I’m preparing for my Viva this week. For those of you who may not know, the Viva is the culmination of the PhD. Most people think it is the Thesis, but in terms of the stuff that will stop a PhD candidate in their tracks, frozen and blank, it is the Viva that strikes fear. But it shouldn’t.
Now, ask me again in a couple of weeks, when I’ve actually done the thing, but with the right preparation, the Viva should and can be a rigorous but invigorating exploration of the Thesis, your ideas, and your brilliance. After all, in this brief moment in time, in this tiny specialism you have carved out for yourself, you are the country’s, if not the world’s leading expert in your thing. You have helped to choose your viva panel and you have written the thesis, read the thesis, re-read the thesis and done some additional prep by this point.
The reality is that many Viva candidates have waited far more than the much-talked about 3 months since hand in to have their Viva, mainly due to COVID this year. (Viva Voce – a verbal, rather than written examination, lasting anywhere between 40 minutes and several hours in which examiners attempt to dissect your work for strengths, weaknesses and simply to test it is as well thought out as it seems or not). This means that focus on preparation is hard. For me, this has had to be fitted in around dealing with the pandemic, running the business, working one part time job, one casual job and all the usual detritus of grown up life in a house with grown up children. Whether it is cleaning the chickens out, cooking the dinner or realising that I haven’t bought any parsnips, there is normally something far less interesting, but much more demanding of my attention going on. So preparation is not as easy as you might think. For me it includes thinking about what to wear, even though it will be on Zoom. This is not for the examiner’s benefit but for mine as it helps me get my head in the game.
Now, if you have ever written a large document, by any standard, put it to one side for a while, and then come back to it for a re-fresh, there will almost always be a moment when you wonder what illicit substances you were imbibing while you were writing, as it all becomes very surreal. For me this moment came about 5 weeks ago. This is an important moment for checking in with your support network – other people who have been there before you, and those who are in the same place. It is important to work out that this is natural, we all feel like it, and you almost certainly have not made a huge error.
It is also important to realise that very few of us get a straight pass, certainly in the UK. It is a rite of passage to get a pass subject to minor corrections, or even majors. Very few people get a straight fail either. What makes you so different? We have a short break planned immediately after my viva (pandemic dependent) and I fully intend to take my laptop and use that time to make my corrections. Blast through them, resubmit and get to the silly robe bit.
Finally, remember to blow your own trumpet (not my strong suit). Those of us who get this far are special, your twitter feed may be filled with Dr this and So-and-so PhD, but in the real world, there are not many of us to the pound. Make sure you publicly celebrate every milestone, every publication, every blog and every move forward – and do me a favour, remind me to do the same!