Dr Alice Violett
Book witterings and PhD archive

The Viva Prep Post

DISCLAIMER: My viva isn’t until tomorrow, so I have no knowledge of whether the preparation described in this post works.

For the past week and a half, I’ve been meticulously going over all my knowledge about my thesis in order to be ready for anything my examiners throw at me.  As this thesis has basically been my life for the past three years, and I’ve adapted the information into umpteen blog posts, articles, and conference talks, I feel like I should know it, really - but I didn’t want to be cocky and/or have a bad viva.  Even now, I’m thinking ‘what if it all falls out of my head as soon as I walk into the room?’  This post is about how I’ve prepared for my viva.

A few months ago, I attended a workshop at my university called ‘Surviving The Viva’, which demystified the process and gave us advice on how to prepare.  I used this as the basis for my preparations, making a to-do list from the information we were given:

A selection of notes from the Surviving the Viva workshop

(I later added ‘plan answers to questions’ to the list).  That bit on the bottom left in the blue cloud is advice on creating a short thesis guide so that I had all the main points to hand:

A short guide to my thesis with coloured spots

I made it spotty in order to make it more interesting to myself.  Instead, I just got really fed up of drawing and colouring circles.  But by writing out my structure, arguments, conclusions, information about my sources, and future research ideas (which will remain unfulfilled), I hopefully reminded myself of them.  I also labelled those important bits in my personal copy of my thesis so I can find them easily if anyone asks about them:

Sticky notes marking out sections of my thesis

My next task was to practice answering the ‘typical’ questions (you can just about see some of them):

A selection of possible viva questions

This was probably my least favourite part of my revision.  There were so many questions, and I could think of lots of answers for some of them (which I suppose boosts my chances of remembering at least one of the answers if I get asked the questions), and it took me ages to answer even just the questions that were actually relevant to the humanities:

Lots of pieces of paper with notes of answers to possible viva questions

With some questions, I just ended up using the same information in different ways:

A card featuring a selection of viva questions that would have similar answers

I got very fed up, and to be honest, I only ended up skimming the questions and what I’d written afterwards.  Hopefully the value was in finding out I had answers to the questions, and writing them down.  I took care to listen to my body and avoid burning out:

A self-care sticky note proclaiming 'today I will take regular breaks'

I treated the questions of ‘what did you find most interesting?’, ‘what are you proud of?’ and ‘what surprised you?’ differently, though.  I found lots of things interesting/pride-inducing/surprising, so I guess I’m not completely jaded yet:

Spider diagrams of things I found interesting and surprising in my thesis

More interesting was the opportunity to refresh myself on my examiners’ work/read it for the first time (the department appointed me a new internal examiner at the last minute and I was unfamiliar with her work).  It was fun to read something new, as well as admire the view from the library one last time.  God, I’m going to miss Essex.  It doesn’t feel like I’ve been there for four years.

The view of Essex University from the Albert Sloman Library

I also reread my notes on some of the more important secondary books I read.  If I’d had the time, I’d have liked to have reread some of the actual books, but as my viva date wasn’t confirmed until quite late on, and I had all those job interviews to prepare for the other week, I had to go for breadth rather than depth.  So in a way, it’s a good thing I didn’t get a job earlier.

So, those are the hard work aspects of preparing for the viva.  I also kept a list of hints and tips within sight to help:

A sheet of viva hints and tips

I think I’ve done all I can, really.  Tonight I’m going to relax and do everything I can do induce sleep, bar taking drugs or getting someone to knock me out.  My viva is at 11am BST - wish me luck!