Viva Survivor [3] The Viva

This post is the third in a blog series about the end of my PhD, and deals with the ACTUAL VIVA. You can read about submission, viva prep, and corrections, here.

All my preparing was complete – the day of the viva was upon me! V-Day had arrived!

The viva is arguably the most important day of your PhD, even though your ‘performance’ in the viva does not technically impact on the result. It occurs to me that I haven’t really described what the viva is. The viva voce, as it is actually called, means “by/with the living voice”, and in the viva you will basically chat about and defend your thesis. You have two examiners, one from inside the department (internal) and an expert in your field from another department (external), who have both read your thesis. They will talk with you at length about your work, they may want to clarify some things with you, and talk about corrections that need to be made for your thesis to be PhD-worthy. There can be four outcomes from a PhD viva – pass with no corrections (very rare), pass with minor/major corrections (most common, giving 3/6 months to make changes required), and resubmit (i.e. currently not close enough to PhD standard, also very rare).

I woke up to a lovely sunny morning on Friday 26th May, 2017. My viva was at 10am, which worked really well for me as I work best in the morning! I got out of bed and showered, and chose what to wear (completely different from my choice the day before). I had a good breakfast and then I caught the bus into campus rather than walking the 2.5 mile commute as I normally do – no early morning sweating for me! I arrived at about 8:30 and settled at my desk to read through my discussion section.

The tension mounted as the time drew closer to 10am. My viva was going to be held in the Internal Examiner’s office in the archaeology department, so I didn’t have to traipse to a building I’d never been to before and worry about getting lost, and the atmosphere in the building was one I was used to. I scoffed a cereal bar, knowing that the viva would likely go on for over 2 hours and I would be missing tea break, and filled up my water bottle. On my way back to the office I bumped into my External Examiner, who I’d never met, and helpfully pointed him towards the restroom! The ice was somewhat broken after that!

I made sure I didn’t leave my office to go to my viva before 9:50 to walk the two floors down. I’m always early for things, and I didn’t want this to be ridiculous! I knocked on the door and was ushered in, my arms were full of my water bottle, my thesis, a notebook and a pen. The atmosphere was professional but friendly. I sat down and the viva began!

Firstly my examiners told me that I had passed with minor corrections! It was really great to be told that at the beginning of the viva so I wasn’t on tenterhooks the whole way through. The first thing the examiners did was ask me to talk about my thesis. They didn’t give me a timeframe so I probably spoke for about 15 minutes, I don’t know, time is an illusion in the viva! I was really glad to have practised describing my thesis as I felt the whole thing roll off my tongue in an order that made sense, and I felt confident.

We then went through my thesis chapter by chapter, picking out a few errors and clarifying a few things. My corrections were mainly a few missed references, needing raw data values for some percentages, and adding axis titles that I had forgotten to put in (but more of that in my corrections post!). Some of the questions they asked me I had actually prepared for (WIN) but they didn’t ask me my nightmare questions, thank goodness! I still was glad I prepared for them.

Finally (after 12 case studies) we reached my discussion chapter. I think they were glad to get to it after so many case studies, and had little to say about it apart from how well it summed up the thesis. We chatted some more about my work and the implications, and suddenly my viva was over – it had been 2 hours!

I went back to my office feeling a little surreal and had the standard hugs-all-round from my PhD colleagues. I rang my family to tell them the good news, and then went for lunch with my supervisors and examiners. It was really lovely to celebrate with everyone!

Once my duties on campus were over I walked into town and went for a celebratory milkshake with Ethan, chief person-who-only-came-in-to-work-to-celebrate-with-you. I rang the place for dinner and changed my booking from Miss Emily Johnson to Dr Emily Johnson because WHY NOT! All my friends and family started arriving from all over the country and we had a wonderful couple of days celebrating my viva weekend – but not before I had a well deserved nap!!





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