The Viva

I’m excited to announce that I passed my viva with minor corrections on Thursday. Despite several sleepless nights and countless hours of worrying, the event itself was fine. In fact, it was an enjoyable and conversational discussion of my research, during which I benefitted from the keen critique and probing questions of my two examiners.

However, the process wouldn’t have been nearly as smooth had I not received advice from a number of colleagues and friends. Particular thanks must go to my two supervisors, as well as Dr. Natalie LusseyDr. Isabella Streffen, Dr. Ellie Mackin, Heather Carroll, Elisabeth Gernerd, Dr. Sally Holloway, and Vicky Holmes, each of whom shared links and sage words prior to the event. In that spirit, I wanted to write a quick post documenting the blog posts, podcasts, and videos that I used as part of my own preparations, in the hope that others might find them similarly useful.

1. Top 40 Potential Viva Questions

I consulted several such lists whilst preparing for my viva. Whilst not many of these questions actually came up, preparing and practicing the answers I would give to them, provided my viva prep with a focus, encouraged me to think critically about my thesis, and helped to soothe my nerves.

2. PhD Surgery: how do I prepare for a PhD oral examination (viva)?

Vicky Holmes recommended Tara Brabazon’s excellent PhD Surgery video series to me. Prof. Brabazon is deeply invested in postgraduate development, and has written and made a number of informative podcasts, videos, and articles on the topic of the viva. Her podcast, ‘Ten Tips for a PhD oral examination’ is here, and her ‘Practice Questions for a PhD oral examination’ is available here.

3. Viva Survivors Podcast 

The final source I’m going to recommend is the Viva Survivors podcast, which is run by Nathan Ryder, and asks people ‘about their research, their PhD, what they did […] how they prepared for their viva and what happened on the day’. The podcasts record the range of experiences that the viva can encompass, providing essential nuance to a narrative that is often dominated by horror stories. The podcast archive is available here.

Stand out words of advice from various sources were to relax, to breathe, and to write down the questions posed by your examiners before answering, as well as to ask to take a break if you feel it to be necessary. Perhaps the most useful advice I received, however, was not to over-prepare. Despite the temptation to prepare set answers to a set list of questions, it’s important to answer the question you’ve been asked, not what you wish you’d been asked.

With a mind to my post from earlier this month then, you might be wondering how my AcWriMo is going. Whilst I am definitely behind in terms of ‘academic writing’ in the strictest sense, preparing for my viva encouraged reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of my thesis, its key contributions, and its central argument, whilst the viva itself was an exercise that helped to crystallise plans and strategies for turning the thesis into ‘the book’. Whilst AcWriMo stresses the importance of writing, preparing for my viva has emphasised the equivalent importance of prolonged periods of thinking, a strategy I will take forward into the final stages of the month of November and into ‘DecWriMo’.

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