but there’s also a need for rest. A need for a break. A need to put work and research to one side and gather yourself up for what will most probably be a challenging 2021.

If you’re submitting in the first few months of next year, or have your viva some time in that period – or if you’re still somewhere in the middle of your PhD – take a little time today or tomorrow just to leave yourself in a good place for when you come back to things in the new year. Leave a few notes for what you need to do next. What’s your priority when you start back? The first thing you have to do? Who’s the first person you’ll need to get in touch with or reach out to?

And leave yourself a message. Thank yourself. Boost yourself. Remind yourself.

You’ve got this far; you can do it.