At a recent celebration of two friend's viva success, the conversation inevitably turned to things we wish we had done differently in the lead up the viva itself. We often think of these in terms of short-term preparations, completed post-submission. See my previous blog post on Preparing for the Viva.
However, should you be preparing further in advance than that?
The viva is a daunting challenge specifically because you and your thesis are being scrutinised by the best minds in your field. You have to be able to calmly answer their questions, proof your worth, and defend your thesis. Yet, academic possessiveness may well be inhibiting PhD students from gaining enough exposure of presenting research to and responding to feedback from senior academics.
Let me explain...
For a long time during my PhD I was terrified that if I presented too much on my topic, especially to those more senior and with more expertise than I, then my research would get scuppered or stolen by someone else. That thinking was ludicrous on my part, and sharing my research later in my degree brought me into contact with a network of academics which has helped with further conferences and publications. I really wish that was something I had done earlier in my PhD in order to fully prepare myself for the intense viva experience. It is also useful as exposing your work to those more senior (as opposed to presenting only at graduate conferences/seminars) can highlight or flag potential issues that may well come out in the viva anyway. Better to know beforehand, I say!!
And guess what, no one else was doing my topic, nobody else stole it! However, I did find people working on similar topics yet distinct from my research, which fostered interesting new perspectives.
So, go forth and share, the benefits shall be great!
- Exposure to senior academics
- Feedback on your material
- Preparation for the level of scrutiny you can expect in the viva
- Developing a network
...and much much more!!