Anything but daunting (once the viva started)

Diana Oliveira, a PGR from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, passed her viva before Christmas, and shares her experience and advice with us here. Congratulations to Diana!

Throughout my PhD, I have always been intrigued about the viva experience. Questions such as “Will I be able to remember all the details of my thesis to answer the examiners’ questions? What if what I have done is not to the examiners’ satisfaction?” did linger in my head, especially during the months prior to the viva. Regardless, the day where you finally defend your research is something to look forward, and such an experience stays with you forever.

Diana is pictured sitting at a table in a restaurant with a glass of sparkling wine and a cake which says "Parabens Dr Diana".
Diana celebrating her viva success with her family.

My viva happened during the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, in December 2021. The prospect of doing it online had never occurred to me before, but after almost two years of this pandemic, remote working and virtual meetings were the “new normal”. During my thesis submission, I was not sure if an online viva would be better or worse than an in-person experience; in fact, I had heard pros and cons of doing an online viva, so I was determined to not let myself be biased and approach it with an open mindset.

A week after my thesis submission in October, the viva committee and myself agreed on an online viva happening on the 15th December. This gave me about a month and a half to prepare, which was sufficient for me. Since I wanted a break after thesis submission, I decided to prepare properly during the two weeks prior to the viva. This included: reading the thesis, chapter by chapter, and 1) creating a summary of each chapter and 2) writing down notes on possible issues in the work developed (and associated justifications or questions which could arise during the viva); assessing the type of generic questions which examiners could ask (these can be found in multiple blog posts or websites, such as this one).

I did the viva from my home in Portugal, as I wanted to be in a familiar environment during this experience. When the day finally arrived, I felt I had prepared to the best of my abilities, and I was ready to go ahead with it. I was obviously nervous at the same time, but having my parents nearby gave me a feel of security. Before it started, I made sure I was prepared for any eventuality (“What if the electricity goes down? Can I use other internet sources? Can we test the sound?”). Then, I sat down in front of the screen, and it began. I must say that my viva experience was anything but daunting: it was an actual discussion with the examiners, and I was comfortable with the questions asked and with how the topics were approached. It lasted for about 2h30min with a break of 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes, the committee called me and my supervisors back to share the viva outcome. In the end, it did go well as I was told that I had passed with minor corrections.  

For those who are (and will) prepare for their vivas, stay calm and just prepare to the best of your ability. Regardless of it being in person or virtual, just prepare well and understand that, in the end, you are defending your own research. There is no one better to do it than you! And, of course, enjoy the experience!

Would you prefer to have an in-person or online viva? What are your expectations?

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