Viva – a word instilling fear and trepidation in even the most stout-hearted. However, although it is something which, on first glance, appears to be intrinsically academic, there are several elements to a Viva which will help you in any applications you make outside of academia as well.
The process of preparing for and completing your Viva develops a series of transferrable skills you can use as examples in your applications, as well as providing valuable interview experience.
A job application will typically require you to express why you are a good fit for the role, either through a covering letter or a series of competency based questions.
If, for example, the job description details the need for someone who can deliver comprehensive presentations to senior management within strict deadlines, a Viva matches these requirements; your oral defence of your PhD and wider research is, in effect, a presentation; for senior management read senior academics; as for a strict deadline, you will likely have faced a number of these throughout your PhD, but between write-up and Viva there is a whole new avenue of work to focus on and a new deadline to meet.
Similarly, a PhD Viva can be used to display skills in:
- Dealing with high-pressure scenarios
- Communicating complex ideas to others who may not have the same background or field of expertise
- Taking criticism and, crucially, using it constructively
- Bringing others around to your way of thinking
Research before interview
Preparation is key prior to a Viva, whether that is going back over your own work to ensure you don’t miss any key information, or looking into your interviewer’s background and interests to anticipate the kinds of questions they will ask and the information they will be looking for.
This is no different to researching before an interview – you need to review your initial application once more, go back to the job description and person specifications for the role, and go back to any information on the employer that will be of benefit in the interview, as a reminder or as a new development. You would take these things into account for your Viva, and a job interview is no different.
The actual scenario of the interviews will be slightly different, with your Viva perhaps more of a defence of your work rather than the exploration of your character and skills you would expect from an interview, but certain elements will be the same.
The situation is still formal, and you still need to come across professionally and as a knowledgeable person in your field; you will still be asked a myriad of questions from a variety of experts in their field (much as one academic may focus on a particular branch of your PhD work in their queries, your prospective line manager will be asking questions of a different ilk to, for example, an HR representative in your interview); you will still be asked how your work is relevant to the field. The overall set-up will be similar, even if the nitty-gritties are different.