Have you ever made it to a point in your life that you never thought you would make it to? On Friday 23rd September 2016 (yesterday actually!), I had my Ph.D. viva and I have to say it was a wonderful experience. I had a chance to discuss my work with an internal and external examiner who were genuinely interested in my work and asked very relevant and thought-provoking questions. It was honestly more like a discussion, and, as one of my supervisors said: “like what a good viva should be like”. I am indebted to my supervisors for their help and guidance in preparing me for the viva.
Looking back, the hardest part of the viva was actually the waiting. I submitted my soft-bound thesis in July 2016; to say I was tired after that is an understatement! I had been travelling the previous month in Australia to demonstrate and talk about some cool interactive, museum technologies designed by the meSch project, a project that I have been a research assistant in since 2013. I also had the opportunity to visit my little sister Alex. Doing all of this was an experience of a lifetime. After Australia, I travelled to Amsterdam for a meSch project meeting and also to help with a MuseumCamp that was held in The Allard Pierson Museum. This was a fun experience and meSch was also heavily represented at this event. However, this nagging thought of “you should be finishing your thesis!” was slowly gnawing at my brain like a small furry monster (I like to think my thesis is cute); I was working on it during any break I could find.
After submitting the soft-bound thesis, I had a two-month wait; this is not uncommon and could be considered very short in some cases. I took a small break in between (about a week and a half) to do other things, like watch Finding Dory in the cinema (no, not with a kid, unless you are counting me) and playing guitar. When I went back to work, I prepared for my viva rigorously. I created a list of anticipated questions and answered them all; I wrote an entire 5 pages listing all of my “nightmare” questions; annotated and marked my thesis in fine detail; and read as much literature as I could, including that I could find written by my external examiner. I was talking to myself in front of the mirror frequently (I’m pretty sure my housemates thought I was on something) and I also had a box that contained some of the anticipated questions for my thesis. Almost like a “ritual”, I kept this box by my bedside and made myself pick out four questions and answer them out loud before sleeping every night (yes, you can probably sense that I was going a bit over the top… only a tiny bit ;)). I also had three mock vivas. I am thankful to my colleagues and supervisors for their help with this part of the preparation.
Though a large part of me felt like I was in limbo. Quite possibly this driven by the unknown, and this drove me to keep preparing even more. I wasn’t sure what to expect at all from the day, and googling “viva nightmares” was not the best idea in the world a few days before the viva!
But back to the day of the viva… it was nothing like the stress I faced on the run up to the viva (well, admittedly the stress I imposed on myself… unintentionally). The chairperson, internal, and external examiners helped me feel at ease straight away. They assured I could take my time with my presentation that I wanted to give at the beginning (which was revised and refined with the help of my supervisors and colleagues) and also asked genuinely interesting questions. None of my nightmare questions were raised by the examiners (thankfully, but I was still prepared, and this reassured me!) and I am glad to say that I enjoyed it the discussion. My viva lasted 2 hours, but it felt way shorter than that.
I decided to post this not to provide advice for preparing for the viva (you can find that anywhere online by googling and for other information, contact your institution) but as a hopeful reassurance. I had great examiners (and also a great chair!) and I hope you will too. As they say, sometimes the waiting is the most difficult bit; in that time, prepare and remain as positive as you can. And don’t google viva nightmares. Be positive :).