You’ve done the research, you’ve ‘birthed’ your thesis, the last step between you and your PhD is the much dreaded viva voce exam. You have to sit in a room for a few hours to discuss your research and convince your examiners your work makes an original contribution to knowledge and is worthy of a PhD. In this article, Dr Emmanuel Mogaji reflects on his recent experience of undertaking a viva.
I was given six weeks notice to prepare for my viva. Even though I was quite confident about my research and my thesis, my approaching viva examination appeared very daunting. I reassured myself by telling myself I was going to enjoy my viva and not just survive it.To prepare myself mentally, I read articles and listened to various podcasts available on different websites.
When I heard former PhD candidates reflect on their viva experience, I always had this idea they had just survived it – akin to escaping from a lion’s den. I didn’t want to be like that, I wanted to enjoy every bit of it. My most important preparation though was reading my thesis from cover to cover.
As academics, we routinely come across students – undergraduate and postgraduate – enquiring into how they can get into a PhD programme. Our advice is always the same, do your research! In today’s #studentchat, Mohammed shares some advice for undergraduate students contemplating undertaking a PhD.
Research is fun! Contrary to popular belief, it is much more than hours on end based in a laboratory carrying out monotonous work. It is a much more wholesome and rewarding experience but it is not without its challenges.
I have been fortunate to be involved in research prior to undertaking my undergraduate degree. Now you may wonder, why burden oneself with extra work, isn’t working towards a first or a 2:1 enough? A decade ago, the answer to that question would have been yes. However today it is almost impossible to get into a PhD programme without some form of research experience under your belt. With this in mind, I encourage other undergraduate students to look out for opportunities to carry out some type of research from the beginning of their studies. You may be thinking, “I don’t want to do a PhD, let me get out and make some real money!” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and no one should do a PhD if they do not really want to do it. However, for those interested, remember that research in itself can equip you with a range of transferable skills that are highly sought after by different employers.
For some time now we haven’t shared much on the doctoral front and as the season for new starters on the doctoral journey is nigh, hence is the need for a new post! Often I am left wondering whether these type of posts are supportive or detrimental to PhD candidates due to the complex and non-linear nature of the experiences. As one man’s meat is another’s poison so is the nature of the doctoral beast i.e. no such thing as a generic PhD.
I won’t belittle you with the suggestion there is a right or wrong way to do the PhD (who am I to know?) but I’m positive some things are particularly key in helping navigate the journey from the initial thinking phase, development of the proposal, getting the application through and starting on the road to “permanent head damage” as some people refer to it.
The seven steps I have chosen to discuss here are in no particular order and the first is to “know why you want to do the PhD and what your career options and end points are before you begin”. This is very important as far too often the idea is that once you complete your PhD, jobs will be lined up for you everywhere. That in itself is a fallacy as the job market can be just as brutal to PhD graduates as it is to graduates from first degrees. Believe me, one thing you do not want after your PhD and spending countless ££££ and $$$$ is #JOBLESS…..there is nothing as demoralising as knowing they you are a broke ass jobless DR.
The second step is that you’ll need to “get career and mentor advice early on”. This is very important! I have come across many PhD graduates who have spent between 5 and 10 years, sometimes even more on contract/temporary, rolling post-doctoral research careers which for some ends up in a blind alley career. In some of those cases, these over qualified individuals look for opportunities to change career paths, taking much lower salaries to break away from the unending slave-like performance that a lengthy post-doc could easily turn into.
Now it might be that you already know your career plan and you eventually would like to be an academic, working as a lecturer at a University beyond your PhD. If that is the case, my advise would be to seek opportunities to embark on a postgraduate teaching qualification. I was fortunate to have had a mentor who changed the course of my career taking me away from my obsession with returning to medicine and telling me that she saw a career as a lecturer or educator in me. Alongside this, came two senior academics who had convinced me on the importance of starting the teaching qualification during the PhD. I won’t deny how arduous the task was; doing a PhD, keeping a part-time job and doing a teaching qualification alongside it. Painful as it might have been, it was one of the best decisions I took as it paid dividend during my PhD and instrumental in me getting my first full-time lecturing role after the PhD.
So, having an idea where your career should or could go is important before and when you start your PhD. One thing that can help you with the support to build the network and find mentors to help your PhD would be joining a professional society. The importance of this cannot be overstated. For whatever field you choose to embark on your PhD studies, even if your PhD is on trying to understand the alignment of stars, or why pandas in captivity refuse to mate or best, the phenomena of witchcraft, there is a professional society that you can benefit from immensely.
‘What are your two greatest strengths? How do you think your greatest weakness will impact on your performance in this role?’
I was at a job interview. On the outside, I worked to project the confident, cool and collected interviewee. On the inside, I was on my knees begging ‘Please have mercy on this graduate in the wilderness of graduate employment for those of us without experience!’ I answered the technical questions with flair (at least I thought so). I talked about my dissertation, latest news in the sector…I could already see my staff ID card in the horizon. Then the question above was posed and I just went blank.
Thing is, up to that point, I had thought that interviews were only to test if an individual had the subject knowledge to do the job. ‘We are looking for an accountant, you are an accountant, you’re hired!’ However, prospective employers are also searching for an individual who is a good fit for their organisation. S/he has the knowledge and experience but…Is s/he a team player? Can s/he persevere through rejection? Is s/he inspirational? How does s/he manage conflict? Is s/he empathetic?
The business environment around us is constantly changing. Successful organizations have to learn to adapt or face the prospect of their competitors ‘eating’ into their market share. The ability to navigate ‘new waters’ is important to all entrepreneurs – whether you are a sole trader or have 1,000 employees! In today’s article, Adeyinka shares steps aspiring entrepreneurs can utilise to ensure their businesses succeed in spite of a changing internal and external environment.
Let’s take a look at Burger King. Once ranked number two on the list of top fast food chains, it now finds itself number 5 in the top 15, according to Business Insider. In 2012, the top 15 fast food chains ranked in the nation had a combined $115 billion in sales. It may sound like this is a good thing for Burger King with sales of $8.4 billion and 7,231 locations right? The fact is that they are losing market share to Wendy’s, Starbucks and Subway which is reason for concern. Additionally, Burger King have Taco Bell in the number 6 spot nipping at their heels. So what has Burger King done? They are now one of the first fast food chains to come to market with turkey & veggie burgers – tapping into the health conscious and vegetarian consumer market. Like Burger King, every business, whether large or small needs to be able to recognize when it’s time to shake things up.
It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.