I survived Big Friday #go_gn

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 by 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.

viva_food

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. 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.

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In 14 days it will be all over #phdviva #go_gn

Time has started flying… literally. I am now more nervous than ever. I have  been preparing for the viva since one month after submission of the thesis on the 5th of May… for almost 3 months…

The thesis was a companion this summer again and traveled with me to Greece, on a boat in the Aegean.

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the endless blue of the Aegean…

I engaged with it almost on a daily basis… my boys started showing an increased interest in my work, beyond the “mummy when will you finish that PhD?” Recently we even watched together one of Tara’s videos (thank you dear Penny for sharing, what would I do without my #go+gn family?)… and Nassi (15) afterwards checked some things Tara mentioned in my thesis… have I done it properly Nassi?

I have used a range of techniques to prepare for the viva and have progressively focused on what I have actually done, what I have found and what this could mean. The thesis has been annotated and I have sticky notes (some say these will not be useful and that the thesis should remain clean!). The preparation has led me to read a range of advice, sometimes contracting each other. Not sure yet what will work for me during the viva. I guess, I will find out.

What I really need is to be focused and actively listen to what I am asked and articulate a response that reflects my work, makes sense and shows to the examiner that I know my work and what my original contribution is.

The visualisations I have linked to my research design, the outcome space and the framework I developed will be useful stepping stones during the viva and I plan to print them. In the last few days, I have also created a page that included key visualisations, tables etc. with their page numbers which I might want to refer to. I suspect less will be more and I need to be clear and precise throughout and transparent. I am pleased that I have also kept a reflective diary during the study and mainly during the analysis stage but also used this blog (some of these posts are private) to reflect on the process and my dilemmas. I was never sure how much I should blog about it…

In under 14 days it will be all over…

I can’t say I enjoyed this… #go_gn

… It was hard. 

I felt that my preparation wasn’t good enough and despite reading loads of questions and articulating possible answers, I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to. I wasn’t happy with how I did.

 It was super hard.

Was it so hard because I knew the mock examiners? Well, we work together closely…

During the mock viva, I didn’t have time to write anything down or search through my notes. The sticky notes on the thesis were also problematic… maybe I had too many…

  • The visualisations of the research design,
  • the outcome space and 
  • the framework 

were useful.

I should have added the page number to the above pages I had printed separately so that I can take the examiners to the exact pages in the thesis quickly. I have done this now. 

I felt that one additional diagram (not in the thesis) I had prepared around the literature review was useful but I will need to add the gaps I had identified to each section for a quick reference.

Also, I felt that having my findings, mainly the categories of description and their variations in front of me (not just the outcome space), would be useful as well as my summary sheet with my responses to the research questions (the table I had created). 

I am grateful to my colleagues who organised this mock viva. They both said it was like a typical viva. I felt dreadful until it was over… They told me that I sounded at times defensive (I even said “I have evidence of this”) kept talking after I had answered the question launching into other areas… also that I wasn’t enthusiastic enough… It was an uncomfortable experience… but an extremely useful one…

Less is more, I was told.. 

I need to get better at this viva thing!

First, I will need a few days to recover. Then I will continue my preparation. I can’t wait to jump in the deep blue sea!!! I need to fill my batteries with fresh energy to get through this…

mock_viva

Almost none of this worked… overengineering is problematic!

The countdown to the viva has started… 46 days left #go_gn

tape_measure.jpg

navy

Chrissi a computer programmer in the Navy

Yes, I got a proper tape measure (actually 2 from the Poundshop, yes, for £1 both of them and I am not throwing away the 47-150cm bit but will make a lanyard out of it). Last time I bought one I was waiting to finish my service in the Navy. I had 150 days left then. Now I have 46 until the viva. So I cut the tape to 46cm… this is my starting point… and I will cut 1 cm each day… yes, not inches… every day I will cut 1 cm until the big day when there will be no tape left. There is a strange satisfaction in doing this and seeing the time pass in front of your eyes. 

My viva date was confirmed todayIt is the 8th of September 2017 and I am pleased that I didn’t wait to start preparing for it until I knew the date. Pleased I had my own internal deadlines. The main preparation I wanted to do is done.

I have…

  • re-read the thesis carefully and critically.
  • created one page hand written summaries for each chapter.
  • made annotations throughout the thesis, initially I thought I should keep the clean look.
  • added sticky notes to help me locate things quickly… hopefully.
  • I have found a few errors… things that I should have seen… frustrating!

AND, as a result of the above, I did definitely overcome the fear of reading the thesis, which is a good thing.

thesis_all_sticky_notes

In a PowerPoint, I captured the following

  • a presentation of the study
  • questions and answers linked to the whole thesis and individual chapters
  • questions which I have found with the help of colleagues and friends and the web, of course
  • typed up the page summaries for each chapter
  • copy of all visualisations used in the thesis and two more that will help me explain the framework and my theoretical framework, I hope…

My plan is to print this powerpoint presentation and use as a mobile revision tool in the next 45 days… The whole thesis is coming with me to Greece again this year. It wouldn’t be the same without it… but hopefully next summer I will be PhD study free… 

Colleagues have offered to do a mock viva this Friday. I am very nervous.

I will also ask my boys to keep asking me viva questions on the beach. Soon they will stop asking me “Mummy, when will you get that PhD”… if I pass… 

What else do I need to get ready? 

Thank you all.

Where is the next one? #go_gn

I have now overcome the fear to find the next typo or mistake. I am at 25 and am more relaxed reading the thesis. I can now see how distancing self from it for a little while has been positive, as I have started seeing all the things I couldn’t see before. When you are working for so long on such an extensive piece of work,  you are immersed into it and I think also blinded in a way. I definitely was. You somehow stop seeing your own mistakes. I did. It is really strange and unbelievable at times especially when you spot something that is really obvious. 

Anyway,  I am progressing my revision systematically and have now an extensive set of questions and answers. Some might say that I am doing this too forensically, far too detailed. I plan to take the thesis with me to Greece in the summer. Some say, don’t. Somehow I feel better having the physically copy with me… it is not that heavy… well it is but it would go into our hand luggage. I am just hoping that I won’t forget everything and have worked really hard to bring this to completion. Wouldn’t want the viva not to go well… 

Beyond the questions I curated from various sources and thanks to all my colleagues who have also helped with links and files, see previous post, I have now started adding questions that are specific to my work and capture these on a different colour background so that I can see them easily. There are not that many yet.

So far, I have re-read Chapter 1 (Introduction) 8 (Conclusion), 4 (Constructing the collective case study) and 5 (Phenomenographic findings). Yes, in this order. I wanted to refresh my memory what I was planning to do, what I did do in the end and how I got there. Next will be Chapter 6 (Discussion) and 7 (Framework).

thesis_sticky_notes

Will they help during the viva?

Mini sticky notes have started finding their way into the thesis so that I can locate things easier during the viva. I have located the research design figures, the categories of description table, the outcome space and the framework too. These are useful visualisations that bring the whole study together. I plan to also print them out on separate sheets and take them with me for easy reference.

By the end of July, I hope to have re-read all chapters and made 1-page summaries of each and articulated specific questions linked to these. 

Thank you everybody who has supported me so far in this process and offered advice. Very much appreciated. 

My viva preparation continues…

… waiting to hear #go_gn

I submitted my thesis on the 5th of May. It is now mid June. I hope to hear soon from the university about the examiners. Getting more nervous as time passes and I haven’t heard anything yet. However, the silence has not stopped me preparing for the viva day. On the contrary, I continue preparing systematically.

My strategy so far has been to collect all questions colleagues kindly shared with me (by Mary, Lisa and Jenny) so far, others I have found online, into a presentation. I won’t use it during the viva but it does help me to keep everything in one place and create some flashcards too that will be useful when practising with family, friends and colleagues. I still have some work until then.

The presentation has three parts and 83 slides at the moment:

  1. Overview of the study
  2. Viva questions arranged in generic questions, questions linked to the literature, methodology, findings and future facing ones.
  3. Unusual questions

Each question slide has the question at the top and my attempt to respond to this and where needed linked it back to specific pages in the thesis. I suspect this will be useful. I started with the ones that were easier… but then went back into the thesis and also started re-reading specific literature to refresh my memory.

Also, I have started discussing some of my responses with colleagues (Stephen and Kath so far) and have now an extensive set of questions and answers and I go back to the questions and answers and review them. Some of my initial responses were very generic. I need to be specific and link back to the study.

stickies

My next step is to read the thesis again very carefully and identify any additional questions I could be asked and add these to the presentation. This is the time for the first sticky notes to be added and check for further typos and little things I need to change.

BTW my list of edits is now at 13… I am making the corrections in the digital version of the thesis as I find the errors and am keeping all changes in a file which I plan to share at the end of the viva.

Your tips and suggestions are very welcome.

viva preparation day 1 #go_gn

Recently, I admitted that I am scared to open the thesis I submitted exactly a month ago, on the 5th of May. Today I did… and oh dear…

…  yes, it did happen… I found a mistake… one that can easily be fixed… at least but it could have been avoided!!! I guess, only when you distance yourself from such a massive undertaking you can see your own mistakes. Anyway, it has happened now.

I decided to make a list in my blue notebook as I suspect that there will be (a few) more… at least I am sort of overcoming my fear of opening and reading the thesis.

thesis_error

Voila…

Mary, a dear colleague has given me loads of viva resources and I started reading these carefully. Tomorrow is the committee meeting that will or not approve the examiners. So soon, we will be able to arrange the viva day… when will it be? I was hoping before August but this might not be possible.

Yesterday I spoke with my dad and told him that I am worried that I will forget all the work I have done over the last 4.5 years… Anybody else has/had that feeling? I suspect that sharing this fear with my dad helped me realise that I need to get started. I need to get organised. And I started today.

After reading for the first time through the above mentioned viva resources, I decided to create a presentation that captures the overview of the study and then questions and answers and anything else I feel might be useful. A presentation might not be needed for the actual viva but the presentation format will help me prepare for the viva and print it out as flashcards. This is my idea at the moment. I will work through the resources and make sure that I will be able to respond to the sample questions, some of them appear more complex than others.

I need of course to familiarise myself with the viva format at Edinburgh Napier University but my understanding is that I will have the thesis with me, can add post-it notes, use and take notes too.

The presentation is no longer blank. The basics about the study are there already. I will continue working on the study overview and create shorter versions of it too. How about my thesis in a tweet? Then as a 2, 5 and 10 minute overview. Maybe I should record as audio too and share?

When this is done, I am going to filter out some of the key questions from the resources I have, add them to my flashcard set and attempt to respond. Further preparation is needed, I am sure. Everybody talks about a mock viva and it would be useful to organise something like this too and if I could watch or observe a viva that would also be helpful. Adam will be my first examiner. Maybe I can ask the boys too. Maybe all three of them together?

If you are reading this and have any suggestions from your personal experience, please let me know. Thank you so much.

Chrissi