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PhD Discussion Forum

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This Category:   PostgraduateForum.com > Writing up / Vivas


My PhD viva experience!

User: scientistish - 14 January 2016 11:46

I've found this forum extremely helpful when I was getting ready for my viva (which happened 2 months ago), so I thought I need to give back a bit by sharing my own experience.

Before my viva, I pretty much read every thread, article, advice anyone in the world can give. I even watched YouTube videos from Professors and other vivas – and yes, got teary eyed every time someone said “congratulations” at the end of the video – I was getting so emotional nearing my viva date! I had a roller-coaster of a ride with my PhD. Let’s just say it was a much more difficult experience than the average PhD student, so yes, I was worried!

I started revising/studying for my viva about 10 days prior to the date. I re-read all the important papers in my field and re-read my thesis over and over again. Then, I had a moment of panic when I woke up thinking – I don’t know ANYTHING! So I went back to my undergraduate books and actually read a whole textbook about the basics of cell biology!

The day before my viva, I cried the whole day and continued reading and studying through my blurred vision. I didn’t stop it, as I thought I’d better cry it out today instead of in the middle of the viva! That helped a lot, because when I woke up the next day, I felt completely refreshed and whilst getting ready, singing “Everything’s gonna be alright” by Bob Marley. I wore my most professional clothing and my best smile, went to Starbucks for a coffee, and read my thesis one last time before heading off to the viva.

To be continued......

User: scientistish - 14 January 2016 11:53

I got to the room about 15 minutes before we were due to start and waited whilst saying silent prayers to the universe! My supervisor came in and said that it looks good, the examiners don’t have any major issues they want to raise (that helped). The examiners came in, and I don’t know if they were already in a good mood, or my high spirits that day were infectious. Once the viva started, the external examiner said that he thoroughly enjoyed reading the thesis and thought it was excellent (huge sigh of relief). From then on, it was more of a discussion and very enlightening conversation about the topic of my thesis. Yes, I was asked questions that I didn’t know the answer to, but it didn’t feel like they were trying to get me, they just wanted me to think in new ways. So yes, I did come out of the viva smarter and more informed.

At the end of the viva, I was asked to leave the room for a couple minutes, and when I was back I was told congratulations you have passed with no corrections! I honestly didn’t even react, because I was sure there must be a catch. I was expecting worst case scenarios, so this was actually in the best way possible, an anti-climax. My examiners told my supervisor that this was the most enjoyable viva they’ve had.

Next post will be some advice.

User: scientistish - 14 January 2016 11:54

So I thought I might as well compile a list of advice for those writing their thesis and those nearing their vivas:

1- The thesis is more important than the viva. So make sure that the thesis is on point!

2- When writing your thesis, be your own worst critic. Take your time writing it and once you’re satisfied with the structure and writing of the thesis, read it again and again and make it better and better. It should be easy to read and flow like a story. Even if there are parts that don’t seem to fit in the story, figure out a way to incorporate it. There’s always a way. Then, go through the whole thesis a couple of times and check for spelling errors and grammatical errors. Then, give yourself about 10 days to make sure the thesis itself looks presentable and looks very professional. It is in this small details that the examiners will know straight away that you’ve made the effort.

3- Over study for the viva, just as I did. Don’t listen to people who say – it’s not that much of a big deal, don’t worry about it. No, it’s unlikely you’ll fail, but you do want to do well in that viva. You’ve made it this far, you might as well go in over prepared.

4- Prepare to defend your thesis very well. They will sneakily say something just to throw you off, but before you go in, know the points you are willing to defend and those that you’ll agree with the examiners are weak points.

5- Finally, enjoy it! When else will you be given the opportunity to speak with professors in the field about your work and get constructive criticisms about it?

Good luck and hope this was helpful! Trust me, if I could do it, everyone else can!

User: TreeofLife - 14 January 2016 13:20

Thanks for your post, really nice, and congrats on passing your viva!!

I would say that despite doing all the same things that you did and you have suggested, my viva was still terrible. This was due to my external examiner (who, even though I passed with minor corrections, didn't say one positive thing about my work or my thesis, or even congratulations at the end), so another piece of advice is choose your external wisely and don't let your supervisors just pluck someone out of thin air!

User: chickpea - 14 January 2016 18:43

Congratulations and thank you for sharing your viva experiences and tips (both of you!) - very helpful for those of us still on the wrong side of viva day!

User: Pjlu - 15 January 2016 19:52

Congratulations Dr scientistish :) ! Well done for all your work and thanks for the post.

User: Tulip - 16 January 2016 09:17

Congratulations Dr scientistish, always great to hear success stories! :)

User: GrumpyMule - 16 January 2016 11:32

Congratulations and thanks for sharing! :)

User: reza_rezayi - 17 January 2016 22:07

Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I submitted my thesis 2 days ago and most probably will have my viva in the next month. I have been reading tips for viva in the past few days. Some of which added to my stress, but your experience was great, it calmed me down a bit.
Something that worries me is that my internal examiner is a world leader in the topic of my thesis. In parts of my thesis, I presented methods that I guess he won't like. Another issue is that I have absolutely no idea about my external examiner's attitude. My supervisor says that both examiners are good people and there is nothing to be worried and that I should trust him.
Did you have similar issues?

User: scientistish - 18 January 2016 11:45

Thaanks everyone!! And TreeofLife, I couldn't agree more - you really need to have a say on your internal and external examiners, someone that you maybe have met before at a conference or a meeting and you can tell is nice/fair etc!

reza_rezayi: Well done on submitting and good luck with the viva! My external was a professor and expert in exactly my field, whereas my internal wasn't. I actually had more difficult questions from my internal because he would ask quite basic questions that you really haven't thought of, whereas the external's questions are what I expected. If there are parts you think he won't like, then think of ways to defend them (ie I agree this might not have been the best approach, however, given the time restraints I had blah blah blah). If your supervisor says you'll be fine, trust them, they usually say the truth! Good luck!!

User: doctorjohn - 18 January 2016 13:39

Congratulations Scientistish. I'm really pleased for you.

When I submitted I had to wait over ten months for my viva due to a clerical error. This left me in a state of limbo. I wanted to put it away and move on. Moreover, when I finally got the date for my viva, it was in seven day's time. I went into panic mode and feverishly read and reread my thesis, but the thing that helped me most, and the reason I'm writing this, is a series of mock vivas. Two of my supervisors did two separate mock vivas a couple of days before, which really helped me articulate my argument. It's very different reading your thesis to actually having to verbally define your argument. When I finally went in for the viva, it was an enjoyable experience, and that wasn't just because of the pastries on the table. The viva itself was much easier than the mock vivas, but they helped tremendously.

User: scientistish - 22 January 2016 11:48

Thanks doctorjohn and glad to know you had a good experience! I didn't have a mock viva, but I did practice speaking about my thesis out loud, there really is a huge difference between thinking it and articulating it to someone else - so yes good point!!

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