The past seven days have been very special and unforgettable. I am very proud of myself for successfully defending my PhD thesis and for passing the viva with minor corrections! On top of this, I have been appointed to an academic position at one of the UK’s excellent universities. I have to be really humble and am writing many thank you messages, emails and letters every day. I feel deep, deep gratitude for the people who have supported me over the time of my studies.
The first half of this year was very difficult. Everything I experienced gave me so many emotions, hope and courage, and now, I am happy and grateful for everything. I can congratulate myself!
My PhD viva
I have never been that nervous in my life. I reread my thesis and made notes and a list of typos and my corrections. I didn’t know at what point I would feel sufficiently prepared, but I tried to fully understand the thesis content and key debates in the field within which my research is situated.
My supervisors and I had a meeting a week before the viva. It was very nice to meet online for the first time in six months! We immediately started discussing what questions my examiners were likely to ask. My supervisors explained potential general questions and asked me, “So, what would you say are your contributions?” Suddenly, my brain became blank, and I couldn’t respond properly. This made me feel even more nervous, and I had to admit I was scared. I was simply scared.
During the last weekend before my viva, my partner and I practised so many times, and also spent hours reading the recent debates in the field.
The night before my viva, my nervousness was extreme. Before sleeping, I imagined that I was on a roller coaster, and it started sliding and moving faster and faster. I grabbed the safety bar, but then decided to release it. I raised both my arms up and surrendered to the ups and downs of the roller coaster… I think, at that point, I decided to let it go. I had done all the preparation that I could do.
During the viva, my examiners’ questions were mostly specific rather than general, but I knew how to respond to all of them. I felt as if they were giving me a chance to explain more fully what I had done and what I already knew. I felt as if they were encouraging me to be comfortable and relaxed and tell more. They never asked me anything impossible. Fortunately, the internet connection was stable. Overall, I had a very, very positive experience of a PhD viva. My supervisor joined the viva after the examiners’ decision, and I was happy to see that my thesis was received very positively by the examiners, and they called me “Dr Kondo”!
After passing my viva, I made phone calls to my parents. They cried.
Do not hesitate to ask experts for support
One of the questions my examiners asked me was whether I had any advice for a new PhD student with no personal contacts in the field that he or she is investigating but who wishes to do as I did. I answered that I would never hesitate to ask experts. Some offer help, even when you don’t have a personal connection with the person.
When I started my postgraduate study, I was not in touch with any local experts. But my supervisor encouraged me to find an academic in the field and contact him or her to ask about a situation in a particular location and get in-depth advice. I searched, and found a female academic who recently published a book relevant to my topic. I emailed her and received a positive reply!
In addition, I sent emails to medical schools, introducing myself and explaining my reason for getting in touch. Out of four, one medical school replied with what I was searching for and inviting me to sit in a seminar. I went to the school building and observed the session. There, I was introduced to a doctor, who later became the gatekeeper in my PhD research.
In my studies, eight doctors and 68 patients gave me support in the end, but it started with zero personal contact at the beginning. Without the support, help, guidance and encouragement from others, this piece of work (and this blog) would never exist.