Episode 80

Published on:

19th Jun 2023

How to nail your psychology viva

Show Notes for The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast Episode:

How to Nail your psychology viva

Thank you for listening to the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast.

It’s getting to that time of year where Vivas are about. But what is one and how can you nail it?

Let me guide you through my 12 top tips.

There’s also a bloopers reel you might enjoy on YouTube too!

I hope you find it a useful listen.

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Dr Marianne Trent (:

Today we are thinking about what a Viva is when it comes to psychology and how you can prepare optimally for yours or support somebody who might need to do the same for theirs. Stay right to the end ‘cos we've got so many tips to get through. Hope you find it so useful.

Jingle Guy (:

If you're looking to become a psychologist, then let this be your guide. This

Dr Marianne Trent (:

Hi, welcome along to the Aspiring Psychologist podcast. I am Dr. Marianne Trent and I'm a qualified clinical psychologist. I'm able to say that to you because I am a doctor and because I got that doctorate by doing the thesis part of my training. If I hadn't passed my Viva and my research components, I would not be a doctor. And so that is why it's super important to make sure that we are supporting you optimally to know what vibes are and how to blast yours out of the park with any luck. So first and foremost, what is a Viber? And you might be like a what now let me tell you how you spell that in case it's not a term that you've heard before. It's V I V A. If you can think back to any French or German or Spanish exams that you might have done perhaps for your GCSEs, there might well have been an oral component to that.


I certainly had a French G C S E oral which didn't go hugely well but that is in essence a bit of a vivo. It's a spoken examination where you talk about your knowledge of a subject. The knowledge in question for this viva that we are talking about will either be your undergraduate dissertation, your master's thesis, or your doctoral or PhD thesis. And this Viva will give you the opportunity to defend your work and to explain it. It assists the examiners who will be on your panel to understand and to truly recognise that you are competent and proficient and that your research is going to be sound and robust. It also allows them to check that you are meeting the requirements for the qualification being awarded. So it does feel like kind of a big deal because it is, it's really the final hurdle for any of your qualifications.


Not all undergraduate courses offer Viva. Certainly I didn't have a viva for my dissertation, but I know that some undergraduate universities do ask their students to sit vis. So firstly we're gonna talk a bit more about what a viva is, what it might look like. And then I'm gonna guide you through pretty much about 12 top tips for areas to consider. So a VIVA is usually conducted at your university or remotely perhaps if you have been doing an online programme of study, it will usually consist of somebody from your course who hasn't been involved in your research. It wouldn't be appropriate or ethical for your own research supervisor to do your vi, but there will also be an external person on the panel. At least one, possibly more than one, but certainly in my Viva it was one person from the course and one person externally who comes in and holds you to account and holds the standards.


And that was in a two to one meeting and it was scary. You know, it felt like kind of a big deal but I don't really think I realised what a big deal it might be because I thought it was all gonna be breezy. I thought it was all gonna be fine and I might guide you through that as I talk about my top tips. So let's plough on with top tip number one. So tip number one is understanding the format. So this can be really useful for you to know how long it's expected to last. And it might be how long is a piece of string ‘cos if it goes really well you might be in and out, you know or if you get a little bit hauled over the colds, it might well be longer than expected. But is there in your university or place of study, is there a maximum length or a minimum length that you are kept for asking those questions can be really useful.


Who is gonna be doing your viva? That's part of understanding the format. So I knew in advance who was going to be doing my Viva and this was then my opportunity to Google those people and the research that they had done to get a feel for what their own particular preference for methodology might be and for how rigorous and robust they might be too. I didn't want any surprises. Also gave me the chance to work out what they're gonna look like ‘cos I Googled them. So at least it just brings down those levels of anxiety a little bit. As part of understanding the format. It can be really useful for you to know what the assessment criteria are. So what are those benchmarks that you're trying to measure up against. So knowing where you will and perhaps won't score points can be really useful to make sure that you are covering those points if and when required.


So top tip number two is reviewing your research. I know it can feel a bit boring and it can feel like you are totally up to the hilt with where you are at with your research, but you are going to need to make time to read it in its entirety and to almost treat it as if it's not your baby. And to treat it with a critical inquiring mind. If you can, if this was the first time you'd seen this piece of work, what would you be thinking about it? If you've used any particular approaches and you've used any kind of manuals or particular models for the approaches that you've used, then it might well be helpful to revisit those books or that guidance so that you are up to speed with what the gold standard would be and how yours might deviate outside of that.


That was a little bit of a learning point for me I have to say. So I was doing grounded theory and was using a particular type of grounded theory from a particular book but hadn't ever quite got round to reading the book in its entirety. Don't do that, don't do that. Learn from me. Read all of the books that you say that you've read. Don't just skim read ‘cos it might well come back and bite you in the bum. So you need to be in a position where you know your own work, where you know what you've said and where you are able to defend your own methodology. You might need to explain in more detail why you did certain things, why you didn't do certain things, what happened in case it's not clear and we don't want any apprentice style interview blips or dragons den brain farts where you're like, oh I don't know, I can't remember.


So going through your own research timeline, how it's been what you did, what the stumbling blocks were and reading the stuff that you've submitted can be so important. You should know this inside and out. You are the expert on this and you need to demonstrate that. So top tip number three. When you are doing your prep, you need to perhaps be thinking about anticipating any questions that you might be asked might be useful to think about the strengths and weaknesses for your work. And maybe to think about trying to record yourself talking out loud about some of those as if answering those questions. This can really help in easing your comfortability curve with hearing your own voice and hearing yourself talk about you and your work and treating yourself as credible and important and worthwhile. Of course, if you're working in a placement or you've got some other form of paid work, it might be really nice opportunity to ask if you can present at a work meeting so that you can about your research so that you can get used to talking about it and then answering any questions that they might field to you.


Encourage them to do so because that's really, really useful experience and stuff that you just might not see coming . It's better to have that along your among your colleagues rather than have it in the viva. Nobody likes to be blindsided. Okay, top tip number four. You're going to need to go back to the literature, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You're going to need to have a look at the literature that you've included in your literature review and in your introduction you're gonna need to see if there's any new research that might have come up since you last did that. You're gonna have to have a look at how your research fits in, into the broader picture of what's out there or what's come out there since how have you helped advance this knowledge base. Top tip number five is thinking about concise summaries.


And for this you might find it useful to listen to or watch episode 65 of the podcast how to learn and revise better for exams or interviews. So in terms of the summaries for what you're gonna need to think about it can be really useful to to summarise your key areas. So for example, methodology finds conclusions into concise bullet points that you are then able to talk about freely and that are free for you to be able to draw upon when you need to. This is why I refer you to the episode 65 because there are some limitations to summarising. So do check out that at the end and I'll put a link for that at the end of this episode. So let's take a quick break here and I'll be back along with loads more tips that you are not gonna wanna miss out on. If you do find this content helpful, please do rate it and review it if you are listening on Spotify or Apple and if you're watching on YouTube, please do like, subscribe and comment. Donations or tip for the content that I create for you is so gratefully received and there is information in the show notes or in the description below. If you want to check that out, I'll be back along very soon. See you soon, I'll be back along very soon. I'll see you on the other side

Jingle Guy (:


Dr Marianne Trent (:

Welcome back along. Thank you for listening this far. I hope you'll find the rest of this really useful too. So top tip number six is practicing your presentation skills. This is where you're gonna have to get your webcam out. Sit, look at yourself, practice eye contact with people, practice you know, talking to people, hearing your voice out loud, looking at your body language when you talk about your research. You know, we want nice open you know, perhaps some gestures we don't want lots of and like if you're hating the research area, we don't want that to flow out of you as you're talking about it. Practice perhaps sitting with your hands in a loose unclenched position to really encourage, you know, all the good hormones to flow, not the stress ones as much as possible. You might wanna talk at yourself in a mirror as well, you know, as you're about to brush your teeth or maybe even as you're brushing your teeth.


Talk to yourself, talk yourself through your research at regular opportunities. Practice, practice, practice hopefully makes perfect. And speaking of practice number seven is thinking about whether you can arrange a mock viva. This might be with your actual research supervisor, either clinical or academic or maybe both. This will help familiarise you with the process of a viva and maybe, you know, strengthen some of those Achilles heels if you feel there are some. This is a chance for people who might already be familiar with your research and your work to, to grill you and to compassionately support you in this process, which can feel quite anxiety provoking at times. Top tip number eight is to really think about the weaknesses for your research. None of us are perfect people and as a result we don't create and produce perfect research and that has to be okay. We do the best that we can, but there's always things that could be improved or you know, might be better in an ideal world.


So if we think about what the gold standard might have been in terms of your recruitment size, in terms of the methodology, in terms of the quality of the stuff you were able to get out of your research, think about those as weaknesses. But things that you know, you might well be asked, think about how you'd respond constructively to any criticism or weaknesses that are identified that you may or may not have considered being wounded and hurt and gutted and devastated and hostile in your defence of this as if it is actually one of your children who's been criticised is probably not going to be super helpful. So just allowing people to go through this process with you because it's their job to do it and because in order to get your qualification, it's part of the process. You need to be prepared for the fact that they might not love what you've done.


They may feel that it could have been done better. Top tip number nine is staying up to date. So could you read some new books or publications? Could you broaden your understanding of this area to make sure that you've got things to be able to draw upon and reference? If, if the time comes for it at your Viva, what are the hot themes and debates in this area at the moment? Who are the movers and the shakers? You know, what research are they doing that might not be exactly similar but might have some overlap with yours? So now we are onto the top tips about the day it's happening. It's here. You know, you've lost all the sleep, you're gonna lose over this hopefully today is the day of your viva. We're gonna be looking at top tip number 10, being aiming to stay calm and confident.


Deep breaths, you know, positive mindset and imagining that it's gonna go well. You know, you can practice that eventuality as well. It should hopefully feel like the people on your panel are there to hold you to rigour but not rip you to shreds. The aim is that this is a scholarly discussion about your work, not how hopely to be really sneaky and try and catch you off guard so you can go in there and allow yourself to just do your best. You know, try and stay within your window of tolerance. Try and think about the way you are sitting. So we want to be sitting with an open posture, not like this with our shoulders really hunched forward ‘cos that might tell the body that we are in fight and flight mode and we want to be letting the adrenaline flow to help aid our performance.


But we don't want to go so fast and furious with that adrenaline and the cortisol that our performance is affected negatively. Top tip number 11 is that it's okay to ask for clarification if things are phrased in a weird way or you are tipping outside of your window of tolerance. Don't be afraid to ask for the question again or to ask a little bit of clarification to help you or understanding of what the question is. Take some breaths, just take a moment. If you know that you find it helpful then maybe consider taking a notepad with you. It's better to check rather than kind of ramble or waffle on and give something that just isn't super useful to what you're talking about ‘cos that's not gonna help you shine. And last but not least, just be thoughtful, honest, interested and polite. If you don't know the answer to something, it's okay to say that.


And sometimes with clients still now I'm like, I'm not quite sure but I'll make sure that I make a note to, to try and find that out for you. Or just, you know, that is a really interesting point. I hadn't considered that. I'm not actually sure of the answer, but this is maybe how I would go about, you know, finding that answer. So maybe I'd look at the literature base, maybe I'd look at the evidence base. Maybe I'd consider what books might be around there or maybe I'd contact an expert in the field to help illuminate my understanding of this and to see where there might be some overlap between my work and theirs. You could offer alternative perspectives. If you're not quite sure of that answer, just think around the problem. But be honest, you know, we don't expect you to know everything.


This is, you know, definitely not a perfectionist approach that we're striving for. So yeah, remembering that the Viva is supposed to be an opportunity to showcase you and you are brilliant work rather than feeling like you're being hauled over the coals and ripped to shreds can be really key too. Some people really enjoy their viva from start to finish ‘cos it's talking about an area that they are passionate and proud of. And I hope that you will absolutely be in that camp. I really enjoyed the first and the third paper section of my Viva. Did not enjoy the second bit, the middle bit with proper preparation and what is they say prior planning prevents poor performance. We don't and we don't want poor performance for you. So I hope you found my Whistlestop tour through my 12 top tips for preparing for and understanding what your viva will be really useful. If you did find it helpful, please do rate and review the podcast and like subscribe and comment. If watching on YouTube, if you think someone else might find this content useful, please do share it with them. Sharing really is caring. Thank you so much for being part of my world. If you've got ideas for future podcast episodes, please do let me know. Otherwise, stay kind to yourself and I'll catch up with you for the next episode of the Aspiring Psychologist podcast, which will be with you from 6:00 AM on Monday. Take care. Bye.

Jingle Guy (:

If you looking to a psych, this.

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About the Podcast

The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast
Tips and Techniques to help you get on track for your career in psychology
Welcome to The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast with me, Dr Marianne Trent.

What you'll get by subscribing to this podcast is access to free tips and tricks to get yourself feeling more confident about building the right skills and experiences to help you in your career as an a Aspiring Psychologist.

Hosted by me... Dr Marianne Trent, a qualified Clinical Psychologist in private practice and lead author of The Clinical Psychologist Collective: Advice & Guidance for Aspiring Clinical Psychologists. Within this podcast it is my aim to provide you with the kind of show I would have wanted to listen to when I was in your position! I was striving for ‘relevant’ experience, wanting to get the most out of my paid work and developing the right skills to help me to keep on track for my goals of becoming a qualified psychologist! Regardless of what flavour of Psychology you aspire to: Clinical, Counselling, Health, Forensic, Occupational or Educational there will be plenty of key points to pique your interest and get you thinking.

The podcast is a mixture of solo chats from me to you and also the occasional interview with people about themes which really matter to you and to the profession too.

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Marianne Trent

Dr Marianne Trent is a qualified clinical psychologist and trauma and grief specialist. She also specialises in supporting aspiring psychologists and in writing compassionately for the media.