Bracing for the VIVA- Part One
As I am (mere) months away from submitting my thesis, thoughts of the Viva loom large, and I know I am not alone. Three (maybe more) years are leading up to this moment. You are understandably anxious. Friends and family are anxious for you. You’re coming into the final stages of a momentous undertaking. Once you submit, the next step is (cue suspenseful music) the VIVA.
Here are some helpful tips to remember to reign in those nerves, heading into the homestretch:
1. DEEP BREATHS. You’ve made it this far! Remember that you ARE a big deal. Less than 1% of the UK population has a PhD. According to a national (UK) survey, you are much more likely to drop out than to fail at the end, so if you’ve made it this far, that’s amazing! Take some time to be proud of the hard work that has gotten you this far. Treat yourself.
2. CHECK IN. Start with your supervisor. Ask them for feedback. They are familiar with your work and can give you honest and specific advice. They are invested in you and won’t let you submit until you are ready to succeed. And while they play little-to-no role in your Viva, they are best positioned to:
- Establish that you have actually done the work and written the thesis
- Test your ability to defend your thesis
- Establish that you have a satisfactory knowledge of the wider field surrounding your research topic
3. WHILE WRITING/REVISING. Beyond the PGR Code of Practice, review your notes and notice themes. Most often, you can take notes with you into your Viva. Keep a file or folder of notes and references that do not make it into your thesis, but that might come in handy on the day. During these final months, have you focused more on some aspects of your research than others? Have there been any recurring ‘themes’ in your supervision meetings?
4. PRACTICE. While roughly 72-80% will pass their Viva with little drama, the wise PGR prepares! I don’t like the term “Mock Viva” but it’s often used to describe the simulation and practice of the Viva process.. Even if you don’t go the lengths of a full simulation, it’s best to be prepared for Viva questions. Here’s a really good list of typical questions asked in a Viva. Your supervisor can help you think about which questions to prepare for as well.
5. PRACTICE SOME MORE. Conferences are probably the best way to prepare for the viva because they give you the opportunity (read: force you) to articulate your work and expose you to the greater research culture of your discipline. Conferences also give you practice in fielding questions from an academic audience and see how academics pose and respond to questions. You can ask questions of other people and their research and receive professional and constructive feedback.
It’s never too late to find a conference, by the way! Your supervisor can probably point you to ones that are premier in your field, but one of your BEST tools is this stellar research professional database which you can ONLY access as a currently enrolled student. There, you are certain to find a conference/outlet for you!
I will keep posting Viva tips I find helpful but am happy to field questions, too, if there is something you’re especially worried about. Share in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them!