Viva Survivor [2] Viva Prep

This post is the second in a blog series about the end of my PhD, in which I prepare for my viva. You can read about submission, the actual viva, and corrections, here.

The thesis is submitted! Months of intense work on one thing, suddenly gone. Wait… what do I do now? I had two months before the viva. What did I used to do before the thesis?! WHO AM I???

I needed a holiday – and so I went!  An all-inclusive holiday to Tenerife with my sister, and my thesis was NOT INVITED. This may not seem like proper viva preparation but it was probably the most important part for me! It took me away from my thesis and let me truly switch off. And I got a great tan!

Early morning exploratory running with Freya – we’ve never been the sort to have huge lie-ins on holiday!

My actual preparation had really started back in December, way before my submission, when I attended the Doctoral College’s Preparing for your Viva researcher development session. This was a really helpful session that told me what the viva was actually about, got me thinking about preparation, and gave me material to come back to closer to the viva, about two weeks beforehand.

My viva prep was not without drama (which seems to be a common theme). A few weeks after submission my Internal Examiner let my supervisor know that she had a forty-page section of my thesis that repeated – i.e. she had the same bit twice. This was embarrassing enough – I had been the one to compile my thesis copies, including switching grayscale sections in and out with colour-printed sections. However, what was more concerning was the possibility that my External Examiner was missing those forty pages. I had no idea which pages were repeated or missing, and I was rather stressed out about this! It turned out that no pages were missing in the end, thank goodness! It didn’t protect me from some merciless teasing from my supervisor though who enjoyed me having a margin of error on thesis length – “so your thesis is 565 pages plus or minus 40???”.

One of these theses is not like the others…

That mild crisis over, the preparation could begin in earnest! The tasks listed below helped me feel the most in control and confident that I could feel, and I woke up on the day of my viva feeling ready.

Research. I read all the pdfs that had been in my “To Read” folder, making sure that I was both caught up on the scholarship surrounding my thesis and that I had a good understanding of the research background of both examiners.

Reread. More reading followed in the form of rereading my thesis with a red pen. I found a couple (more) printing errors and some typos that I knew I would want to change, and would be aware of if it came up in my viva.

Rereading your thesis is better with friends

Question/ Answer. My Q/A prep took the form of preparing answers to generic viva questions, specific thesis questions, and my Nightmare Questions that I really didn’t want to be asked. Once I’d planned how to tackle these questions they didn’t seem so bad! It was really important to SAY answers to questions, not just prepare and read them. Actually speaking as you would in the viva helped me cement my ideas.

Sticky notes. I put post-it notes at the start of each chapter in my thesis, and a different colour post-it note on my key figures. That made it easy to turn to key places in my thesis during the viva. I also colour-printed my best figures, as my own thesis copy was in black and white, so I could refer to them quickly.

The Viva Essentials – thesis (with sticky notes), most important graphs, notepad and pen.

N-minute Thesis. I practised describing my thesis in different amounts of time – in one sentence, in five minutes, and then in fifteen. I then said them forcibly to my long-suffering non-archaeologist housemate. The first thing they asked me in my viva was to describe what I did, and so it was great to have all my thoughts in order. Again, it was really important to physically SPEAK these responses, not just practice reading them in my head!

Saying things aloud can sound pretty silly, but this is my honest-to-God TOP TIP.

Wardrobe. I also planned what I would wear (and promptly wore something else the following morning, but at least I knew the kind of thing!!).

Celebrations. In a fit of optimism/ pessimism I knew I would want to see my friends and drink at least some alcohol regardless of how the viva went, so I invited my sister and archeopals Matt and Robyn to come and stay with me  (the joy of a Friday viva) and booked a table for dinner with all my friends under the name of Miss Emily Johnson. I didn’t want to jinx it!

The day of my viva dawned bright and sunny, and I felt as confident and prepared as I could be. Find out how my viva went (spoiler, I’m Dr Emily now) in the next post!


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