[This post was prompted by the appearance of ‘How To Prepare for Your Viva’ posts popping up on Twitter, having friends who are in post-submission-pre-viva-limbo, and a post on this blog (Emily’s ‘Post Viva: 12 months on’). My viva was November 2014.]
I don’t really like to give advice of the ‘you should do this’ variety. That’s why I like the blogs on jobs.ac.uk, because the ‘advice’ is actually more of the ‘this worked for me, so if you think it will work for you too then great!’ variety. But I was on the receiving end of one very good piece of advice regarding preparing for my viva, which I would like to pass on.
So, how did I prepare for my viva?
Long story short, I didn’t!
Long story less short: I didn’t because I didn’t have to. Instead I wrote a book proposal. I knew before I submitted that my most immediate plan was to get the thesis into monograph form. In part, that’s why I stopped doing major work on the thesis itself. In fact, the hardest part of doing my corrections was working over bits I had already decided weren’t going to make the monograph cut.
There’s some general advice about writing book proposals here, but actually the most useful thing I did was decide where I wanted to submit my book and follow the guidance on their website, and looking at other people’s successful proposals. But this post isn’t about writing a book proposal, it’s about why it might be a good thing to consider doing instead of viva preparation.
Once I got into my viva I found that actually I had all the answers just by thinking about the proposal. First of all, I had really seriously considered which parts of my thesis I was going to defend to the death, and which parts I felt more willing to concede ground. I’d spent a fair bit of time crafting the book synopsis, so the infamous ‘what is your research about’ icebreaker was nothing. When one of my examiners asked me what I thought I’d missed, I knew the answer immediately, because I’d really analysed the structure of my thesis when doing the annotated chapter summary that I’d included in my book proposal.
Thinking about the thesis and the book made my viva a really positive and uplifting experience. It focused the discussion on ‘what’s next’, and thinking about the research in a ‘big picture’ kind of way, rather than ‘let’s look at this claim you make on page 132…’. I had a great viva experience, so much so that a small part of me wishes that everything I wrote could go through that kind of intense and focused discussion (though if this were to actually happen, I’m not sure I’d be so keen…). It made me feel positive about moving my research forward, and I went into my viva with thinking that no matter what happened the experience would strengthen my work (and therefore my book).
Writing a book proposal worked for me for a few important reasons: I already knew that I wanted to do the book, because my viva was in November I knew I had some time to devote to doing it, and I was in a situation where I had mentally let the thesis go. If you’re in a similar position it might be worth considering as your own viva non-preparation.
I submitted the proposal and sample chapters in January, about 8 weeks after my viva. I took some time off over Christmas, but I also used that time to incorporate some of my examiners’ suggestions into the proposal and sample chapters. I submitted the book in December, and it’s currently under review. So fingers crossed!