Ivy’s viva experience



25th March 2021. All of my hard work from the last four years depended on this day. I couldn’t remember the last time something so significant happened in my career. I was anxious as in my head, the viva looked something like this: https://youtu.be/Lrlro3YJ15o

I submitted my thesis exactly a month before the viva on 25th February 2021. Therefore, I had about a four-week gap from my submission to my viva. I decided to relax for the first two weeks and start preparing after that. I asked for advice from colleagues who had already been through the experience. My colleagues helped me understand what happens in a viva, the fact that it is not a ‘warzone’ 🙂 and gave me tips regarding how I could prepare. The first tip was to prepare answers for some general questions. I had previously attended a viva preparation session at our University. In the session, we were given a list of general viva questions. I found some basic viva questions here as well: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/ResearchEssentials/?p=156

I browsed the web and looked for more. Most questions revolved around what I did, why I did it, how I did it, did I consider alternatives. I also watched a few mock vivas on YouTube. I found a number of useful workshops and a recording of a viva here: https://www.arcom.ac.uk/-docs/workshops/2014-02-11_Interactive-Doctoral-Workshop-Handout.pdf

The second important tip was to read through my thesis thoroughly, so I know it inside and out. Reading my thesis helped me most during the viva. I spotted some proofreading issues during the re-read, which sent me into panic mode. But I was assured by my colleagues this was normal. Another tip from my colleagues which I found helpful was to skim through the papers that had been key influences for my research.

I think it is crucial to practice responding to questions. I did a mock viva with my supervisors, which helped a lot in terms of practising articulation. I was also fortunate enough to do a viva preparation session with my Lantern colleagues. In this session, I was able to present my ideas and respond to questions minus the pressure. And most valuable of all, I received a lot of inspirational messages. These made me feel supported.  As the day came nearer, I felt more anxious and nervous, but a bit excited too.

(Image credit: PhD comics (http://phdcomics.com)

My viva was at 2:00 pm. I couldn’t concentrate in the morning, so I decided to relax. I had a nice breakfast with a cup of coffee and set up my viva area with pens, paper, water and my laptop. I checked my zoom connection and if the charger was working (and also thought about a nice escape plan). I said my prayers, which acted as meditation. I am an expert at panicking, so it is not a surprise that I was very anxious. I asked to talk to my supervisors just before the viva. We had a quick 10-minute chat, which calmed me down, and we entered the zoom room.

It began. The examiners started with an easing in question- what motivated you to do this research. This was my story, the story I lived the last four years. As I started to tell my story, I forgot this was the viva. The examiners moved from chapter to chapter, and it was more like a discussion of why I did what I did. Sometimes I was asked to explain certain sections in more detail. And after one and a half hours, it was time for talking about the contribution and what papers can come out of the PhD. When this conversation started, I was continuously thinking in my head, so that’s it? Is it over? The viva ended, and I left the main zoom room with my supervisors. We waited in another zoom area while my examiners were contemplating their decision. I am grateful I had my supervisors during the waiting period, or else I don’t know how I would have handled the anxiety.

And then came the big moment-we were asked to enter the main zoom room again to hear my result. I wasn’t thinking straight and couldn’t even make sense of what my examiner said. I heard my examiner say Aii- and at that moment, I forgot what Aii meant- Was it a fail? Was it major corrections? But then, I heard my examination chair and supervisors say congratulations, Dr Ivy- so I did pass after all!!!! It was a bit of a blur from then onwards- I shared the news with my friends and family and fell asleep as I was exhausted. I am glad the viva is over. My only regret is not taking a picture or a screenshot of such a significant event in my life. I don’t know if I will be able to put on my wizard robe due to the pandemic, but definitely looking forward to any form of a graduation ceremony 😊

(Image credit: PhD comics (http://phdcomics.com)