Preparing for my viva: what I did (or what did I do?!)

Dr Nadine Muller, chair of the #phdadvice hashtag on Twitter asked today what people did to prepare for their PhD viva’s. Mine was over a year ago now (May 2011) and in my mind I seem to remember not doing much by way of revision. I know I went on holiday to Cyprus the week before and was buried in deep piles of marking as well as teaching and teaching prep. In my head I had justified that distancing myself from it to some extent would be a useful strategy to take that much needed step back from my PhD, to gain a clearer, less emotionally charged perspective on this thing that was my written thesis.

But actually, looking back at my saved files, I did proactively do some revision of my thesis and still have saved documents that constitute my ‘revision’. Now I reflect on it my supervisor did encourage some form of written summary about what my thesis did, where it did it and why it did it. I have one document entitled ‘Key points in the thesis’ and another entitled ‘thesis summary’.

The first document I had listed questions; what were my methods? Why?, What theory did I use, why?, How does the empirical material build upon existing theory? What are the main conclusions? For each of these questions I pin pointed evidence from my thesis and tried to construct succinct sentences that got these points across clearly and effectively. These were great for viva preparedness.

The second document entitled thesis summary starts with a paragraph that succinctly outlines my overall argument followed by a smaller section about what could be published, where (i.e. what is original about my argument and who would be interested). This is then followed by a short synopsis of each chapter in the thesis. Again this helped me to clarify what I was trying to achieve in each chapter so that if it got questioned on it I had a sense of what I should have done. 

My viva, in most regards, was successful and in hindsight, the balance of working, summarising my thesis and finally ‘relaxing’ on holiday the week before, all contributed to what was actually a fairly enjoyable, and ultimately successful experience. 

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