Diary of a Viva-Ninja: Day 22
Today I travelled up to the University of Leicester to have a ‘mock-viva’ with my supervisor, Dr Harry Whitehead. This took place in his office and was conducted by Harry himself. Although it was only an hour, it felt like twice as long, and Harry managed to grill me thoroughly – playing both good cop (and mainly) bad cop simultaneously. Having worked with him for the last four years I have got used to his ‘cut the crap’ approach, indeed I welcome it. He doesn’t hold back, but at the same time somehow manages to make me feel positive about the whole thing. His questioning was rigorous and unrelenting – he went for the jugular with a string of ‘nightmare’ questions, in the hope they will prepare me for the ‘worst case scenarios’ of the viva proper. It was intense and I felt pretty wiped out afterwards – as I will on the day, no doubt. But it felt manageable and apparently I acquitted myself well – after a clunky start when I turned a request for a pithy pitch into a flabby answer (!), I warmed up and began to defend myself well. As a rule of thumb the 95/5% rule is a good one – defend your thesis 95% of the time but be willing to accept the odd concession. Wilfully ignoring or refuting these may just result in increasingly vexated examiners. Bear in mind each concession will result in a minor revision, but that’s okay. It would still mean achieving a doctorate, with just an additional couple of months of final tweaking (best case scenario). It’s no different from submitting an article to a peer-reviewed journal and getting thorough, critical feedback; or a manuscript to a publisher and getting back a list of ‘corrections’. It is the inevitably hurdle of quality control you must be willing to leap if you wish to be validated in that way. We concluded the mock by reflecting upon my performance, and clarifying final details for the day itself. Now I know the particular room and the precise identity of those present (including the chair), it all feels far more real. It is now only less than a fortnight away, but I feel like I have done all the necessary preparations, and with these two live practice sessions (Saturday’s ‘mock-mock’ and today’s ‘mock-viva’) I feel ready to defend my thesis. The main thing to bear in mind is that it is a critical dialogue with two experienced people who have taken the time to read your work closely. Their objective response to your work (as detached outsiders) could be seen as the first professional review of your work. It may feel like swimming with sharks – but keep your head above water, hold your nerve, and don’t let them draw blood!