It’s just over a week until my PhD viva. As I’m sure I’ve told a great many people by now, this is slightly terrifying. But then, there’s one thing about that which perhaps not everyone realises. Sometimes being terrified is a good thing.
Any readers in the US might know the viva better by another name – the thesis defence. I’ve always thought that seemed rather more pugnacious, but it is, perhaps, a name without any pretence. This is literally what it involves after all. Chances are, you’ll need to defend your hypotheses, justify your decisions, and be prepared to have your carefully constructed filigree of ideas partially dismantled. Of course this can be disquieting to many people, because technically this is your life’s work.
I’ve mentioned being afraid of this particular event to people before. Some nod sympathetically. Others reassure me that it’ll most likely be fine. Every now and again I’ve had someone misguidedly try to give me a talk about positive mental attitude. I specifically say ‘misguidedly’ because I do not believe fear to be a bad thing in circumstances like this. Which is good thing, given how I feel about all of this.
Simply put, it’s my opinion that anyone who isn’t at least a little intimidated by the prospect of having experts analyse their work to check it for flaws does not fully appreciate the situation.Though it has to be said, the line between being justifiably concerned and being flat out paranoid can be a fine one in places.
As an undergrad, my friends and I always had a stage before exams which we referred to as “the fear”. We quite quickly noticed that it wasn’t until after you “got the fear” – that sense of impending doom brought on by an exam which you really need to score well on – that you started to prepare effectively for it. And effective, it always was.
On the other hand, I think everyone knew of that one arrogant guy (I usually try and avoid overtly gendered language on here, but seriously, it was always a guy) who’d act like they knew it all and had nothing to worry about. I could never tell whether it was an act or whether they genuinely weren’t worried about anything. But quite frequently, it turned out that they really should have worried more than they did.
Basically, worry isn’t something to be avoided. Provided you’re not fretting needlessly, worry can be a pretty useful tool to get yourself to knuckle down. If you’re concerned you’re not going to do well enough, it’ll push you to work harder and do better. Too little worry, seemingly, can cause complacency.
Well, it would seem that the same rule applies for a PhD viva. To anyone who’s already given me supportive messages, and anyone who might over the next week, I’m extremely grateful. Really. But, for the reasons here, I don’t intend to stop worrying about it until after it’s over.
I suspect there may be a fair few viva-related musings posted here over the next few days. For this, I apologise in advance. Though I suppose these are truly my final entries, writing this blog as a student.
Ah well, then. Valar morghulis…