The Importance of Worry

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…

If an examiner was to be really evil, they could lead one of these exams with "the Lannisters send their regards"...

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
This entry was posted in academia, life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Importance of Worry

  1. Peter Dawson says:

    My old Dad would never wish me luck before an exam, but rather “Good Judgement” on the basis that having the correct judgement for which questions to answer and how to answer them was more important than blind luck.

    And so I wish you “God Judgement” in your prep for and during your viva.

    (as an aside, I never got past 2nd year university as other things became more interesting at the time, so I also tip my hat to you for attaining PhD level)

    • invaderxan says:

      That’s some wise advice. :)
      Thank you very much. Fingers crossed, it might even be kinda fun, getting to discuss my work…

      And I appreciate the respect — though in all honesty I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in life is to do something you enjoy. May you always enjoy whatever you choose to do! :)

      • Peter Dawson says:

        Thank you, too! I have had the good fortune to have spent the vast majority of the last 46 years being paid to have fun with computers.

  2. Baribal says:

    Have you considered a Bayesian analysis? Or that your dust may be actually rapidly rotating iron filings?

  3. jaksichja says:

    best of luck to you

Comments are closed.