Yes, I know, shocking. I’m writing about my PhD again, something I’ve not done for a long time. Why? Well, because essentially all of 2016 was writing, editing, revising, rewriting and then more editing. Oh and panicking, there was a quite a bit of that when I realised I wasn’t going to make my official deadline (thanks to family deaths, illness, general life events etc). Thankfully, and despite the usual scaling of Mount Administration, I got an extension through to Jan 2017. I was ready to submit before Christmas, but gave myself the first couple of weeks of the new year for a final proof-read and tidy before submitting on 18th Jan 2017.
Setting the Date
I kinda expected the viva would take place within about three months post-submission, since THAT’s what the university’s own regulations stipulate. And given I’ve had to keep to their administration rigid timetables myself, you’d expect the same to be true for their own efforts.
Yeah, I know. Anyone who’s spoken to me or read my earlier posts, knows that my professional opinion of the university’s administration layer is low, and my personal one is probably not repeatable in public. Hence, consider how much foul language I’ve used when finally I got the viva date set for 15th June 2017: 5 months post submission. This really wasn’t ideally, especially for applying for jobs where having had the viva could have made all the difference between securing paid employment and not even getting an interview. I really feel the university has damaged my potential future earnings and career by their poor speed of turnaround. Glad I had the opportunity to feedback on this in the recent PGR student survey, but this couldn’t make the viva happen faster.
I’ve been trying (and failing) to read 10 pages a day of the thesis in the build up to the 15th June. Certainly, once I hit May (the month, not the PM) I made a redoubled effort to try and get through the chapters again. I’ve probably eventually re-read it about three times fully, with one final skim through in the last couple of pre-viva days. It struck me as being not too bad at all, although I kept finding the odd niggling grammatical error. I know far worse theses have passed muster, as I’ve flicked through them over the years, so I wasn’t letting this stress me out. All the same it’s frustrating to realise that despite all the careful proofreading by me and Mrs Llama, these things still slipped through.
The Day Arrives
I was pretty calm, and relaxed about the approaching date, although my sleeping patterned had gone to hell. I partially attribute that to the light June mornings – I do not do well here, and Mrs Llama insists on leaving the bedroom door open to let more light flood in. Given a free hand for my own room arrangements, I’d be sleeping in a dark, dark hole all summer long!
On the day, I packed some water, a hat and my thesis and headed off into campus bright and early. I planned to hideout in the library for the morning, having a last skim of vital parts (research rationale, claim to knowledge, theory, results, conclusions). The viva was set for a 13.15-13.30 kickoff, so I had some time to collect myself and my ragged thoughts. The library was (mostly) nice and quiet, until 11am when schoolkids on an open day came tearing through excitedly looking for “The horror section”. I think they were disappointed by what they found! Meanwhile, I was struggling more and more to keep myself calm. I indulged in a few BJ Blazkowicz-style breathing exercises, chatted to the Wife and tried to dissuade myself of the notion that the last page I just skipped over would be THE bit I should have read more closely.
Shortly afternoon me, and my rising nerves, headed over to see my supervisor for a chat and lunch. Or in my case, some camomile tea – I do not like eating ahead of interviews or other stressful events as my stomach tends to throw a fit. ‘Lunch’ was just what I needed, in that in our talk about future papers we’re aiming to write I was nicely distracted. Then it was time to head to CELS101 (yes, Room 101, thank you NTU for that Orwellian additional fear factor!) and face my panel. Well, it was time, but the Independent Chair was a very much ‘by the rules’ kinda guy, and hence I had a loooong wait (20 minutes, it SEEMED long) before I came in and things began.
Your Starter for 10
The viva itself was actually as I had hoped. A conversation between relative peers, focussed on my research, approaches, thoughts, conclusions etc. I didn’t feel stressed, I was able to talk (mostly) clearly about what I’d done, why and how it was important. All credit to the External and Internal Examiners for that. There was a very interesting debate over my conceptualisation of activists and indeed my whole ethnographic-framing, and that was probably the nearest I came to having to make it a viva-defence. Did my best to take their points on board, while at the same time making my own thinking and perceptions clear. Eventually, we ran out of questions, followed by a chance for me to ask them if there was anything they should have asked. Yeah, like I’m going to say “Hey, you should REALLY have asked about this bit, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing“. I suggested they could have asked ‘What’s your perfect Sunday?’, but that was about it. I was excused while the examiners took a comfort break and then deliberated their decision. I glanced at my phone – the viva had only taken 65 minutes.
Congratulations, Dr Llama
I didn’t have long to wait. 2 minutes. And was greeted by the Chair almost immediately saying “Congratulations, Dr Johnson, we’ve recommended that the thesis be passed with no corrections“.
Despite THIS moment being what I’ve been working towards, hoping for, for over 4 years…to finally hear it was beyond a shock to the system. I remember muttering some thanks, shaking everyone’s hand and trying not to beam like a loony. I kept thinking “No corrections…not even Mrs Llama’s PhD got passed with that!“. No thesis is perfect, and there was a lot of really useful feedback and suggestions from the examiners on how to improve it for publication as a book, or preparing it for journal articles (I’m not quite sure which yet). They also wanted to tweak a single word in the title to “Better represent the depth and breath of your research“…wow.
A New Dawn
Writing this two days later…I’m still not quite sure it all happened, there’s still that slight doubt that I dreamed it all and I’m still waiting for the viva. But I’m not. Sure, I need the official letter to arrive and there’s (hopefully) an amusing hat-wearing related ceremony to attend next month to get the certificate. Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes I am now a Doctor.
There was time for a quick drink and a chat with the examiners and my supervisor, which was a great wind down. Nevertheless, I was bursting to go home and see Mrs Llama to share the moment with her. Needless to say, she was quite excited too and we went out to dinner to celebrate.
All that remains now, is I just need to find a paying job that’ll make all the struggle, effort and learning really feel like it was worthwhile! Stay tuned for that one…