Ten playful viva preparation activities


Finished the thesis? Loud cheers. Now to get ready for the viva, or defence as it is called in some places. There’s a lot of great advice about how to prepare for the viva – check out Nathan Ryder’s Viva Survivors blog podcast and workshopsVITAE’s resource pages and Eva Lantsoght’s PhD talk series on PhD vivas around the world.

My particular interest in the viva is the work you have to do to get yourself into the “expert” frame of mind. You’ve had to write the thesis as if you were already doctored and the world’s greatest authority on your particular bit of research. Now, in the viva, you have to act and talk like one too. You have to BE expert, even if you don’t feel like one, when you have The Conversation With The Examiners.

The most common way to shift into and inhabit the body of the expert is to do a mock viva. Other more “performance” oriented opportunities to speak with authority often happen through three minute thesis competitions and public presentations.

But I think there are probably some entertaining ways to get into the viva frame of mind and body. So I’ve started to generate a few ideas. These are by no means a complete list and, if they seem simply silly to you, then just ignore this post. I’m writing here for people who might like to indulge in a bit of lighthearted, but possibly serious, play. Something that interrupts the ongoing feelings of anxiety and/or unease and/or uncertainty. Here goes.

  1. Write a love letter to your Doctor self, listing all of the expert doctoral qualities and competencies they have. Write a break up letter to your student self, saying why you lived with them for so long, and explaining why it’s now time to leave them behind.
  2. Imagine that the key implication of your research has actually been implemented. Write the short new item that reports what has happened, the research on which it was based, and why this is important.
  3. Turn your thesis into a picture – draw or collage it. Imagine that this is now a postcard. Choose three people to send your postcard to – write a message on the back of the postcard telling them why they need to take notice.
  4. Sample five to ten key sentences from your thesis to make a poem which tells the story of your research.
  5. Create a shoebox museum in which small objects tell the story of how your research was designed and carried out. Alternatively, make a shoebox museum of your journey from doctoral researcher to The Doctor.
  6. Make a selfie of yourself as doctoral researcher. Now take a selfie of The Doctor (yes yes before the viva, not after, but you can do that too).
  7. Write a very bossy memo to the examiners telling them what to look for in your thesis.
  8. Make a small monument to a tricky moment in your research. Look it in the eye. Write a brief curatorial sign which explains.
  9. Make the record cover of your research. Write its signature tune.
  10. Design the party you would love to have to celebrate becoming The Doctor. What is its theme? Will there be a song? A new ritual? Costumes? Special food? A new dance? A wonderful game? Pilot your design when the viva is over.