I'm a long-time lurker but have felt great solidarity with you all and found it a comforting resource. I passed my (political science) viva with minor corrections this week - that feels crazy to write - and I'd like to share my story to help others.
I submitted nearly 6 months ago so it was a really long wait. I think that contributed to the huge build up of pressure that basically burst on the day of my viva. For the first few months post-submission I was in holiday mode - I trekked in Nepal and started to relax. But at the back of my mind was always dread about the viva. I am quite shy and much better at the writing than speaking so the viva was a terrible dark spot on the calendar.
Though others told me to just read the thesis over, I started preparing over a month before. I read it cover to cover & made notes on any possible query that came to mind page by page. It was astonishing how much clarity I had after months away from it. There was lots I wished I'd written better but we are our own worst critics so it was a useful exercise because I was picking up every little thing that might be critiqued.
This critical note-taking turned into 98 questions in my notebook that I then grouped together into themes (like methodology) and worked on how to tackle these permutations out loud. I met my supervisor, who shot a few questions at me which I answered well. I started feeling better- well prepared and even quite calm as the final week approached.
But 3 days before the viva, the nerves really started to ratchet up and I began to get very tearful especially when my boyfriend tried to give me practice sessions. I felt overwhelmed by all the things I might not know that they might ask, all the books I hadn't read, all the weak sections they could pick at.
...Continued on next post!
On the day before, my heart had started endlessly racing and to calm down I went on a long walk. That helped, but the moment I returned I started feeling panicky and tearful again. Any time my boyfriend said something sweet intended to comfort me, like 'I'm proud of you' I burst into tears. When anything was mentioned about the day, like what train I'd get or what I'd wear, I started crying. Relatives would call up to wish me luck and I choked back tears. You get the idea.
I didn't sleep a wink the night before, but tried not to let that put me in a negative mindset. I made a lemon, ginger and hot water drink to settle my stomach and managed to eat a big breakfast. But as I got ready, I couldn't believe that I was still really tearful - I didn't have control over my emotions and was brushing my hair one minute and then suddenly reaching for the tissues again the next.
I had assumed that my emotional state of the previous days were nerves of anticipation and that on the day I'd be so focused on the task that I would have got myself together. Instead, I had tears in my eyes throughout my train journey. I was baffled by this state, I am not usually like this and was starting to worry about physically being able to do a viva.
When the chair came to collect me , I was STILL fighting back tears. I was mortified. The voice in my head was saying, 'SORT YOURSELF OUT!!' but I literally couldn't, which made me even more panicked at my lack of control. The chair advised that I took a few minutes to collect myself, but I didn't see how that was going to happen since I'd been trying for hours. He gently reminded me that we'd be under exam conditions and I'd need to give clear answers (ie, you cannot cry your way through a viva).
...one final post..
We went in and my examiners warmly greeted me but I had a lump in my throat. I was absolutely mortified. Questioning began and my voice was so wobbly I had to re-start three times. I was bewildered and embarrassed. So many had said 'you'll enjoy it!' Instead I was barely able to muster a sentence and felt terrible.
Things got better until half an hour in, one mentioned my associate who died. I lost it and the chair immediately called time out, and took me outside. I stood thinking 'you've left crying in the middle of your viva.'
But after that, things went much better - it was a blur, and I finally relaxed into a flow. I was asked to leave and 10 minutes later I was shaking hands and being called a doctor. I started crying again (of course) and was barely able to squeak out a thank you.
The Chair later told me that examiners prefer to see someone so moved than someone indifferent, and that he vomited his pre-viva breakfast 20 years ago! He also shared that he, too, is shy, and that it makes it all the greater an achievement.
- prepare themes of questions to account for different ways of asking the same thing
- don't panic if they are prodding at one thing over and over. That is standard. I was asked the same q 4 different ways, but I'd been forewarned that this tests your perseverance.
- prepare for the q 'do you have a final statement in defence?' I was not prepared and said no!
- IF I CAN PASS WHILE A BLUBBERING MESS, YOU CAN TOO! The examiners have seen it all, and at the end, it doesn't matter how you get through it, if you enjoy it or not, or how flustered and inarticulate you think you look/sound. Only that if you're brave enough to walk into that room, you will make it out the other side.
- One day, it will be you saying - "this week, I passed my viva....."
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