I successfully defended my PhD viva back in March 2017. I was only in there for 50 minutes, which felt like 3 hours! “Enjoy it,” I was told by friends and fellow peers, “it will be the only time you will get to talk to people who are genuinely interested in your research.” To be honest, I couldn’t see how I was ever going to enjoy the viva – I had been panicking about it ever since I submitted the thesis. However, when I had finished the viva and had been told I had passed with very minor corrections, I sort of enjoyed it, weirdly enough! Maybe that’s because I felt prepared – I had developed answers to a lot of possible questions (although you can obviously never guarantee what will be asked). It definitely helped! (The database of questions is found under the ‘links’ section on this website).
My viva experience was actually a very pleasant one. My examiners had been chosen carefully and were both active within my field and thus receptive to the theory and methods I used. This led to an incredibly constructive and meaningful conversation regarding the content of the thesis. I justified throughout the thesis, which maybe why my viva was reasonably short. The examiners said they enjoyed reading it and learnt from it – it was at that moment, the first moment throughout my whole PhD journey, that I felt worthy. Worthy of being there, worthy of praise. I undersold myself, apparently, which was one of the main corrections I had to do. I have always found it difficult to sell myself and much preferred others to make that judgement.
After the initial jubilation of completing the viva and being called “Doctor” for the first time, I felt a massive sense of anti-climax: ‘what to do now?’ and ‘where do I find a job?’ These questions are still evident. I felt like four years of hard work, full of mostly downs, hinged on 50 minutes. Then that was it. Done – barring corrections. I had dedicated so much of the past four years to the thesis – I had put absolutely everything into it and post-viva there appeared to be a large hole that I had to fill. I wrote papers and did corrections and began to work more hours and seek more work. There have been many times where I wanted to quit and came incredibly close to doing so on two occasions. But I am glad I didn’t. To those who are thinking the same thing: there is a solution, somewhere, out there. Don’t give up – a PhD is built upon resilience and if I can do it, then anyone can.
Dr Andrew Rowe