The viva


This sign has been at the  bottom of my road all week. Constantly reminding me that my viva is imminent (SOON. DON’T FORGET. DON’T STOP THINKING ABOUT IT FOR EVEN A SECOND. DID YOU STOP THINKING ABOUT IT? LOOK AT THIS SIGN! etc). Making it impossible to forget that on Monday I was going to have to defend my thesis.

This translates into me sitting in a room for several hours while experts in my field discuss my thesis in great detail. One of these was Matt Witt from my own university, who I at least knew. The other was Ian Couzin, who I did not. I had seen him give a plenary at Behaviour in Newcastle. This talk basically seemed to consist of one extremely clever experiment after another, all flowing naturally into each other.

Now almost all the people I’d spoken to about their own vivas had told me that I should enjoy it, as it was the only opportunity I’d ever have to discuss my work with experts in my field and the only time anyone would ever care about my work that much. I told them they were filthy liars and went back to worrying about having to talk to these people, both of whom had done a ridiculous amount of fantastic science, about my little corner of shag-related study.

The final week of fretting eventually ended and the big day arrived. People in my office were treated to the strange and comical sight of my head protruding from a suit.


After about twenty minutes of wearing a hole in our office carpet I finally headed to the room where the viva was due to take place. My thought process at this point basically consisted of white noise and the occasional “This is it!”. I’d been doing this all day yesterday as well: “By this point tomorrow, it will be over”, “One more sleep” and so on.

So as I lurked in the corridor waiting to be asked in, all I could think about this was going to be the culmination of about three and a half years worth of work.

I am not sure how much I can say about the actual viva. It’s all a bit hazy. Facts:

  • I was in there for about three and a half hours (hey, that’s about an hour for each year of PhD!).
  • The examiners tried to put me at my ease immediately (which definitely  helped, but I was probably still extremely tense throughout the whole thing)
  • We opened with a discussion about working with shags. I think I may have chuckled ruefully as some point.
  • We discussed a lot of interesting ways that the field of collective behaviour might go and how technological development might help that.
  • There were biscuits at one point.

Then it was over. That was it, done! I picked up my thesis and proceeded to the traditional cake and bubbly celebration in our common room.

11855442_10155927591285268_882798125_nCake! (By Sheridan)

There were also presents, the main one being a rather nifty knife/multitool with a custom message on it:

And a shag’s skull in amber from my friend Sarah:


Then, it being a Monday lunchtime, everyone shuffled off back to work. Leaving me wondering what to do next. I went and had some lunch myself, then hurled myself into the sea to try to counteract the effect of the bubbly I’d been drinking. It felt extremely odd to have finished.

In the evening we celebrated by visiting my normal haunt, The Waterfront which actually appeared on the front of my viva card, courtesy of Emma Wood:

IMG_0573The Front!

Followed by a curry, and then more drinks at the Front. I did my best to cope with the many drinks and not fall asleep before midnight.


Falmouth on a Monday night being what it is (not to mention that I was feeling extremely sleepy at this stage) after midnight we returned to my house for some viva whisky. This ended up taking a while.

So it’s all over. I have some minor corrections to make but for all intents and purposes I have finished my PhD. Naturally I’d like to try and get some of the other chapters published, which will mean going back through the data and writing I’ve already collected/written, but for the most part I now have to think about some big questions. Namely, what on earth do I do next?






2 responses to “The viva

  1. Well done shag boy, I mean shag man! Big congrats! X

    Jaclyn Pearson

    Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project Manager

    ‘Working with communities and visitors to protect their important seabird heritage’

    Trenoweth, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, TR21 0NS

    Telephone: 07881517047

    A partnership between RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Duchy of Cornwall,

    The Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership, and the Isles of Scilly Bird Group.

    The project is part funded by HLF and LIFE+ Nature Fund

    Registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654.

  2. Pingback: the Final Official (anticlimatic!) End and what happens after | The Shag Project

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