Recommended listening: Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’
Last week, I covered prepping for the virtual viva in ‘I’m a SurViva, Part One’. I recommend reading that before reading about my experience of the viva on the day.
The Virtual Viva
The virtual setting for the viva is markedly different from the in-person setting. This is not a negative, it’s nice to be in your own home, rather than having to go into university and sit in florescent lighting in an uncomfortable chair. The examiners are also in their own homes. It makes the process feel more personal than it would on campus. Procedurally, I was allowed someone in the room with me for support, so my partner sat off camera near me, which was a nice way to feel a bit calmer through the process. You are also allowed to have a supervisor sit in with their camera and mic muted. While it may seem weird to have a ‘ghost’ in the room, since they aren’t participating, I find I have a hard time remembering everything when I’m in high stress situations, so I liked having someone there to take notes and observe to help me through the post mortem of the viva afterward.
One of the biggest advantages of the remote viva was that I only had to look professional from the waist up. I wore a nice blazer and my loosest and least professional (but most comfortable) jeans. I kept the light soft in the room, and made sure to burn a candle an hour before so the room smelled lovely (aromatherapy is a way I cope with my anxiety). All of this being said, it is harder to mentally get into the remote viva, since it’s just online, rather than in-person, so take deep breaths once you’re in the ‘room’ and allow yourself a moment or two to mentally arrive.
The biggest take away from my remote viva is that it’s okay for there to be silences during the viva. It means you’re thinking about the question! As a person with an anxious brain, I often speak too soon in an effort to avoid silence, but I consciously tried to let myself think before I answered each question. I would bullet point various ideas I had on my notepad, which allowed me to order my response. If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to ask for your examiner to re-phrase of re-frame it. The chair should tell you at the beginning, but you’re allowed to ask for breaks. I also found that the remote setting made it easier for me to take deep, clearing breaths after each question/response without it being noticeable.
My anxious brain didn’t even entertain this as a possibility, but you should also prepare for your examiners to like your work and be excited to ask you questions about it out of interest!
The remoteness of an online examination can feel anti-climactic after you sign off from the meeting. To combat this, I had booked a supervision meeting for right after my viva so we could debrief and discuss the viva together. Afterward, my partner and I had a small celebration planned; Seamus had put a bottle of fizz in the fridge to celebrate the moment. We then celebrated that weekend with his parents with more fizz and bagging another Munro (although we didn’t mix the two)! Whatever you enjoy doing that can help mark the occasion, do it. It’s a big accomplishment, even if you achieved it without getting out of your pyjama bottoms.