Vivas tend to be in the afternoon. This gives the external time to get to the university. So, I had all morning to get up peacefully, shower and try to be in the right frame of mind. I had lunch at about 10:30 because I didn’t want to have to be thinking about it at lunchtime – I didn’t think I’d be hungry anyway.
I drove in with plenty of time, but not too much to spare. I arrived at the OU an hour early and went for a peaceful stroll by the river. Timed everything right. Nerves were definitely in evidence but not so much that I felt too awful. I found that sipping cold water really helped, but obviously I wanted to be a bit careful not to drink too much as I’d heard tales of vivas that lasted for many hours.
Headed to the room at 2pm to find it empty. Knew it was for me as saw my thesis in a neat pile. Was v. tempted to take a peek at the comments but didn’t. Merely opened the windows as Cedar room gets very hot. They’d pasted a big sheet of paper over the window to give a bit of privacy.
Pottered back to my desk and found some yellow stickies. I wanted to leave a message saying I was at my desk as I didn’t want them to arrive and think I’d forgotten! Was on my way back to stick one on the door when I encountered Patrick heading towards me. Eileen and Patrick were both listed as observers, but Eileen had another meeting. Ann was in France on holiday. So, Patrick and I went back to the room where they said they needed a few more minutes to prepare. I guess we must have gone in about 2:10. Not a pleasant wait really but couldn’t be helped.
The room is really not very well suited to vivas. There is a long oblong table, seating 6. Barbara, the chair, sat at one narrow end with Agnes to her right and Richard (the external) to her left. I was directed to the chair at the opposite narrow end, opposite Barbara and Patrick got to choose whether he sat to my left or right. He picked to sit next to Richard so he was on my right. Both the examiners and Barbara the chair seemed miles away, but I guess it was better than having them ranged against me along the long side of the table.
They said that they wanted to go through the thesis chapter by chapter which seemed reasonable.
The questions started with Agnes, the internal, asking me a fairly straightforward question about informal learning. This should have been easy for me, but I think the nerves got the better of me momentarily and after a few short sentences I dried up entirely. I think my brain seized up. I could hardly remember my own name, let alone the question or the answer. I gave myself a mental shake, as it were, and fumbled through some further incoherent remarks and just hoped they’d put it down to nerves. The main focus of my thesis was informal learning so it really is inconceivable that I’d be unsure about what it was but hey, nerves grab you in different ways.
Richard, the external, then asked me quite a challenging question about the nature of collaborative learning. In one sense, it seemed a bit unkind to wade right in with such a challenging question, especially as his first response to my answer was to say that he didn’t agree with me and we then took it further. However it probably had a fairly good effect in that it shook me out of the brain-stupor that I’d developed as I had to work quite hard to think of arguments to support my points. I don’t think I did all that well to be honest.
After a while we moved on, thank goodness, and focused on fairly small aspects – asking for clarification of my meaning in certain sentences and picking up on small things that were causing confusion. I could see that many, if not all of these points were well founded and I actually agreed with them. As we discussed what I meant, as opposed to what I’d actually written, I took notes on how to make things clearer. Patrick was scribbling furiously next to me so I knew that we’d have some record, but some of the things I wanted to jot down myself.
Note-taking also performed another useful function. It helped me avoid digging myself into trouble, as it were. There were a few subjects where I could see I was in danger of talking myself into quite major changes. Patrick had warned me emphatically about this, describing students who’d suggested major changes to the examiners who had thought them a good idea and asked for them, so I knew that I had to be careful. My natural tendency would be to agree and offer to make improvements, but when I could feel this urge coming over me, I would stop speaking and look down and start making notes. I hadn’t actually said I’d do anything, but I was taking their suggestions on board. It was then up to the examiners as to whether they continued discussing the same issue, or moved on to the next one. Most of the time they moved on.
The question of collaboration did come up again and again. I don’t think my external will ever agree with my view about implicit collaboration, however we eventually came to a kind of consensus that there was a lack of clarity in the literature, indeed, one of the theoretical frameworks I used for the analysis used the terms cooperation and collaboration interchangeably, that clarifying this distinction in my thesis and tightening up on the definitions might help.
There were bits where I needed to move sections from one chapter into another, and we had a long discussion about how I’d done one particular piece of analysis which felt fairly arduous, but by the time we got to the conclusion and Agnes said something along the lines of it doing a good job in drawing things together, I was fairly confident that I had passed. It remained to be seen whether I would end up with minor or major corrections.
We left the room and I remember standing in the hot-desking area thinking that I just wanted a hole to crawl into and wondering what to do when Patrick suggested we pop into the TEL superpod. This is a nice room with books around the walls and nice Apple technology on tables to make you feel comfortable. It has big windows but is a bit more private than the open plan areas.
We talked a bit about how it went and what would result in major changes and what would count as minor. After the viva, Patrick felt that it could still go either way, major or minor corrections
Eileen arrived having finished her meeting. My sense of timing had gone, but by the time I was aware again, I think the viva itself had lasted about 1h45 and we’d been waiting for about 25 minutes. Barbara came and called us back in and said that Eileen could come too if she wanted.
Richard announced the most welcome result that they recommended a pass with minor changes.
Won’t waste time talking about the relief and feelings of elation. It goes without saying. We repaired to the Nexus to celebrate with many other from IET which was great.
When I got forwarded the amendments via Patrick, they were, indeed, quite minor and should take no more than a day to incorporate – one side of A4.
I have yet to hear officially from the research school, but it’s only been 2 weeks since I had the viva and they are notoriously slow in processing PhD things.
To be honest, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had expected. The mock was much more challenging, which is probably a good thing. Only a couple of the questions I’d anticipated actually came up, and one of them was not exactly how I’d expected, nevertheless I think that preparing for the viva was “a good thing”. It got my head back onto the thesis so that I was on top of it and able to remember the right info. Everyone’s viva will be different, so I’m going to try to get others to guest-blog their viva experiences here to act as a resource for future students. For 3 years I was totally uninterested in vivas – not even bothering to go to the viva workshop. For 2 weeks I was INTENSELY interested.
I’m going away next weekend to the seaside and I’m taking a book with me – a fiction book that has absolutely nothing to do with my PhD. I shall paddle and go geocaching and eat and visit old buildings and go on walks in the countryside.
Life begins again.