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Viva la viva! Prepping for that crucial hour or two

So it’s time to think about the viva. You know you have to do it, people tell you how you can prepare, what you can say, and that maybe you’ll enjoy it? But what is it like going through this strange transition from thesis hand in to ‘terrifying’ verbal defence?

Well in my experience, a bit of a no man’s land of anxiety, lethargy and excitement- an odd mix. At the same time as starting a full time new job – not an easy feat.

Thesis ‘hand in’ expectations

Before I started writing my thesis I assumed that the hand in would be the greatest celebration of my life! I would have written something that I had nurtured, developed and felt totally happy and comfortable with. Well, the first two sentiments are right. I had grown with this piece of work, carried it on my shoulders like Atlas and thought about it every day for over two years. However, was I totally happy and comfortable when it came to the handover? The short answer is ‘not entirely’.

It struck me that there were so many angles to consider that I might never totally feel that this piece of work was ‘finished’. However, the (slightly) perfectionist side of me wanted it to feel that way – that I could answer everything thrown at me on my subject with confidence and poise. This is where the beginnings of ‘viva boot camp’ began.

The power of people

Luckily, I have great family and friends who didn’t seem to mind me chewing their ears off in attempts to rehearse and ingrain rationale, theories, methods; the ‘so what’ stuff that I’m told drives the examiners interest. They also showed what has felt like genuine interest in my work. This has spurred me to believe that it is interesting and useful – maybe it can make a difference.

This is what I believe makes a good piece of research – does it mean anything to anyone? Could it change thinking? Could it make a difference? I wasn’t sure but I hoped that it could do at least one of these things.

During the run up to the viva it was useful to talk to others about their research choices, for example, methodology. This inadvertently helped me to deepen my understanding and consider why I chose mine. You’re also helping others think about their own rationale – two birds.

The ultimate thesis mind map

So I’d talked about it, had a go at shaping responses and confidently answering questions; but in the back of my mind, the fragments all seemed too distant from each other. It was like the research neural pathways were all there but had yet to make the well-thumbed storybook in my brain. This is where ‘ultimate mind-mapping’ came in (see the picture that heads up this blog…)

I decided that what might help me would be ‘downloading’ all of the answers to the questions going round and round my head, in a logical order, on paper. Out came the coloured fine-liners and over six hours on a Sunday, the mother of all mind-maps was created. This process helped me to logically order what was going on in my head and now I could ‘visually’ refer to phrases and sentences, from considering where they are on the page, from my memory. The process of this helped and I plan to use this to ‘revise’ ideas and areas which I find more challenging to consider than others.

Putting in place this ground work and working with others was a really important part of the process for my viva preparation. In the end, it went well. I was able to connect the dots and defend my piece of work on the day – although I can’t remember a great deal about it. I hope my experiences of the process can be of some help to others before their viva or a chance to reflect back for those who have already climbed the mountain.

Good luck!


About Kate Billington

Kate has recently finished her educational psychology doctoral training where she used a narrative approach in her thesis to hear the stories of children who are missing education. Kate works as an LA EP.

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2 Comments so far:

  1. Mark Adams says:

    A useful description of process and reflection that I’m sure will help others in a similar situation. All the best with the viva, Kate.

  2. Vicky Bellamy says:

    Thanks Kate, a timely and useful article for those of us with a viva looming in the not too distant future!

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