Laura Gonzalez

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How to prepare for a Viva? — 17 Mar 2011

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I found the time between submission and examination to be very complex and contradictory. I knew I was not done; yet, in my head, I was done. I had no idea how to prepare for the viva and felt the work was in the past. I had already moved on, especially in relation to the practice, which became more performative. I had even moved on physically, in relation to space, as rather than spending my time in the photography lab or in front of the computer, I was many hours a week rehearsing in the dance studio.

This cognitive dissonance was on the back of my mind between 1st of December 2010 (when I submitted) and 16th February 2011 (the date of my viva) so I asked everyone I knew what their advice was as to how I should prepare. Here’s what I found out:

– Don’t read your thesis, you will find mistakes. I did not follow this one, as I did read my thesis (more than once, in fact), but it helped me to realise that finding mistakes is inevitable. It is also better to find them before the examiners do, so you can show you have done your job properly. I certainly wanted to leave a perfect thesis in the library, with as few mistakes as humanly possible.

– Re-read your thesis and mark it well so you are able to find specific passages. This is fundamental and was very helpful in my viva, as I referred various points to my writing.

– Read your examiners’ works, especially the latest books and papers. Then, think and write specific questions you think they may ask you and try to answer them. In this way, I predicted a few of the questions I had.

– Re-read key sources you mention in your thesis (especially if they are close to the work of your examiners). It is amazing how much opinions change throughout the work of the PhD, and how much one forgets. Most of the answers to the questions in the viva are in these sources.

– Have a mock viva. I could not recommend this enough. It does not matter when you have it: it is better before submission, so you can make changes but to have it after submission is still better than not having it. My mock was extremely useful, it was able to predict most of the questions, it was harder than my actual viva (thus, prepared me well) and it was surprisingly helpful at making me focus on aspects one forgets too often (clothing, space, where to sit, how to behave). Choose your mock examiners well and do give them plenty of time to read your work.

– If your thesis is too open (as mine is) think about the steer of the viva. What is it that you want discussed?

Phillips and Pugh suggest you write a one-sentence summary for each page of your thesis. I personally think this is a little overkill but it may work for some texts.

– An analytical philosophy student and friend of mine suggested I read Arthur Schopenhauer’s ‘The Art of Always Being Right: 38 Ways of Winning when you are Defeated’. I found this online illustrated version informative and fun, as well as quite useful.

– Think about how to react and answer to the examiners if/when they are having a negative reaction to the material, or to your answers.

– Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. You do not want anything distracting you on the day.

– Be confident in asking examiners to repeat a question or clarify anything. It is normal to be nervous.

– Have water with you.

– Do not put too much hand cream on. You will get slippery, will not be able to open your water bottle and will get self-conscious when shaking hands with your examiners.

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Do you have any others? Let me know by commenting, as this resource will be very useful to future PhD candidates (including my own students).

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As a postscript, here are some of the texts I read, which reiterated the points my supervisors made (but I needed to hear them again, and again, and again):
Survive your viva (The Guardian, 16 September 2003).
Guidance on preparing for your Viva, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Sheffield.
How to Prepare for your Viva, Lynn Clark and Michelle Sheehan, Centre for Research in Linguistics and Language Sciences, Newcastle University.
Preparing for the research viva, Dr David Twigg, University of Sussex
Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam: A checklist of ‘viva’ issues that always come up
Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know

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The loss of an object — 11 Mar 2011

Let me, first, tell you about the loss. I am mourning my PhD. Its content, the work, the hardship, my relationship with my supervisor, the safety of its structure, its intensity, everything. I even miss the exam (about which I will tell you some other time, soon). My lost object manifests itself in the most unexpected places. Last night, it was in the dance studio, which was so instrumental in keeping my sanity during the last months. I thought I would start crying and froze in fear at the idea of having to explain what was happening to me. What have I lost, exactly?

I should not be surprised by this phenomenon. I have experienced it many times, with broken hearts and the stopping of my analysis. We all have, more or less. yet, the absence of the love object is always unexpected. I should be feeling relief, joy, pride. I don’t. Not yet, at least.

I don’t know how long this will last, or how I will recover, how my mind and my body (for I feel it in the body, a kind of hollow) will take the decision to move on. There is not much more I can say. The only thing I can do, for the time being, is to keep occupied, carry on as normal, dance from this loss, think about work, talk to people, write, get back to writing here and tell you about the last months of the research.

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Flashing Nipple Remix, #3. 2005
3 black and white transparencies in light boxes.
38 x 48 x 5″ ; Edition of 3 + AP

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.