Being Examined: Tips for your viva

This wisdom comes from the 10th annual ‘Life beyond the PhD’ conference () hosted at Cumberland Lodge. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend and gather a multitude of hints and tips for my academic career…Now I plan to share them here for those who wish to read them…I have also experienced a viva voce examination…so these viva tips also come from me too.

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What is a viva voce?

In a nutshell it is the oral assessment of your PhD Thesis.

So your first viva tip would be….know how a PhD/doctorate/thesis is defined!…Here is a sample of some of the key phrases and expressions relating to ‘doctorateness’:

  • worthy of publication either in full or abridged form;

  • presents a thesis embodying the results of the research;

  • original work which forms an addition to knowledge;

  • makes a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and offers evidence of originality shown by the discovery of new facts and/or the exercise of independent critical power;

  • shows evidence of systematic study and the ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject;

  • the thesis should be a demonstrably coherent body of work;

  • shows evidence of adequate industry and application;

  • understands the relationship of the special theme of the thesis to a wider field of knowledge;

  • represents a significant contribution to learning, for example, through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of new theory or the revision of older views;

  • provides originality and independent critical ability and must contain matter suitable for publication;

  • adequate knowledge of the field of study;

  • competence in appropriate methods of performance and recording of research;

  • ability in style and presentation;

  • the dissertation is clearly written;

  • takes account of previously published work on the subject.

Source: Searching for ‘Doctorateness’.

The problem is…..that a range of literature has pointed out the variability in examination processes across universities, individual examiners, disciplines. Yup, this can be a fairly subjective process. So it is your job within your thesis and within your viva to make your case and convince your examiners that your work is indeed doctoral work.

Within Wellington’s (2013) framework for assessing ‘Doctorateness’, there are seven categories listed for which doctorates may contribute original knowledge. Therefore, in order for ‘Doctorateness’ to be unequivocally established for your thesis, it is important to apply the categories of this framework to each component of your research. The table below was added to my own thesis in order to prove how and why my work was indeed doctoral work.

Category number Category description Evidence
1 Building new knowledge, e.g. by extending previous work or ‘putting a new brick in the wall’. The Delphi method has been used previously to assess the workplace needs of midwifery populations (Hauck, Bayes and Robertson 2012). Yet the views and opinions of an expert panel about the design and development of an online intervention designed to support midwives in work-related psychological distress have been gathered and presented for the first time within this thesis.
2 Using original processes or approaches, e.g. applying new methods or techniques to an existing area of study. As the Delphi study presented within this thesis was a modified one, where the identity of experts remained unknown to the researcher, and free text response options accompanied each statement, it has also applied somewhat original processes and approaches to an existing area of study.


3 Creating new syntheses, e.g. connecting previous studies or linking existing theories or previous thinkers. Chapter one presents the first narrative review to integrate studies of midwives in work-related psychological distress (Pezaro et al. 2015). This original knowledge demonstrates how midwives working in rural, poorly resourced areas who experience neonatal and maternal death more frequently can experience death anxieties, where midwives working in urban and well-resourced areas do not. This creation of new syntheses connects previous studies and existing theories together to form new knowledge.


The mixed-methods systematic review presented within chapter three is the first of its kind to collate and present the current and available evidence in relation to existing interventions targeted to support midwives in work-related psychological distress (Pezaro, Clyne and Fulton 2017).


4 Exploring new implications, for either practitioners, policy makers, or theory and theorists. Chapter two makes an original contribution to ethical decision making, and may be extrapolated and applied to other healthcare professions who may also now consider the provision of confidential support online.
5 Revisiting a recurrent issue or debate, e.g. by offering new evidence, new thinking, or new theory. The original research presented in chapter two contributes to an ongoing academic dialogue in relation to ethical decision making.
6 Replicating or reproducing earlier work, e.g. from a different place or time, or with a different sample. The mixed-methods systematic review, presented in chapter three somewhat replicates earlier work from a different place, time, and with a different inclusion sample (Shaw, Downe and Kingdon 2015).


7 Presenting research in a novel way, e.g. new ways of writing, presenting, disseminating. The results of this research have been disseminated via popular media publications throughout. A further summary of this research is planned for publication. Furthermore, this research has also informed new guidance, published by the Royal College of Midwives, who also present the findings of this research in a new way. This new guidance is intended to guide heads of midwifery to support midwives experiencing work-related stress. Evidence of this can be found in Appendix 15.


Adapting this table to fit your own work should assist you in realizing how your own research can be argued to be doctoral work, both in your thesis and in your viva. Once this argument is clear in your own mind, your confidence should rise and enable you to direct your thoughts towards a really positive goal. Getting your PhD!…and not just because you want it, but because you are worthy of it! You have worked really hard for this opportunity, and seeing your work match up to this framework can really help you to visualize your successes. But now there are other things you can do to help you prepare…

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Viva tips

Just because you have submitted your thesis, this does not mean you can sit back a relax until your viva day. Following a short break, and with fresh eyes, you should be revisiting your thesis and getting to know it really well. Also, be sure to keep up to date with any new research arising in your field, it may well be discussed in your viva!

Get to know your university’s policies and procedures. This will help you to prepare for how the viva voce may play out on the day. As your examiners will be drawing upon their own expertise, make sure that you also have a broad knowledge of their work!

Pick your battles. Fighting every point can be really jarring for everyone in the room, and your examiners need to see that you can accept constructive criticism and reflect. Decide what you will really defend, and what you are willing to let go of. This means that you will need to anticipate what your examiners may ask you. Here, it is a good idea to mock up some practice questions. Try defending the questions you fear most. This will help you to face your demons and formulate your arguments….constructively. An extra tip here would be to record yourself arguing your points. How do you sound? are you believable? How do you come across?

Having your supervisor with you can be very reassuring and comforting, although they may well not be allowed to speak during your viva voce. However, try to have them sit next to you or behind you, as eye contact or some other gestures, however well meaning may put you off your game.

Once you get to the viva, be prepared to break the ice. Your examiners are not ogres. They want you to pass! Starting your viva with a warm greeting can set the tone for the session, so don’t start with your defensive wall up too high! You can also set the scene with a short presentation to cover some broad points you anticipate coming up. Use this time to also show your knowledge and demonstrate your own unique way of thinking and working.

If there has been a long gap between your thesis submission and your viva, you may now have moved on to new ways of thinking or changed your original work to move on to a new project. Remember that this new work does not count in your viva. You must remain focused on what you submitted.

If the discussion moves to really complex debates, it is important to keep your cool, remain professional and don’t turn into a robot who has learnt their responses off by heart. Also, don’t be overly humble or point out your own weaknesses directly…if they are raised by the examiners, then you can show respectful considerations to other methods, but it is still important not to shoot yourself in the foot.

Your viva can last a good few hours…it is basically a brain marathon! So you will need to prepare both mentally and physically. This means de-stressing, eating and sleeping well…and generally giving time to your own self care regime. If you need a break during the session, don’t be afraid to ask for one. If you feel overwhelmed at any time, take a constructive pause to write or read and deliberate. It can’t be an extremely emotional and draining experience.

However, some people can enjoy their viva. After all, you will be speaking about your own work with experts in the field for some time. This is a chance to show off, be proud of what you have achieved and even learn more! Thinking in this positive way may make the viva experience not seem so daunting.

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I personally found my own viva experience very daunting, emotional and stressful. However, my examiners were not ogres…they too wanted me to pass and to help me make the best of my work… Following the submission of my revised thesis, I realized how much better my thesis now is because of this viva process and the input of my examiners. Having now gone beyond the viva process, I believe that I have truly earned my PhD. I worked hard for it. It didn’t come easy. It was a brain marathon. But would a PhD really be worth having if it was easy to achieve?

I can also now reflect on this process and learn from it. It is an experience that will certainly stay with me and enrich my future work. I hope it will also enable me to improve my own examination and supervisory skills in future.

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤




Highlights from the Third Annual #BirthTrauma conference #birthtrauma18

birth trauma study day

The first week back in January and I am invited by the wonderful becca moore @dr_bjm to share some research thoughts and ideas at the 3rd annual birth trauma study day in London = 

First of all..thank you for arranging and facilitating this day. It really is growing in strength and popularity year on year as this topic gathers momentum. You are a true #maternityleader for making this happen. Thank you also to those who participated in such important debates and discussion…and to those supported me to present my work as a new mum (baby Loveday is now 6 weeks old and as you can see….she was able to join her mum on stage 🙂

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The discussions that followed on Twitter were also pretty awesome and continue to thrive online. I can see may collaborations being born out of this day…what change may come I wonder? – #BirthTrauma19 will be even bigger and better…that’s for sure!

What struck me most about the speakers involved in this conference, is that every one of us was drawing from some kind of personal experience. Our past traumas had been turned into passion…fire and fury to make a change in the world…to make is better for the next person in some way.

“We had turned our wounds into wisdom.” – Me

Thank you to those who engaged in my presentation. I was thrilled to share some of my PhD work and the findings of other research studies to raise awareness of psychological distress in midwifery populations. The beautiful images below capture some of the key messages from my slides.


small things


Further statistics around midwives at work can be found here.

Traumatised midwives

compassion fatigue

I also really enjoyed the ethical debates around providing online anonymity and confidentiality for midwives in psychological distress who wish to seek help. You can read the wider arguments for this here. Do you have any further thoughts on this? I would love to hear them!

Once again…Thank you so much to everyone for making this event so amazing. The quote that I believe summed up the vibe in the room was this…shared by @millihill .


“If we can find ways of harvesting the energy in women’s oceanic grief we shall move mountains.” –Germaine Greer


Overall take home messages…

  • Tailored care is needed for every family
  • A healthy baby is not ALL that matters
  • Good outcomes include good psychological outcomes
  • Kindness and compassion cost nothing yet can really make a difference
  • Appropriate use of language can make or break the birthing experience
  • The power of listening can never be underestimated
  • We must remember that fathers and wider family members may also be affected by trauma in the birth room.
  • A traumatic experience is always subjective. What is traumatic for some, may be unremarkable for others.
  • Mothers can have a positive experience of a clinically complicated birth, or a traumatic experience of a seemingly straightforward birth.
  • Any past trauma can always be re-awoken
  • The best care is delivered by a workforce that is healthy and cared for.

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤


5 career tips for a successful academic application

This wisdom comes from the 10th annual ‘Life beyond the PhD’ conference () hosted at Cumberland Lodge. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend and gather a multitude of hints and tips for my academic career…Now I plan to share them here for those who wish to read them…

Tip One: Potential employers will want to know how they will benefit from having you work with them as much as, if not more than, how you will benefit from working with them. Why should they invest their money in you? Will they be able to tolerate you on a daily basis? This means that you will need to come across as unselfish, and avoid saying the same thing as everyone else…be different!

Tip Two: Avoid jargon, and make sure you back up your claims with lived examples! For instance..It is no use saying that your I.T skills are fabulous if you don’t back this up with a real lived example of how you have used your I.T skills to do something of real value.

Tip Three: A potential employer will only take a few seconds to scan your CV. Therefore, you need to cut out the gimmicks, reduce it to no more than a couple of pages and make sure that you have used clear and easy to read formatting. Everything on your CV should be in reverse chronological order, and tailored to the job you are applying for. Your cover letter should never be a replication of your CV, yet it should hold lived examples of the skills you have presented.

Tip four: Within your interview,  it will not necessarily matter what answer you give to any awkward interview questions, as long as your answers are void of generic jargon and backed up with a sound rationale for your choice. Also, it is important not to pretend that either you or your research is impervious to failure…what matters is how you handle things and learn.

Tip five: Be yourself, and be honest about any career gaps…being evasive over these issues will only arouse suspicions…the truth is always far more welcome….It’s often not as big a deal as you think, and a good employer will appreciate what you are planning to do to get back on track.

For further hints and tips see this early career researcher blog.

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤



The #QualWorld2017 Virtual international conference, hosted by the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (@theIIQM)

The virtual international conference, hosted by the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM)  is the first online conference focused on the subject of qualitative research. I gravitated towards this as something new, exciting and inclusive. Plus, as my new daughter has just been born….a virtual online conference seemed to be the perfect way to share my latest work and breastfeed at the same time.

The poster I presented was:

Exploring the perceptions of new mother’s in relation to psychological distress and workplace support in midwifery. A Patient and Public Involvement study

I was representing The Centre for Innovative Research Across the Life Course at Coventry University. This work was formed in partnership with Dr. Gemma Pearce and Dr. Elizabeth Bailey, also from Coventry University.

Qual-World Interactive Virtual Conference

The conference theme was: Qualitative Research Across Boundaries

Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Amanda Kenny, La Trobe University, Australia
Prof. Trish Greenhalgh, University of Oxford, UK
Prof. Martyn Hammersley, The Open University, UK
Prof. Babette Babich, Fordham University, The Jesuit University of New York City

Here are a few snapshots of the keynote speeches…

As an early career researcher (post-doc) I really appreciated the insights shared in relation to progressing an academic career and thriving in a research centre. The idea that collaborations and publications can be planned to achieve maximum impact really appeals to me…. a few hints and tips in the right direction were very welcome.

I have yet to use or explore storytelling and narratives in my research career thus far in any great depth. As such, it was really inspiring to see how these have been used in other qualitative work. Ethnography is also an area fairly new to me, and so being introduced to new topics in this way really helped me to digest and think about new directions for my own research.

Then, to  fall in love with philosophy again was wonderful…looking at what makes science….science….within the terminology of the postmodern? Lot’s to think about here. And certainly lot’s to discuss. The online chat room was on the go throughout the conference, and on Twitter. The conversations really made me think about my own future directions in research and how it may be grounded.

Yet the best thing about this conference for me was the fact that it has been so accessible for me. Having just had a new baby girl, this conference gave me the chance to share new findings from our PPI study from the comfort of home. This meant that I could care for my baby and breastfeed whilst not missing out on the career I love. Thank you to the conference organizers for making this possible. …and thank you to the Centre for Innovative Research Across the Life Course for funding my place.

As you can see, this tweet of my experience was the most popular one of the conference… I think that these accessible conferences are really making history and showing the way for future conferences of this type.

In conclusion…I would like to reiterate the following tweet:

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤


Developing your literature search strategy in 5 easy steps

OK, so you have a research problem that you want to solve or answer using evidence based in the literature. You need to find the right literature and capture it by spreading your net wide, and in the right places. You need a strategy for searching the literature….a search strategy if you will. I hope that these 5 steps will get you to where you want to be.

search strategy

What is a search strategy?

1.A structured organisation of terms used to search a database

2.A document that shows how terms combine to retrieve the best results

3.Something that must be adapted for each database you use

4.Something which is tailored to the question you are trying to answer

5.A good search strategy is something that takes time to refine

Different ways to search the literature



3.Snowballing of the literature (going from reference list to reference list to find what you  need.

4.We can do a rapid review of the literature or an exhaustive one

5.We can see what other published literature reviews have done and how they have found their literature for ideas.

6.Ask! (Librarians, authors etc.)… authors of great papers often know of other papers you may be looking for…why not ask them?

Step one: Define your research question or ‘problem’.

First…we will use this as an example: Does hand washing among midwives reduce postnatal infections? 

P (Problem or Patient or Population) postnatal infections
I (intervention/indicator) hand washing
C (comparison) no hand washing; other solution; masks
O (outcome of interest) reduced infection


Whilst PICO can sometimes be seen as the go to tool for formulating your question..don’t be limited by it. Here are a few other tools to help your formulate your perfect research question…

Methodology  e.g. questionnaires

Issues e.g. ethical decision-making

Participants e.g. midwives or patients


Setting – Where? What is the context?

Perspective – For who?

Intervention (Subject of Interest)– What?

Comparison – What else?

Evaluation – What results?



P I Phenomenon of Interest



Research type


Client – who is the service aimed at?

Location – where?

Improvement – what do you want to find out?

Professional – who is involved in providing/improving the service?







Expectation—What do you want the information for?

Client Group.


Impact— What change are you looking for? How is this being measured?


Service—For example, community services, birth centres or accident and emergency.

Step two: choose which databases you will search

Different search databases should be searched separately as they each have their own dictionaries of terms and keywords. Each database is tailored toward a particular topic of interest. The following set of databases relate to healthcare topics.

1.Web of Science (strong coverage which goes back to 1990 and most of its journals written in English)

2.Scopus (Covers a superior number of journals but with lower impact and limited to recent articles)

3.CINHAL (Prime source of nursing and allied health literature)

4.Pubmed & MEDLINE (Great starting point for any health or medical literature search.)

5.Cochrane (The source of systematic reviews)

6.NHS Evidence & The TRIP database (Search a limited number of high quality sources)

7.PsychINFO (Prime source for psychology and psychiatry literature.)

8.AMED (Allied and Complementary Medicine Database)

9.HMIC (Health Information Management Consortium – great information from DoH and Kings Fund)

There are no strict rules as to how many databases you should search. That would depend on how thorough you are trying to be. Also, many databases will pick up duplicates for you…which you will later need to delete.

Step three: Identify and map your key concepts

A concept map is a visual representation of concepts within your research question or ‘problem’ and their relationships to each other.

To create a concept map:

  • Write down the main concepts which relate to your research question and circle them on a blank page.
  • Write down other words/concepts and ideas which relate to each of your concepts in groups. Draw lines between concepts to show how they are related.

concept map

Step four: Identify your key words

Some of these you may already have found in your concept mapping work, however, you really need to grab every keyword you can to get the best results…sometimes your databases will already have predefined keywords for you to use….helpful 🙂

To identify your own keywords, you will need to break down your own research question. I will go back to using our example.

Does Hand washing among midwives reduce Postnatal infections
‘OR’ ‘AND’ ‘OR’ ‘AND’ ‘OR’
Hand hygiene Midwifery staff Postpartum infections
‘OR’ Clean hands ‘OR’ Midwif* ‘OR’ After birth
‘OR’ Washed hands



Step five: Build your concepts and keywords into a search strategy

Sounds easy right? Well let me show you how to do this using an example from one of my published systematic literature reviews.

The questions relating to this review were…

1) What interventions have been developed to support midwives and/or student midwives in work-related psychological distress? and 2) What are the outcomes and experiences associated with the use of these interventions?

Key concepts have been underlined.

Below is a search strategy I built to answer these research questions. This was used to search one database only.

search strategy

As you can see, the search starts right from the bottom with the first concept ‘midwives’… the ‘population’. Each concept moving forward is grouped together with keywords combined with the boolean operator ‘OR’. When I need to combine concepts nearer the top, I combine them using the boolean operator ‘AND’. See below…

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This search strategy also uses truncations, where I have entered the root of the word and then a (*) at the end. When you do this, the database will then return any ending of the root word. Another example of this would be ….child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood.

If a word you want to find is spelled in different ways, wildcards can also be used to substitute a symbol for one letter of a word. Examples of how you might use this may be

wom!n = woman, women
colo?r = color, colour

(Credits to https://libraries.mit.edu/experts/)

Click this link for a great example paper, where the authors have mapped their key concepts and search terms to their research questions and databases.

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I hope you find this ‘How to’ guide useful. I now look forward to you all going forth to develop and share your own search strategies with me. I can’t wait to see what problems you will solve 🙂

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤



Top tips for #FreshersWeek #freshers2017 #Uni #StudentLife from an academic midwife

Tis that time of year again when students from all over the world descend upon university campuses to embark upon a fun filled journey of learning, adventure and growth.

Having been in education now for a number of years, I think this must be close to my tenth freshers week! Every year I get the same buzzy feeling of excitement as the freshers week commences…

(Unless that is the same feeling of excitement you get when Santa is coming…oh come on…Autumn…I am already thinking about the festive season!)

The streets are full of vibrant things to do and get involved in…people are making friends and connections and everyone is ready to take on a new challenge in life!

The sad thing is…whether I wear my student ID badge, or my staff ID badge..I am seemingly passed by when the invites for the foam parties and other nights out are being dished out…(grump)!…hmm…I wonder why? 🤔🎓 Maybe it will be different this year…and if you do see me on campus…I would love to hear about your plans!

I will be involved in the #CovHLSFreshers Twitter takeover this year..Ooh..snazzy!


As well as other survival guides out there, I wanted to share some of my own hints and tips for freshers.

Tip One:

No matter how scared or excited you are during freshers week….I think there are a few quotes that you should memorize and repeat to yourself in times of need….

Image result for a little nonsense now and then quote

Image result for everything will be alright in the end


Image result for be who you are and say what you feel

Related image

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Tip Two:

Remember that there is no need to justify your course choice to anyone but yourself. This is your journey, your life now….trust yourself to make your own life choices. You got this!

Tip Three:

Find your tribe….Not necessarily those who look and talk like you…but those who will hear your voice, sing with you and lift you up. This could be your relevant student society or Twitter community..it could even be those you meet through doing what you love….hold on tight to these people for the ride…and make sure to lift each other up!

Tip Four:

Document your journey and take time to reflect. This experience will be over all too quickly and it’s going to be amazing! reflecting will help you to be mindful about your own situation and recognize your own achievements as your hard work pays off. Be grateful for 1 thing every day…however big or small…and celebrate the achievements of yourself and others every chance you get.

Tip Five:

Look after yourself. Self care can make your university experience a million times better. Take breaks, help yourself before you help others…and as for romance……

Image result for put your own oxygen mask on first quote


10 Tips for Success & Self-Care for Academics

Category Archives: Student Tips 🎓

❤Welcome all!❤

See you on campus!

If you would like to follow the progress of my work going forward..

Follow me via @SallyPezaroThe Academic MidwifeThis blog

Until next time…Look after yourselves and each other 💚💙💜❤