5 Unusual Ideas for Postgrad Viva Practice

You've written up your thesis, checked it until it didn't look like English anymore, and submitted it. That should be the hard part over, right? Unfortunately not! You've got one more step left - the viva . It's time to get up in front of a group of experts and defend your thesis. Don't worry - we've got some great practice tips lined up.

Ignore Your Thesis No, really. Just pretend it's not yours and temporarily disown it for a week or two. Read other things, and distract yourself. This way, when you go back to it, it'll be with clear eyes. Because (unfortunately) now is the time you have to read it back, and criticise it to yourself so that you'll be prepared for what might be asked in your viva. Seriously, don't go easy on yourself - because the examiners won't!

Phone Your Parents This is assuming that your parents don't have a degree in what you're doing. If they do, find some other relative who doesn't. Of course, ringing your parents is great anyway, but what you're doing right now is finding someone who:

a) Probably doesn't know much about your thesis b) Will be willing to put up with you chatting about it for an excessive amount of timec) Hasn't been around you in the panic final stage to have a vague idea of what you've done.

Explain your thesis to your parents, and see what they ask. This should be an early preparation step, since of course they'll be asking less complex questions than the examiners - but it's a great, low-pressure way of starting, and they'll often point out things you might not have thought needed explaining!

Talk To Animals Do you have a pet, or have a friend who does? Explain and defend your thesis to them. This is less pressure than a human, but it can be a bit better than just explaining to a mirror. For instance, you could take everytime the animal makes a noise at you/walks away as a 'question', thereby interrupting your flow - which is something examiners will definitely do, and your reflection probably won't.

Ask a Friend Something a bit different this time. If you have a friend who worked with you, or understands your subject matter, ask for their help. But, instead of you explaining it to them - ask them to read your thesis, and explain it to you. This should help you notice what isn't clear, what might need more explanation, and any questions they raise should be noted and prepared for!

Practice for Discomfort There isn't a time limit on vivas, and sometimes you'll be standing whilst explaining. You'll quite probably end up needing to run to the bathroom, and be too nervous to ask! You should probably prepare for this physical side of things as well as the mental. Get used to standing whilst explaining your thesis, and watch how you stand. You need to look confident, so make sure you stand straight, shoulders back - no fidgeting! Learn how to pace yourself from drinking water out of a nervousness-induced dry mouth - you don't want to be squirming during the questions! You should also try presenting wearing your planned outfit. After all, two hours into an intense questioning session isn't the time to discover the collar rubs and itches your neck.

Useful Links 5 top tips for giving postgrad presentations
Top tips for surviving a PhD
Why postgrads should study public speaking
Exam stress: how not to deal with it
 

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