I remember packing my suitcase (not the tiny yellow one unfortunately… as I had just too much stuff, you can imagine, many women find it hard to travel light, but the thesis itself took up a lot of room in the tiny suitcase… so I had an excuse this time) on Wednesday and travelling to Edinburgh via Liverpool. In the train I was convinced that I had forgotten my toothpaste and some other little special things I wanted to take with me for the viva. I opened the suitcase in the train to check and couldn’t find these… I thought, that is just typical! Easy to buy some toothpaste, of course, and I did when I arrived in Liverpool. But the other little items I couldn’t replace especially the ring Adam bought me and I wanted to wear. I was upset but I couldn’t do anything about it… When I reached my hotel and opened my suitcase I found everything I thought I had forgotten. The ring was also there. Am I panicking? I think I was. My viva was on Friday and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go back home before then.
After a fascinating day and evening at the ALT conference, seeing many friends and colleagues and celebrating the ALT awards together as well as getting loads of valuable last minute viva advice (thank you especially to Nicola, Stathis, Glenda, Rob and Martin), my journey the next morning continued towards Edinburgh. I left very early and was very anxious. I had some notes in my bag and during the trip I looked through some of them but I couldn’t focus. Most of the journey, I looked out of the window and the beautiful scenery, the green hills, the clouds in the sky, the sheep in the fields, while trying to imagine what would happen in the viva.
I had booked the Eden Locke hotel (well, not the whole hotel!) and it was definitely the best choice. It felt like a home. Friendly service, super clean, quiet, tastefully decorated and with so many little touches that made a huge difference (that massive shower head was just amazing! Just like a waterfall) and helped me feel relaxed ahead of a very important day. Even the spacemask (you must try these!!!) and the shower gel and shampoo really (especially made for this hotel, that is what it says on the bottle) helped me relax and prepare for Big Friday.
While I had said that I would be quiet (see above tweet…), I kept capturing my last pre-viva day by posting some photos on instagram and talking to very close friends and family. Thank you especially to Cristina and Adam. I guess, this helped me feel somehow connected with the outside world. Their support in these hours was invaluable.
The hours started passing and I did some last minute checks in my thesis and the notes I had printed and other ones hand written. Even looked up one or two things I wasn’t sure in some of the literature. I went through the summaries of my chapters (not in detail this time, I found it hard to read these again… it was all blurring into one big pot of letters… like an alphabet soup if you ever had one).
Going for a walk and rediscovering the baked potato shop which I first visited many years ago with Adam,
touching the toe of David Hume’s statue which apparently helps students in exam situations (I was hoping the magic toe would help me too).
I prepared a simple healthy meal in the evening. That worked as well. I had salmon (just smoked), broccoli (very lightly boiled) and a red pepper (raw), strawberries (without sugar) and apricots from Kent (my curiosity made me buy these in the nearby supermarket. Never thought they grow in the UK). So nothing unhealthy. Everything was light. And a really aromatic camomile tea. I switched on the TV for a tiny bit but couldn’t stand the noise so switched it off again. Silence.
I had no idea that apricots grow in the UK…
After waking up at 2.30am from a nightmare… I managed to sleep again but then woke up for good much much earlier than I had set the alarm clock. I had another waterfall shower in the morning. I can’t remember how long I was in there but it was really really relaxing. Maybe I tried to wash all my worries away.
I ironed my clothes the night before. I didn’t have to think what I would wear, which often can be a challenge… As I had no idea if there was a dress code (apparently some unis have one!), I had asked Sandra during our last chat a few days ago. She confirmed that I could wear whatever I wear when I go to work… she told me this when I was actually wearing jeans (she couldn’t see me)… I assumed this wasn’t appropriate and that she meant something a little bit smarter. As I didn’t want to distract from the actually viva and the conversation we would have, I decided to wear black trousers and a black top (this reminded me of Cristina). Another reason was that these clothes were comfortable. Now shoes were the problem and while I had decided which ones to wear (after a long process of deciding… back home with Adam actually…), as the weather looked a bit rainy I picked my red ankle boots (which added a little bit of colour) and not the black shoes I had selected originally. Women always change their minds about shoes… Some might think who will actually care? But I think it matters and we need to feel good in our own skin. An outfit can and does help us in this process and make a difference at least to us. Adam had bought me recently a lovely ring (the one I mentioned earlier, which I thought I had forgotten at home) for our last anniversary which reminds me of the sea, so I did wear this as it helped me feel that I had him and my whole family with me.
I started getting ready, packed all my stuff, had a healthy breakfast which included cereal with nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. I also had a green tea. There was still some “energise” super smoothie from the day before so I finished this as well.
I left the hotel early, around 8am. I had plenty of time. The viva was scheduled for 10am.
On the street, my suitcase suddenly felt even heavier than the day before.
It was finally Big Friday.
I felt that I couldn’t remember a thing that I had done in the last 4.5 years. And I started worrying again. I took the bus to Edinburgh Napier University. I arrived early. I went to the cafe and had another green tea… I felt like a proper student. It was a good feeling. I tried to relax and tell myself that everything would be ok. My biggest worry was that I would be asked a question which I couldn’t answer. But everybody had been telling me “nobody knows your work better than you do”. Was this the case? I guess, we would find out soon.
Then it was time to meet my Director of Studies, Sandra, 30 mins before the viva. We had a chat and then the Chair of the panel took us down to the room where it would all happen.
That was it.
I was in the room and the viva was going to start.
Sandra experienced the viva with me. I sat much closer to the examiners than I thought I would. Around a table. Not them on one side and I on the other. I was inbetween them. This was a good thing as it didn’t feel like “them” and “me”. It was “us”.
It was estimated that the viva would last 2 hours.
We finished in 1.5 hours.
When I entered the room, the atmosphere was very friendly. The room was filled with smiley and welcoming faces. I saw the two copies of my thesis that the examiners had in front of them on the table. They had loads of colourful sticky notes and I thought “Oh my god, this is going to be tough! It will take us ages to get through all these…”
I was asked a series of questions but it didn’t feel like an interrogation. It was a professional discussion. I relaxed into it and was surprised how natural it came to me to respond to their questions and stay focused on the work I had done. Adam had advised me “Don’t waffle. Focus.” I guess, he knows me… But I did stay focused 😉
I got a sense that the examiners found my work interesting and were positive throughout. This helped and I could just be me. I was open and honest about the work I had done and I think the examiners appreciated this. One of the examiners said that they liked the approach I had taken in the literature review (this happened near the beginning) and felt that my study makes a significant contribution to knowledge and that I should target heavy-weight journals and that this is REFable work (near the end of the viva). I had written these comments in my notes.
After the viva, Sandra and I were asked to leave the room. Sandra had captured important bits from the discussion and I am grateful for this. I could already sense that there were a few things that I would be asked to fix. But that was fine.
During the viva, I had my thesis and the appendices in front of me but didn’t need to open them at all. I didn’t open them. What I did find useful is writing down keywords relating to the questions. This helped me stay focused and respond to the questions with greater accuracy. I also had my notes (some copies of pages from the thesis). I mainly used the framework and the outcome space figures. I think it did help that I had printed these out.
My LEGO(R) Phenomenography kit
The little bag with LEGO(R) bricks was used to explain the methodology. I wasn’t sure how this would be received… But I decided to take this risk. I am pleased I did, as it helped me relax a bit more and show that complicated things can be explained in simple and creative ways.
Sandra and I stepped outside when it was all done and we then waited for an hour to be called back in. This must have been one of the loooooongest hours… I spoke with Adam and told him that the viva was a positive experience but didn’t know the outcome yet. Then it was time to go back in. The outcome was…
Award PhD subject to minor corrections:
- some typos and repetition
- enlarge the picture of the outcome space and the framework I developed
- explain briefly the link between the structural factors and the lived experience area of the outcome space
- rewrite the abstract as I didn’t sell my work
- remove some of the appendices
Well, I was informed that I have 2 months to fix these and submit the changes (from the moment I receive the official letter from the Research office) to the internal examiner… I have already started working on the above (Sandra predicted this) and hope that by the end of next week (we will of course need to wait to receive the official notification from the Research office first), we will be able to submit the final final thesis with a record of the changes made.
In my hands, I have a copy of the informal report from the external examiner which says some very encouraging things about my work and definitely made me smile. Not sure I am aloud to share this in public, so will wait until I find out.
I received a text message from Nassi (15) my eldest just after 2.30pm who I guess was thinking of me. He asked me “Πώς πήγε;” It is always so nice to receive messages from my little boys. They always come through in Greek despite the fact that when in the UK they always speak to me in English. But that is ok.
When I arrived home, two big bunches of colourful flowers were waiting for me. Ody and Nassi had picked them. It was such a nice feeling to be back home.
Thank you to the Chair of the viva panel, both examiners, Sandra for being there with me, the whole supervisor team, Norrie who chaired all progress meetings also for suggesting the examiners and all family, friends and colleagues who have supported, encouraged and believed in me in this process over the last 4.5 years.
Thank you so much Simon Rae for creating this and Sally for sharing with me and all. You touched me deeply.
If you have followed my viva prep chronicle here on this blog (there are multiple blog posts that capture my whole viva prep since I submitted the thesis on the 5th of May 2017)… I have to tell you that everything I did helped and I am pleased I started this preparation. I am grateful to everybody who has helped me. Even the early and little last minute rituals made a big difference, even my little art projects and the pottery I made with my sister in the summer, to my readiness to perform in that viva. Some of it might have seem too much (I think a colleague of mine said, “I don’t know anybody who has prepared for their viva that much”, I think it was Rachel), but my body and mind did synchronise and worked together in harmony and I achieved a good result. I am very happy.
Thank you Sandra for being there with me on the day.
Note 1: Below is the Powerpoint I had put together in preparation for the viva.
Note 2: By 8.20am this morning (9 September) I had made most of the corrections. Three more to go and I am done ;).
Note 3: Just the abstract now and I am done 11.55am (9 September).
Note 4: Working on the abstract (10 September), the final change I need to make and I am done.
Note 5: Everything is done now (10 September pm). Sent everything to Sandra for a final check.
Note 6: Contacted the Research office (11 September pm) asking when I would receive the official notification so that I can submit the requested changes to the internal examiner.
Note 7: Received the official letter today (14 September) about the outcome of the viva and what I need to submit, in what format and where. Have done all this and forwarded to my Director of Studies today. Hope to be able to submit final thesis to the Research Office beginning of next week.
Note 8: I sent all the changes, the thesis with highlighted the changes I made and an accompanying document with the location of the changes to the research office (15 of September, exactly one week after the viva). The internal examiner will now check these. Hopefully everything will be ok.
Note 9: Examiners approved the amendments (21 Sep). Committee meets on the 4th of October. I can graduate end of October. Yeah! I can wear the silly hat… this will be my first ever graduation I attend. It will be end of October.
Note 10: BTW I registered for a Research supervision and examination module.