16 February, 2006

Viva day approaches…

My first post to this blog way back in September coincided with the submission of my PhD thesis. After four years of toil, all that remained between me and doctordom was the oral exam. Cut to five months later, and that day is upon me. Tomorrow, I finally get my viva.

It is a source of some annoyance to me that it has taken 5 months to get to this point. This delay has principally been due to my supervisor not sorting out an external examiner for me: partly because he was being extremely picky, partly because he’s been too busy doing management stuff to chase up people, and partly (if you’re a cynic) because it’s been quite convenient for him to keep me in limbo career-wise so I stay here and run his lab for him.

To those unfamiliar with the whole process, the viva is a sort of ‘peer review’ of your thesis. People with expertise in your field get the chance to question you about your work, before deciding whether you have made a sufficiently novel contribution to science to qualify as a PhD. The format varies in different countries, but here in the UK it’s a closed session with you and at least two examiners, one from your department and an expert in your field brought in from elsewhere.

So, all those months of field work, those long sessions in the lab, motivational crises, tussles with recalcitrant equipment, struggles to make sense of strange data, and attacks of writer’s block… and the question of whether it was all worth it comes down a few hours with two guys in a room. Well, three in fact, because my supervisor wants to sit in. I have the right to say no, but it seems more hassle than it’s worth. I just hope that there isn’t a problem he’s not telling me about.

It should be OK, for a certain value of OK. I’ve produced a whole load of new data, and have used it to solve (or at least propose solutions to) geological problems far beyond the original remit of my thesis. Three of my chapters have already been published as papers. So whilst they will probably ask me tough questions, I should be able to successfully defend my work.

But… you can fail. Or get told that you only qualify for a lesser MPhil. Or get told that major corrections are needed. No matter how I rationalise it, there is a little bit of doubt gnawing away at me. There’s also the fact that it’s been 5 months, and things are not as fresh in my mind as they could be. I’d better stop blogging – and get reading.

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