Viva via Zoom! Dr Fiona Scott reflects on her experience of defending her thesis during Covid-19


The Covid-19 pandemic has moved examinations online, including vivas for doctoral students. I recently defended my medicinal chemistry PhD via Zoom.

When lockdown was announced, I was editing my final results chapter. There was definitely a sense of mourning for the moments I wouldn’t get to experience in-person. When I left Brighton at Christmas to move home to write up, I didn’t say a proper goodbye to my friends because I assumed I would see them soon. Now I don’t know if/when I’ll see them again.

To keep me motivated, my supervisor encouraged me to stick with our original plan of a May viva. I’m glad he did, although it meant I only two weeks to prepare after I finally submitted! Having such a short gap helped me to focus. I didn’t have time to stress. I did have moments of panic, but they were finite. The exam fear forced me to revise, so I can recommend having your viva sooner rather than later at this time.

Speaking with my partner who also has a PhD and colleagues about their vivas was very useful. Similarly, I found reading blogs about the viva process such as Viva Survivors extremely settling. My supervisor wouldn’t have put me forward if he didn’t think I was capable of passing.

I stopped revising at 5 pm the day before, set everything up in the living room and focused on having a relaxed evening. This included a virtual choir rehearsal which has become a helpful stress-busting part of my routine. My supervisor handled most of the logistics with the examiners. I just had to schedule the zoom calls.

On the day, I was surprisingly calm. I think being surrounded by home comforts helped. The morning webinar to the life science school went well, and I went out for a short walk between the webinar and viva.

The viva itself, cliché as it sounds, was less intense than I expected it to be. My examiners made sure to put me at ease right at the beginning by sharing they were overall pleased with the thesis. I shared a pdf of my thesis on the screen and we worked through it. We chuckled at how much longer it took to scroll to different sections compared to flicking through a physical thesis.

After two hours, I transferred hosting duties to my internal examiner and was put into a waiting room for around ten minutes while they discussed my performance. This was my signal to let my supervisor know I was out so he could prepare to join the call. When they brought me back in the room, I was told I had passed with minor corrections and my supervisor joined briefly to discuss what happened next.

Despite the circumstances, I still shared part of the viva day with my colleagues through the departmental webinar. Being honest, it was easier not being surrounded by them asking how I was feeling. Some others in my department who defended virtually had a zoom call immediately after their viva to celebrate with their group, but I chose to schedule that for another day. The post-viva Zoom fatigue is real!

While the university is recommending PhD students delay their vivas if possible, I can recommend having it virtually if you want it over and done with.

— Dr Fiona Scott

Congratulations to Dr Fiona Scott!

If you are due to defend your thesis online, we have compiled list of resources that we have gathered from the Doctoral School and the University’s pages to help you plan and prepare, some are more general and some are Covid-19 specific:

A Q&A with Zoom viva survivor Noora Nevala 

Guidance for distant Viva Voce examinations and thesis submission during the Covid 19 situation

Information about submissions/ vivas during Covid-19

An online ‘Preparing for your Viva’ module

Details from the Research Student Administration Office on the submission and examination process

Best of luck to anyone taking their viva soon; do let us know how you get on!

The Hive Scholars


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