Over ten years ago, after four hard years of slog, I sat my own PhD viva. If I’m completely honest I didn’t really know how to prepare for my viva, and there wasn’t a lot of support available (this was the days before social media or online discussion forums). In the absence of any better ideas, I just recovered and relaxed for the first couple months and then set about re-reading my thesis and annotating it, covering it with stickers and post its. On the day I found the viva to be a much more positive experience than I’d imagined, however it was unbelievably stressful entering a room without being confident I had done the right preparation. I wrote about that experience in more detail on my personal blog two years ago – it’s a little rude to sociologists but otherwise explains my viva in more detail.
Having had such a frustrating experience in my viva, I made it my business to try and support other friends and colleagues as they prepared for theirs. When you’ve spent three or four, and in some cases many more, years working on a PhD you don’t really want your final memory to be of being unprepared! A couple of years ago I produced a first set of written prompts, on record cards, to help a friend prepare for his MPhil Viva. Since then I’ve made several sets of cards for people, all of which have been received with great enthusiasm. I also heard that people were lending their sets to their friends as their viva approached, and one of these people, Lucy, suggested that I publish them.
Last year I read another friend’s PhD as she was preparing the final draft and shared the usual questions with @CuriousC as she was preparing for her viva. She suggested that they’d be really useful, and why not get a couple sets printed on business cards. So that’s what we did. With help from an awesome designer friend VivaCards were born.
There are 44 cards in the box, one introducing the categorisation and the others falling into one of the four categories. The categories are roughly parallel to what you’re likely to have written about in your thesis, and the type of questioning offered by most examiners. They are:
- Introduction and context
- Methods, design and analysis
- Results and discussion
- Implications and utilisation
They are printed on high quality, matte card with rounded corners and a laminate coating to ensure they stand up to rigorous use in the run up to your viva. Business card size, with their own sturdy box to keep them all together, they are ideal for throwing in your bag and carrying with you, so you can grab the opportunity to flick through them when your train is at a standstill, or the bus is stuck in traffic, or your mate is late to the pub.
The laminate coating means that they and robust and forgiving too. Pin them to your noticeboard, tape them to your monitor, blu tack them to the wall, use them as bookmarks, coffee coasters, whatever works for you. These bright and cheerful, yet core questions, are guaranteed to get your mind focused when you need it to.
We launched the VivaCards website about six weeks ago and the response has been much better than I would have hoped for. Word is spreading, orders are coming in and most importantly the feedback has been really positive. Currently on an introductory offer of £25 including free UK postage and packing, you can get your VivaCards here. Last week I was talking to someone on the VivaCards twitter account, and she said something that echoed what one of the early adopters of the hand written version said. She spoke about reshaping her preparation and changing her thinking about her viva, if the cards help with that, boost people’s confidence and enable people to have a positive viva experience then I think it’s a job well done!