This is the third in a series of posts (you can read the first two here and here) about the viva. In this entry, I’m going to list the bibliography of resources I used, the list of questions I came up with to ask myself as practice questions, a handy checklist of equipment you might need and my final hints and tips, in the hope that it might prove useful!
While my last post focused on viva survival from the perspective of preparation, in this post I deal with my experience of the event itself. As I mentioned in my earlier entry, every viva is unique. So while I anticipate this personal account might not be of much use to others, I think it’s important to share our stories – as Dr Nathan Ryder encourages in his “Viva Survivor” podcast series – about the examination in order to debunk some of the myths that surround the whole experience.
My viva took place at 10am on a Monday morning, which, for me, was ideal. I am a morning person. I work better in the mornings than in the afternoon/evenings. I’m most productive and alert in the morning. And I was also extremely nervous on the day of the examination, so knowing that it would be taking place first thing was definitely a plus for me. In terms of nerves, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous. Prior to the viva I had been fortunate enough to have been interviewed for a few academic jobs, which had stirred similar feelings of anxiety. However, the interview feels like less of an unknown, given that there is a host of material online about how to approach academic interviews, the sorts of questions you might be asked and so on. The viva felt like much more of a mystery to me.
“As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, earlier this year I successfully defended my PhD thesis on the topic of childhood, performance and immigration in post-Franco Spanish cinema. Since then, I’ve been meaning to write a post or two about this, including my experience of the viva, how I prepared for it and a list of handy resources for those yet to face the dreaded examination. My thought had initially been that writing these posts immediately after the viva would be favourable, given that the whole experience would be fresh in my mind. Life, inevitably, got in the way so here I am writing these posts nearly five months after the event. Taking inspiration from both Gloria Gaynor and Dr Nathan Ryder’s superb podcast and workshop series “Viva Survivors”, I’ve titled the posts ‘“I Will Survive” (The Viva)’. In this post, I concentrate on how I prepared for the viva.
To a certain extent, viva preparation is shrouded in mystery. It is something I genuinely did not spend time thinking about prior to the submission of the thesis (other than way back in 2011 when I “helped” a friend prep for her viva – and all I succeeded in doing was freaking myself out that I would never be able to produce a piece of work THAT BIG!). In addition, the viva was not discussed in any capacity within an institutional framework, other than a brief chat with my supervisor about prospective examiners. I do not say this to sound critical, but rather to highlight that the impetus tends to rest with the production of the manuscript of the thesis rather than on what follows.
The other curious aspect of viva preparation is that it, like theses and viva examinations, varies from candidate to candidate. Just as each candidate, thesis, viva examiner and viva examination are distinct, so too is the preparation that each candidate undertakes. This can make approaching viva preparation extremely daunting. Where do I start? What should I do? How should I divide my time? None of these questions have easy answers. I make this point not to intimidate, but rather to encourage those still to sit their viva that they should have the confidence, power and authority to shape their viva preparation as they see fit.
That said, there can be a lot of crossovers amongst approaches to the viva both within and across disciplines and fields. With this in mind, I’m sharing here the ways in which I prepared for the viva.