Terrified of viva and supervisor making things worse

15-Aug-19, 09:45
edited about 17 seconds later
by mkwit7
Avatar for mkwit7
posted about 6 months ago
Hi all,

Long time lurker but first time poster. You all kept me going through the second year blues and I'm hoping you might be able to help me in these final stages.

I am absolutely terrified whenever I think of the viva, and my supervisor is making things 10x worse. My supervisor likes to tell me that the external examiner is going to be "very tough" and that "you can't hide from him forever" whatever that means? I absolutely understand this is a process I need to go through, but vague statements like this are of no help whatsoever. He has been like this throughout my whole PhD and I can't wait to be finished.

I am asking any students who have been through their viva to please provide me with some positive viva stories as support! For example, maths isn't my strong point but a lot of my work is based on a few simple equations (Fick's Law, Henderson-Hasselbalch equation). I have learned these and feel I understand them and how they relate to my work, but according to my supervisor this isn't enough, I need to be able to derive them from X Y and Z because this is what my examiners will ask ... my PhD is not in maths but pharmaceutics. I do not feel this is relevant when I should be being asked on the data in my thesis.

Please tell me I'm not going to be asked to derive mathematical equations in depth rather than actually being asked about my data and how I have made an unique contribution in the field! My supervisor makes me feel so stupid and that I could never possibly be worthy of a PhD.

Any positive viva stories are welcomed! Thanks for reading.
15-Aug-19, 17:26
edited about 11 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 6 months ago

Just take an hour or so learn the basic background of where those equations come from. It may or may not come up, but you'd feel better if you had written up couple of a4 sheets with bullet points giving you more info on them. You can even bring those pieces of paper to the viva and refer to them if you need to (but more for reassurance). Your supervisor is probably just being a d*ck at this stage because he wants to be able to show off his student... how you perform in the viva reflects somewhat on the supervisor. So if you really know your stuff, then he looks good (not sure what the connection is personally).

If he is really stressing you out then don't check your emails from now till the viva. Prepare yourself and do your best. It's all you can do at this stage.

It helped me when I told myself that nothing I could do at this stage would probably change the outcome. Either the thesis is worthy of a PhD and I can defend it, or not. I am not sure if that helps everyone. Logically, your thesis IS good enough and you CAN defend it, otherwise your supervisor would not have approved it for submission. So believe in yourself, forget about him.

Looking forward to hearing a positive outcome in a few weeks!
15-Aug-19, 20:00
edited about 6 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 6 months ago
Agree with TQ.
If your PhD work is based on some maths equations then make sure you can justify using them, what common alternatives you are not using and some simple derivations. What approximations are being applied. That sort of thing.
You might well be asked to show full derivations but there is no harm in saying sorry I cant do that.

The viva is there for you to demonstrate you have done enough work to get a PhD and that you personally performed the work.

Your supervisor sounds like a bit of a dick.
16-Aug-19, 08:47
edited about 45 seconds later
by mkwit7
Avatar for mkwit7
posted about 6 months ago
Thank you both for your kind messages. I should clarify that I haven't submitted my thesis yet, but in just over a months time I'm moving abroad to start a post doc and so I was hoping to get it submitted before I leave. I'm also trying to organise my wedding, so it's a stressful time!

I also wanted to clarify that I know the equations and understand them, and have made separate notes on them for my peace of mind. I may bring them into the viva with me, I didn't realise I could do that so thank you for that suggestion. I'm just not comfortable deriving them, and don't see how this is relevant to my work when I understand what the equations mean and can apply them to my work. My question was really if that is the sort of thing an examiner might ask you because frankly I don't trust my supervisor.

I will agree with you both that my supervisor is terrible, and has been for the entirety of my PhD. He enjoys gossiping about other members of staff more than discussing my work. We never have been a good "fit" for each other - I need stability and reassurance (which is my own problem for being so anxious) and he will not provide that. I won't deny that it's made me an independent researcher having such little support, and especially being the only one in my university working in this area, but at a great cost to my mental health.

Thanks again for your responses!


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