I had my viva last week; the culmination of nearly 4 years’ worth of experiments and writing to finally gain my PhD. The thought of being grilled, and potentially torn apart, by two experts in my field (of palaeoclimate and carbonate geochemistry) should have been a terrifying prospect; however I felt strangely unconcerned in the run up.
Procrastination in the week before the viva involved mushroom picking, a three day trad climbing and camping trip to the Peak District and a full day at a climbing wall down in Suffolk – leaving just enough time to read through the thesis twice and stick post-it notes on the important pages!
|Taking viva prep. seriously|
This probably wasn't the best way to prepare but it did mean I hadn’t been stressing about what was going to happen all week and so was calm come the morning of the viva. Turning up to the department wearing a suit and tie (rather than my usual shorts) felt a bit weird and resulted in a fair bit of abuse being shouted down corridors – apparently I look like a ‘gorilla in a suit’.
Sitting down in the viva room was when The Fear finally hit, seeing the examiners with their copies of my thesis covered in notes, questions and corrections – the shear number of red ‘major edit’ post-it notes on the external’s copy filled me with dread, ‘Shit, it’s major corrections, I'm going to end up like Andy and never graduate’.
|So much red|
However, I needn't have worried, as many had already told me (although I hadn't believed) the viva was actually quite an enjoyable experience. Having the opportunity to discuss my work and ideas with two people who (at least seemed) actually interested in what I had been doing and what I had to say about my science was quite novel. Most of the corrections were oversights on my part with how I'd presented the data and the thesis should be a lot better for them once completed, with (thankfully) no real issues with the science itself – so no more time in the lab (for the PhD anyway)!
Three and a half hours later and it was all over, PhD passed with minor corrections, champagne in the coffee room and an evening celebrating properly in The Fat Cat.
|Prepared for any outcome|
The viva ‘experience’ was everything that handing in (see The Great Anti-climax) wasn't, bringing closure to the PhD in a proper, final way. It seemed to both validate and celebrate all the hard work that went into the last few years, so that the final version of the thesis should be a document I can really be proud of.
If I could offer any useful advice to anyone faced with their viva it would just be to not worry too much, if you've got to this stage, as long as you know what you've written (or what you meant to write) it'll probably be fine - or they've already failed you whatever you say in there - so just enjoy it!