The End of a Journey

Well, that’s it, I’ve finished my PhD and it has now been approved. It’s taken me longer to get to this point than anticipated (but I imagine many PhD students say the same). The important thing is I got here and I enjoyed a lot of the journey along the way.

My last post on here was about submitting my thesis, last November 2019. After submitting my thesis I took a little break away from it before I started preparing for my viva. I wanted time to reflect, to think about other things, to recover from the intensity of writing such a long and complicated document. I discussed with my supervisors who we would like to have as examiners and thankfully they both said yes (thank you Paul Cairney and Noemi Lendvai)! My viva was then set for the end of January, so I began preparing at the start of the month. I was nervous about the idea of discussing my thesis with two experts, I was worried about what they would think of it, I was concerned about the idea of them ‘marking’ it. But I worked through that. I persuaded myself that whilst they would undoubtedly know more about some of the theory than me and might be able to make different connections, I knew my research better than anyone, therefore I was at least an expert in that!

Preparation for the viva mostly meant re-reading my thesis, thinking about the types of questions that I might be asked and then thinking through some points I could make in response. I tried not to overthink things or over prepare.

On the day of the viva I started out a little nervous but then began to look at the process as an opportunity to talk about my research with two people (a captive audience), who both knew a lot about the theory and issues and who would be able to help improve my research, to make a better end product. That was how I tried to approach the discussion, as an opportunity, and a learning exercise, as well as a test, to demonstrate my understanding, my thoughts and my ideas.

I really enjoyed my viva. I was immediately put at ease by both examiners. It was a positive, challenging, interesting and thoughtful discussion. I was tested on key areas, encouraged to discuss, question and challenge, and provided with a supportive atmosphere in which to debate my findings. The areas I was asked to think about made sense to me, by making changes I could improve what I had done. So whilst I’m sure it would have been great to come away with no corrections, I understood why some corrections were necessary and helpful and in the end would be beneficial.

After the viva I took a few weeks off, including a lovely holiday abroad. I then waited to get the official feedback. Whilst waiting the UK went into lockdown, so my world and everyone else’s changed. I found it quite hard initially to get back into thinking about my thesis and the changes I needed to make. It took a while to regain my focus. But I got there, the corrections were approved and I passed my PhD, at last! People keep asking me what next? I have no idea yet, really. An article or two maybe?

A final word of thanks to everyone who has helped and supported me along the way, to all those who put up with me asking them questions and being nosey. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to do this, even though it’s been pretty tough at times, I have lots of positive memories of doing research, meeting different people, and being part of the School for Policy Studies at Bristol University, a wonderful place to study and do research.

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