The dreaded day approached. I’d been adopting the fairly successful “head in the sand” approach for some time. I enjoy writing and found producing the thesis a rewarding activity, but the idea of “defending” it against challenges never did appeal. I’d spend the past 3years 6 months not thinking about it and the run up to the viva was no different.
Fortunately my supervisors had some techniques up their sleeves for getting me involved – the first of which was to hold a mock viva with Doug Clow, who’d been my reader and had given me some very useful new perspectives back in January.
What can I say. The mock was OK but I’d done no preparation and this was evident. All three supervisors were there and we held a very productive 10 minute debrief on what had gone well and less well. This was enough to persuade me that I needed to do some preparation for the event itself.
I went through my bookshelves and pulled out all the books I had accumulated on doing a PhD. They all had a section at the end on the viva that I had ignored until now. It hadn’t seemed relevant. I even had an entire book devoted to doing your viva which I’d kind of regretted buying at the time. Not so now. I poured over these books listing all the typical questions and trying to work out answers. Ann (one of my supervisors) also gave me a list of typical questions.
I then arranged to meet again with Doug, just 1to1 for 15 minutes to go through his questions and my answers in more detail. Then I waylaid Patrick (about 1 week before the viva) and did the same exercise with him.
I was beginning to feel a little more prepared. Patrick was keen that I go through the thesis and put yellow stickies on pages that I might want to refer to in a hurry. There seem to be areas, probably in any thesis, where an examiner might have a different idea and where you might need to be able to quickly turn to where you’ve explained your approach, or where you have evidence that might be useful to counteract a particular challenge.
Each thesis will be different. I’d read my thesis through by this time and went back over it again with the yellow stickies. Well, in fact I used colour coded stickies in the hope that this would help me find categories of information quickly.
The day before the viva I was feeling fairly nervous. I just went over and over the thesis and the sample questions – a bit like before an exam, rehearsing my answers. However unlike an exam, I wouldn’t be able to sit and quietly write them down, I’d have to articulate them.
This was a bit of a worry.