May 2, 2020, by Lisa Chin

Surviving an online viva amid C0VID-19 pandemic

Wai Jing Luen, a PhD student from the School of Pharmacy, recently passed his online viva amid C0VID-19 pandemic. This remotely done viva is among the firsts in University of Nottingham Malaysia. 

His thesis, titled “DNA Nanosensors for Biomarkers Detection: A Proof-of-concept Study with Lysozyme and Zinc Ions”, studies the incorporation of some latest technologies from both DNA nanotechnology and nanomaterials in the development of new sensors for medical diagnosis and prognosis purposes. 

In this blog post, he writes about his experience surviving his viva in this time of turmoil.

Online viva through MS Teams is a very interesting but tricky way to have thesis defence. Much like conventional viva, my thesis defence session took about 2 hours, including PowerPoint presentation, Q&A discussion, followed by decision-making and finally announcement of the outcome. Prior to the session, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort into revising my presentation and reading my thesis over and over again. Having someone to practise with me also helped a lot.

To be honest, the stress coming from both viva and pandemic can be crushing. Facing the viva is hard, but being locked inside a room alone for weeks and worried about my parents knowing that my hometown was one of the red zones and my partner who is currently working in a hospital are also not easy. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome it, but I tried coping with it by playing some games and chatting with people, sometimes being “attention-seeking”. I kept reminding myself, “If something is going to happen, it will happen anyway”, so instead of being anxious about the viva, I tried diverting my attention to pass the time. I’ve also googled a lot on stuff like “how to make a good scientific presentation” or “how to prepare for viva”, etc.

There were two examiners during my viva. The hardest question for me is the importance of my projects, or what vision I have for their future. As proof-of-concept studies, my aim is definitely trying to develop something new and replace what we have now. It is rather difficult to convince others when your grand ambition is to “change the world”. Although it is just a vision, but there’s nothing wrong in having an ambitious wish, right? But the reality is, how am I supposed to deftly persuade others into being confident with my work?

The most useful advice I got is to anticipate the questions I might get and try to be prepared for them. The one thing I wish I know before my online viva is to secure a reliable internet connectivity beforehand. The WiFi in my off-campus house broke down for 5 minutes just before the scheduled online viva. It was certainly nerve-wracking!!! Besides that, I also wish I could have done better in explaining my work. Despite countless rehearsals, my mind went blank and I had to improvise throughout the presentation.

I think online viva is really a good alternative to conventional one. It is good that you can be more prepared like having digital copy of your thesis ready for quick reference or hide your shaking hands (hopefully) without being noticed. However, considering the “not-so-consistently-stable” internet connection, it can be a tough ride with interruptions popping up anytime unexpectedly.

Lastly, my little tip(s) for those with upcoming viva is simple, believe in yourself. If you have given your best throughout the years, you know your work BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. So whenever you feel nervous or doubtful when you present or “interrogate” by the examiners, take a deep breath and tell yourself that you can do it! There might be strong winds or rogue waves, but you will come ashore as long as you don’t give up sailing.

“Just keep swimming~” – Dory from Finding Dory

Featured image by Wai Jing Luen, taken while waiting for the outcome of the viva to be announced.

Supervisor: Dr New Siu Yee, Associate Professor at the School of Pharmacy

External examiners: Dr Kasturi Muthoosamy, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, in the Foundation in Engineering programme division; and Dr Tan Ling Ling from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

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