Our guest writer, Emily Brookes, finally had her viva! Do feel free to check out our website for details of our clinical supervision register and our research support services!
The night before my viva I got drunk from one glass of wine. I don’t know if nerves have the same impact on alcohol as not eating dinner, but I was a mess. The phrase “this is the most important day of your life” kept throwing itself into my brain. I used all my techniques…
Upon noticing the ‘hot thought’ I challenged it. “Think about the wider picture, your doctorate isn’t your entire life. Think about the whole life you are going to lead”. I realised I was ‘struggling’ with the thought, feeding it by fighting back. DEFUSION, my brain screamed! “Ah hello thought! Popping up again are you? Thanks mind!” This was to no avail. Fantasies of having to tell my co-workers that I cried in the exam and then failed swam around. MINDFULNESS, I shouted to myself. “Feel the breath in your nostrils, notice the sensations, focus on how the air is warmer as is comes out than when it goes in”. I was a human jelly blancmange.
It seems that my saving grace was my situation. Living in a different city to my university I was staying overnight with a friend whose flat was closer. She is a very good friend, one of those sensible ones who deals well with a crisis.
“What do you need tonight love?” She asked.
“Do you need to sit quietly with your books or do you need some distraction?”
Half an hour later we were in the pub, me sozzled after a sniff of the cork. It was the very best thing I could have done. I spent the night catching up with a bestie, having a right laugh and then sleeping like a baby.
The day of the viva dawned. I arrived to the university early. Obviously, I felt sick. Wierdly I also felt kind of special in a new hat. It seemed like there were two of me; one Emily holding the other up and guiding her to the room. Seriously though, the nerves were the worst part.
The viva was fine! I think it helped that my examiners and my chairperson were so lovely. I was able to be myself, humble and honest. The ‘me’ discussing my research with my examiners was the same ‘me’ who chatted about it with her friends on a girly night. I found that there really was nothing to be worried about. Throughout the entire process I had been a conscientious researcher, always making what I believed to be the best decision at the time. This stood me in good stead. All I had to do was honestly answer the examiners questions.
I didn’t go blank once, and I’m one of those people who do that.
There was one point where the examiners ‘turned up the heat’. Things got a little complicated and they started using a word that I realised I didn’t fully understand the meaning of. (FYI the word was ‘ideographic’, used in the context of ‘the ideographic approach’). Honestly, I just smiled and nodded! As I listened to them speak I was able to grasp what they meant by this word, and was then able to respond in an appropriate manner.
What surprised me was that I enjoyed myself. I’d heard people say “oh, mine was a really enjoyable experience” and thought “yeah right, it’s a viva; it’s always going to be hideous”. But it wasn’t! And at the end they said “congratulations” because they thought I had dealt well with a pretty challenging viva. I genuinely didn’t even realise it was a challenging one!
I was also surprised by the fact that I learned a lot in the exam. I came out knowing significantly more about my methodology than when I went in. And I passed, subject to minor amendments 🙂