Interesting Things, April 27th 2015

I used to do a fortnightly round-up of things that I had been sharing or things that I had seen whilst on my travels, and then I stopped doing that. I think it would be a mistake (for now at least) to promise to do that regularly again, so instead I’ll start this irregular series of posts: Interesting Things. The condition for sharing things in these posts is that the thing I’m sharing interests me (or it’s something I’m doing, because I like talking about myself sometimes!).


Funding the Podcast

Last year I had what I thought was a bright idea: I would create a Patreon campaign to support the production of the Viva Survivors Podcast. An ongoing patronage programme where people who wanted to fund the creation of a resource sharing PhD and viva experiences could – completely opt-in and no barriers or paywalls in front of the episodes. That’s the very last thing that I want.

I had high hopes and then… nothing! No patrons, no enquiries, nothing. And then after a couple of months a piece of EU legislation around VAT and digital sales came in, and I had to take down the campaign anyway (it would put me in an incredibly difficult position to have to register for VAT, and the application of the rules to platforms like Patreon are not clear yet).

Back at square one? Not at all.


Viva Survivors Update

While I continue finishing my second book on the viva, it seems only appropriate to share some of the recent episodes of the Viva Survivors Podcast over here! I’ve interviewed two recent PhD-completers in the last few weeks, and both episodes are now up over on Viva Survivors.

First of all, in Episode 35 I spoke to Dr Eljee Javier, who told me all about her research in the experience of visible ethnic minorities who were native English speakers engaged in teaching English to non-native speakers. It was great to get a flavour of her research, then also hear about her viva experiences.

Two days ago I posted the latest episode, Episode 36, where I spoke to Dr Anna McFarlane, who recently completed her PhD on William Gibson, one of my favourite contemporary authors. It was interesting to hear about her research – and also to have an interviewee on the podcast who had, what we might call, an atypical viva experience – albeit quite a good one! You’ll have to listen to see what I mean.

These were two great interviews; I’m always looking for more people willing to share their PhD and viva stories, so please get in touch!

Thanks for reading.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


quick thought

Meanwhile, over on the Viva Survivors Podcast

Hello! I’m away at the moment working on a local Grad School as part of the KESS programme, so I’m not here to write anything.

(how is this being written…? Isn’t technology wonderful!)

So what really happened is I was preparing to go away and thought “Oh noes! I didn’t prepare a post for while I was away!”

So today I’m just crosslinking to the Viva Survivors Podcast, where there is a brand new episode up now, featuring Dr Helen Kara. It was really good fun talking to Helen, and she has some great advice to share with PhD candidates – and for postgraduate researchers in general. There’s also a recent post from me talking about the goals of the podcast for the next year, and on 26th January there’ll be another new episode, so look out for that.

That’s all for today, another short post on Wednesday, but hopefully something more substantial on Friday.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


Common Questions about the Viva Round-up

Last post for the week, and another little summary of things that I was doing towards the end of last year. The posts that I wrote based on the common questions I get in Viva Survivor workshops seemed to be really interesting to people (and when I remember to look at what people are viewing from time to time these posts keep on coming up). As I said towards the end of the year, these posts have lead to my next book, which I’m in the process of writing now – hence these recap posts!

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Viva Survivors Podcast: Past, Present, Future

In case you didn’t already know – like I don’t talk about it enough – I produce the Viva Survivors Podcast. It’s an ongoing project of interviews with PhD graduates about “their research, their viva, and life after the PhD.” It came out of a desire to share the stories of what the viva was like for people; I had an idea that the horror stories that everyone seems to know about were, for the most part, myths – I wanted to share real stories. I was, and still am, delivering viva preparation workshops, and I thought as well that by learning more about what people had done to prepare for their vivas I would be able to help PhD candidates more.

I also thought it might be a lot of fun to do! And as time went on I realised what a tremendous learning experience it was for me too.


Making the Viva Survivors Podcast

I’ve been producing the Viva Survivors Podcast for around two and a half years now, and every now and then I get asked questions about how I do it and how everything works. One side of it is the interviewees and their stories, and I ask (a lot!) for volunteers to come and share their stories. Then there is the nuts and bolts of how I produce episodes. Podcasting is often seen as a useful means to communicate research and ideas about doing research, so I thought I would take an opportunity to talk about the tools and services that I use. Hopefully this is helpful to someone reading!

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The Viva Survivors Podcast on Patreon

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I produce the Viva Survivors Podcast. This is a project of mine where I interview PhD graduates about their research, their viva and life after the PhD. I’ve always hoped that it was a great way to help PhD candidates realise that the viva is going to be OK – it’s not a mystery, there are things to expect and there are things that people can do to prepare.

The current Viva Survivors banner!
The current Viva Survivors banner!

I realised after a while that it was also a really great way to tell people more generally about research. Someone starting a PhD can listen to the podcast and find out a bit about what doing research is like, as well as learning about a really cool research topic. At the time of writing, there are 28 episodes in the archive, and I’m well on track to hit my target of 32 by the end of the year (and we’ll see if we can squeeze another one in for good measure!).

I want to do more: can you help?

In the last year I had to take time off from the podcast in order to adjust to becoming a dad! Now that I’ve stepped back up to it I’m enjoying it more than ever, and realising that I want to provide more. To help that process, I’ve created a Patreon campaign for the podcast. Patreon is a bit like Kickstarter, but whereas the latter is for a project that isn’t finished yet, Patreon is crowdfunding for ongoing efforts.

I’ve just started the campaign, but as support grows I’ll be able to spend more time on producing episodes, creating new content and expanding the output of the podcast. I have a couple of initial goals (like covering the cost of hosting, creating several pieces of writing each month and producing some focused tips-based episodes), but I also have big dreams. And I need your help to achieve both my goals and my dreams: providing a useful resource to postgraduate researchers in the UK and around the world.

So, can you help me?

If you can, great! The podcast will always be 100% free for everyone, and if you are able to become a Patron for the Viva Survivors Podcast then I can do some things to say thank you in return. I have a variety of things to begin with, like a “Thank You!” page of backers on the podcast, a pre-release notification that new content is coming to the site – and even early access to future episodes!

Patreon is straight-forward to set up, and it seems like a really useful way to support people creating things. Even if you don’t think that you can support the Viva Survivors Podcast at the moment, then have a look around and see what other amazing things people are doing.

Thanks for reading! I’ve really enjoyed the last two and a half years of producing the podcast, sharing the episodes and seeing it become a valuable resource. With your help I hope to continue this and do a lot more. Any help you can offer to support the Viva Survivors Podcast – by sharing the episodes, volunteering to share your story or becoming a Patron – is really appreciated.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

series viva

Viva Experience Research, Part 1: Background

To Begin With

My viva was four hours long, and I was stood in front of a chalkboard for the entire duration.

Yeah: I know.

After my PhD, I started work as a skills trainer with postgraduate researchers, and I began delivering sessions on viva preparation. I could tell people about my viva, and about other vivas I had heard about, but I realised very quickly that:

  1. My viva was not typical, and while it was fine to talk about, it didn’t necessarily help people feel OK;
  2. I knew a lot about vivas anecdotally, but I didn’t know for sure what the general experience was like.

So I started the Viva Survivors Podcast – by the way, there’s a brand new episode up there today! – I wanted to share stories that would help people feel that the viva was not a terrible thing, and also see that there were things that could be done to prepare for it. By showing a variety of disciplines, postgraduate researchers would see that it was OK – and hopefully see that whatever differences individual vivas have, they also have a lot in common.

About two years later I realised that it was helping, but it wasn’t enough, not by itself.

So I asked seven questions.