If tomorrow is judgement day

Tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock, I have my viva. A viva is an oral exam at the end of your PhD. I have two examiners, one from Trinity and one from the University of East London. They will both have read my thesis and will question me about it for an hour or two. Immediately afterwards, I will get my result.

I’ve been feeling vomity about it for a week now. My chest is tight and I’m twitchy. I can’t focus. I’m scared.

I’m hoping that I “get away with it”, in the same way I got away with my Masters thesis. I did have a supervisor for my Masters, but he took a job in Oman while I was working on it. That was fine though. I hadn’t consulted him once and didn’t discover he’d left the university until after I’d submitted the thesis. The thesis was written over eight evenings and handed in in a rush. I got away with it and got a 2.1

My approach to my PhD wasn’t all that different. All of it was written in bursts: in October 2011, March and May 2012, January, May and September 2014. I got things handed in at the last minute. My supervisor has seen a first draft of most chapters, but he hasn’t read a final draft.

As you might remember, I submitted my thesis to the Graduate Studies Office on a Friday morning before flying to Italy in September. The Sunday night before that, I emailed my supervisor a complete final draft. He was honest and said he wouldn’t be able to read it all in five days (It had been three months since I’d last contacted him). I asked him to at least read the conclusion.

On Thursday morning, less than 24 hours before I was due to submit, I got an email from him. He was worried about the conclusion and therefore the thesis as a whole. He told me I should take more time. I stayed up late that night and made all the corrections he said I should. He had suggested I spend two weeks on them. I took about two and a half hours.

I submitted. More or less against the advice of my supervisor. He hasn’t seen the final product, so tomorrow’s exam could have quite a few surprises for him.

The administrative officer began to refer to submitting your thesis early as “pulling a Connor”. Literally. I’m a bad example, held up to warn other PhD students.

Everyone who wasn’t in college with me while I was doing my PhD says “You’ll be fine.” They have no doubt that I’ll pass.

People who did the PhD with me, and who know how much work I did, say things like “At least it will be over” and “It will only create extra work for them if they don’t pass you, so they probably will” and “it’s better to know”. Aaargh!

There are a number of possibly outcomes. I don’t think I’ll pass without corrections (no one ever does) and I don’t think I’ll fail, or be recommended for a masters degree instead of a PhD. The two most likely results are “pass with minor corrections” and “pass with major corrections”.

Almost everyone gets “pass with minor corrections”, which is fine. You have two months to make a few changes and you run them by the internal examiner before you submit. It doesn’t cost anything. That is what I hope for.

The other possibility is “major corrections”. This means making substantial changes and re-registering as a student and spending 6 months to 2 years making the necessary changes. I don’t know if I’d be able to keep my job. I would have to find €6000 in registration fees somewhere. I’m terrified that this will be the outcome.

It’s not that I think my thesis is bad. I think I have a sound research methodology that elicited rich and productive data. I think my data presentation is impressive and that I’ve analysed this data in a fluid, realistic and meaningful way. (We won’t mention my review of the literature in the field or my conclusions, both of which are truly dreadful.)

Ever since I submitted, I’ve been having nightmares about the viva. Not the viva itself, but about the result. I have very vivid dreams of walking through the corridors in tears and having administrators, students and lecturers from the School of Education mocking me and telling me that I didn’t deserve to pass. I dream of very close friends telling me that I should just accept that I wasn’t good enough. Groups of people crowd the corridors of the Arts Block shouting insults at me in my sleep.

I hope that’s not the result. I hope I get through. I hope I get “minor corrections”. If I do, I will refer to myself exclusively as “Doctor” for at least a year. I promise.

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