The viva experience: a recap of our doctoral discussion. Part1

First of all, the Sussex Research Hive Scholars would like to thank all the participants and the speakers who joined our doctoral discussion last week!

Notwithstanding the unfortunate room where it took place, the event was a success. We had a very interesting discussion on different types of viva experiences and a very dynamic Q&A session highlighting the main concerns shared by PhD students preparing for this important milestone in their doctoral studies.

I’ll try to summarise my 14 pages of notes in this blog post, but you will probably read the second part of the recap next week.

The viva experience

  1. Marinating in your own panic: the months before the viva.

Our panellists talked about several stages of the viva experience. All of them had a very different paths leading to the viva after the day of submission. This process can be either very long or fairly fast: it all depends on you. Miles Willey from the Research Student Administration Office informed us that usually they aim at scheduling the date for the viva within 3 months of the day of submission. The key to a smooth process between these two moments is a good communication between the PhD student and her PhD. Ideally, the discussion on “what do you expect from your viva?” and “what examiners could work for me?” should happen well before the submission date. If it doesn’t or, as some of our panellists pointed out, it gets very challenging to find a suitable date and time for the two examiners to be available: the viva can be scheduled even 6-8 months after your submission.

The second point related to this is on how much and how long for to prepare for your viva during those months. Again, very different experiences from our panellists, but overall we can summarise as follow:

  • Give yourself sometime after the submission before re-opening your thesis. A good way of spotting errors and anticipate possible questions is to read your work with a fresh mind
  • Prepare well. Know your work and go through your thesis. Use stickers, highlighters, post-its or whatever you need to really feel that the thesis is yours and that you can defend it. Gossip from faculty members/examiners: they hate when candidates don’t know their own work.
  • Don’t overdo it. As one of our guests said “Once you submit your thesis, the work is done”, so don’t spend the months before the viva focusing on the weaknesses of it to try to solve them. Be aware of the limitations, but don’t focus preparing something completely unrelated to what you have been doing for three/four years.
  • Prepare a short summary to introduce your work at the beginning of the viva. This will help you breaking the ice once you are in front of the examiners

2. Have a say on what is the right strategy for you.

What do you want to get out of your viva? Do you just want to pass or do you want to have good feedback for publication? Do you want to stay in academia? But mostly, how to choose the examiners?

You should discuss these questions with your supervisors well in advance and have a sense of what they think about the different options. If you aim at having a very good examiner, who can give you a good reference letter and help you with feedback for publishing your work: you should factor this in in the decision of the examiners. Another factor that seems to have a big impact is the seniority of the two examiners. Make sure that the combination of internal and external is appropriate. You won’t have a final say on this, but probably you can flag your concern to your supervisors if you feel that the viva is not going to be about your thesis, but about some egos-competition.



Lucky authors selected for the Book Sprint

Nine authors, amongst them PhD students, researchers and post-doctoral researchers, are warming engines for next week!

Initially we wanted to recruit only 6 authors, but we got so many good applications that we just couldn’t say no to! So I am pleased to present to you the lucky 9 and their brilliant ideas, that are going to make history here at Sussex next week:

Alexa, completed her PhD in History at Sussex in 2016. She now holds a position as Research Fellow in Historical Criminology in the Department of Sociology here at Sussex, where she is working with Primary Investigator Lizzie Seal on her two-year Leverhulme-funded project ‘Race, Racialisation and the Death Penalty in England and Wales, 1900-1965’. Alexa is interested in writing about visual representations of homes, for example crime scene photographs, documentary and street photography, and scale plans and models.

Myles is a PhD researcher at the Department of History, Art History and Philosophy. Myles wants to write about the relationship between the home and people’s identity. As a historian he’d also like to look at the historical importance of having one’s own home.

Carina worked with live performance and events production for many years, before starting her research. Carina finished her PhD in 2016 at the School of Media and Film and is still teachingat Sussex. In this book she wants to explore how we construct our identity and how the process may open up vulnerabilities that can enhance a sense of ‘meaning’ within the context of the rise of right-wing identity politics.

Ketan is a PhD researcher in the School of Law at Sussex and a legal consultant for Plan B Earth. He proposed to write about home in the context of legal belonging, mainly based on two sources: environmental and migration law. Hi wants to focus on the idea that legal belonging constitutes a kind of ‘exclusionary inclusion’.

Eduard is a PhD researcher in Math here at Sussex and is interested in the application of mathematics to other fields. He is specialised in the Bayesian framework for parameter identification, that aims at tuning the parameters in a mathematical representation of a theory to the observations from the real world. In parallel to his PhD, Eduard works on projects to apply these tools to problems in social sciences. He would like to write about the use of these mathematical tools to study Twitter data related to the concept “Home”. In particular, performing a study of the language and concepts in the home-related tweets, and investigating the time patterns in the usage of home-related hashtags.

Naomi is a PhD researcher in the Department of Art History. Her research focuses on popular photographic culture and travel to the East in the period of 1860-1910. She wants to write about the exploration of the world from the home and how people travel from home using the stereoscope as well as how does this armchair travel change people’s idea of home.

Olga is a PhD researcher in Media and Film and has proposed to write a chapter focused on a notion of home in the socio-political context of Cuba, where the home is also a public space. She will explore the intersection between home, gender identity and belonging within the landscape of a transgender person and their families in Cuba.

Tom is one of the Hive Scholars and has worked in the field of education for over 15 years. He is doing PhD part-time in the School of Media, Film & Music researching the notion of ‘home’ (specifically Brighton) through various media and senses, especially sound. His chapter will consider theories of space and place in a broad philosophical sense.

Marianela is a sociologist and a PhD researcher in Migration Studies, she is also one of the Hive Scholars. Her chapter will be focused on the construction of home and belonging in transnational social spaces as experienced by international migrants.

Guest blog post: How to not just survive, but to enjoy your PhD Viva

Interested in knowing more about the Viva Experience? Join our doctoral discussion    on Thursday, 18th May at 12pm.

Book your place, here.

How to not just survive, but to enjoy your PhD Viva

by Mari Martiskainen

A few months ago I wrote a post about What it is like to do a PhD.   I was then nearing towards submitting my PhD thesis for examination and starting to think about the final examination, a PhD Viva. Continue reading

Book Sprint applications

We are so excited about this Book Sprint! So many people have responded and shown their interest and that just shows how bold and courageous our research community is. What we thought would be a crazy endeavour most people would shy away from, has really become a project everyone seems to want to take part in, making our job of choosing people more difficult but also more exciting.

The NEW deadline to apply is WEDNESDAY 17th MAY at 5pm, so write down your ideas and who you are and send us an email to Continue reading

‘You and your PhD Supervisor: problems and solutions’ RESEARCH HIVE DOCTORAL DISCUSSION SERIES

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Grace Jones from Student Life Centre talking at the You and your PhD Supervisor Hive Doctoral Discussions event
This event was organised by the Hive Scholars using Eventbrite to protect attendees’ identity and to allow frank discussion, and took place on 25th April 2017 12-2 pm
We had a fascinating discussion with a range of PhD students and university support staff- our thanks to everyone who attended. In order to respect privacy and protect anonymity of attendees’ comments, this blog post simply present various comments and observations we heard during the event:

Continue reading

10 things to do differently when you realise academic research is a creative process.

by Santiago Ripoll, Research Officer at IDS and recent PHD graduate in Anthropology at Sussex University.

It took me a series of disappointments during my PHD until I realised that my mistake was thinking that creativity was confined to the arts and humanities and wasn’t required in the natural and social sciences. It turns out the process of designing research, carrying out your lab experiments or doing your fieldwork and writing it all up is as much a creative process as writing a novel.  Here are my ten tips to help you release your creativity and improve your research. Continue reading