So you’ve come to the end of your PhD studies and have submitted your thesis.
Now it is time to prepare for your PhD viva.
You might feel like everything you’ve worked for is riding on it, and in some ways, it is. But as long as you’re prepared, you should have no problem on the day.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to prepare for your PhD viva, as well as some PhD viva tips for how to handle it on the day of.
Read on for more information.
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Framing the Way You Think About Your PhD Viva
There aren’t many people with PhDs. While the number is certainly growing, you’ll be entering into an elite group.
You may think that your PhD viva is an exam where internal and external experts in your field will be waiting to trip you up and look for ways to sabotage you. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Everyone there is rooting for you to succeed. They want to add another expert to their ranks, especially one who has something important and interesting to add to that field’s conversation.
Very rarely will you have someone on your panel who is trying to make you deliberately fail.
Think of it as a chance to talk about your work with fellow experts in your field. Often, they’re excited for the conversation they’ll be having with you about your work.
You can also think of it as an opportunity to show off what you’ve done to people who are where you might aspire to be.
Preparing for a Viva
After you’ve written and submitted your thesis, it’s a good idea to take a break from it for a while. Focus on a hobby, read a few books not related to your thesis, or start a new project.
This clears your mind and allows you to look at your thesis with fresh eyes when you prepare for your viva.
Re-read your thesis before you go to your viva. It may sound silly, but you’ve been working on it for several years. Some of the arguments you’ve made may now seem a bit fuzzy to you, as you’ve been working on the minutiae of the chapters.
You need to make sure you remember the overarching theme of your thesis, as well as the arguments you’ve made in each chapter. Most examiners will allow you to bring in notes, and there will be a copy of your thesis for your referral. Don’t be afraid to make notes for yourself.
Overall: familiarise yourself with the major themes in both the thesis as a whole but also in individual chapters.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Practise summing up the main points of your thesis. You’ll be asked about your major argument, as well as some of the minor arguments you’ve made within the thesis.
By now, you’ve likely already presented your thesis (or parts of it) at conferences, or discussed it at length with your advisor. If you’re worried about how well you’ll be able to do this, remember that you have done this previously.
You may even want to hold a practice viva where some of your friends or family members ask you about your research. You should be able to explain it in a way that is understandable to them, on some level. Obviously, they’re not experts in your field, but they should be able to have some grasp of what your thesis is about after explaining it to them.
Your PhD Thesis.
On one page.
Anticipate the Questions
Speak to your advisor before you have your viva. Discuss with him or her some of the questions that may be asked beforehand. Or, you can ask your department, who may have a guide for PhD or MA students defending their theses. Or, you can look at the one created by the University of Leicester.
If you can anticipate the questions beforehand, you won’t feel as nervous when they’re asked. While they may ask you a few questions you won’t anticipate to ensure you’ve written the thesis yourself, you will still likely be able to rehearse the answers to the majority of their questions.
On the Day of the Viva
On the day of the viva, arrive early with plenty of time to spare. You may consider spending the night nearby if you live far away. Make sure you know where to go, and are properly fed and hydrated. You may wish to bring water with you to the viva itself. Re-read your notes and try to focus on relaxing. Don’t overthink it.
Manage Your Expectations
Don’t expect to pass with zero corrections. This does happen but is usually very rare. You may hear of your colleagues doing this, and feel disappointed if you don’t.
Most people pass with minor or major corrections. Some people will be required to resubmit following very major revisions. This may seem like a huge blow, but remember that most people go on to resubmit their thesis successfully.
Very rarely do people not pass, or are awarded a lower degree because their thesis was not “good enough.” Your advisor has likely done a great job of helping shape your PhD, and you should expect that you will pass if you’re prepared, but likely with some form of corrections.
How to Prepare for Your PhD Viva
We hope this article answered your question of how to prepare for a PhD viva. Preparing for a viva can be nervewracking, as it may feel as though the culmination of the past few years are all riding on this one moment. Remember, everyone is rooting for you to pass, even your examiners.
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