The run up to handing in was rather stressful: a week before I was due to submit I heard a horror story of a viva experience from a good friend and colleague that sent me into a mini-meltdown. I realised I had to ignore it to get on with the task at hand. I did. And I immediately got a cold! (I was warned this might happen!)
Afterwards I had a break for a few weeks and then started reading a few book chapters on the viva, getting tips from the fabulous #phdchat thread on Twitter and asking friends and colleagues who had been through the experience. When people say that you can’t prepare for a viva it really is true. Equally valid is that I don’t think you can prepare for post-viva also. This is how it went for me:
Two months ago I became a ‘viva survivor’ and yet, to be truthful, my viva experience was extremely positive, I’m not sure I’ve the particular badge of ‘survivor’. My viva lasted an hour and a quarter, was largely stimulating discussion and debate around my thesis topic. I then waited 30 nervous minutes outside before being invited back into the room to hear the outcome: passed, correction needed, but congratulations! I was then guided through what they were asking me to re-look at, including a correction to -yes- make my thesis shorter (I had a feeling it was rather long before I went in!) From beginning to end I felt they were there to help me get to the other side of the PhD club.
My supervisor met me straight after and it was great to share this moment with her, an accumulation of 5 years hard work (for her as well as me!) in getting me to the end. We went for a cup of tea and it began to settle in. That afternoon I phoned my nearest and dearest with the news, told my colleagues and went out for a lovely meal that evening with my partner.
I had been warned that it might feel anti-climactic but for me this wasn’t the case. My PhD was hard won: self-funded, incredibly unwell half way through, and my attention divided between multiple part-time employments and tasks. For me, it felt like justification for battling through and getting to the end.
Even now, I still haven’t felt a wane in this feeling of achievement. I’ve started on my corrections after a short break and I really feel that the thesis will be a better document for undergoing this quite arduous and difficult task. But my examiners (I had two externals) feedback was clear and I can see now why they asked the questions they did in the viva and what they were looking to find out from that conversation, in order to structure the corrections.
So whilst I have told you the story of my PhD what this tells you about yours is… sadly not a lot! This is your journey with its own challenges, hiccups and pitfalls as well as support, life-story and personality. What I will say is that it was a comfort for me to hear that other people had made it through that made me feel that I could too. The biggest and best piece of advice came from my supervisor after I handed in: ‘the viva isn’t the end’, she said, ‘it’s a marker along a continuing journey’. I think this was the best take-away I had from the whole experience. But what I will say is this; that the next marker feels more enjoyable and gives me a sense of a journey that is opening up in front of me.