In December I submitted my first year dissertation, and last week I faced a viva on this dissertation. Opinions from colleagues and supervisors varied as to whether or not this was really an exam, and how much I should relax about it. Naturally (me being me) I did not relax about it. One feature I knew that this viva (exam or not) shared with real exams was that failure was a possibility, and that failure had consequences.
So this mattered.
I was lucky enough to be able to invite two scientists I like and get on with to examine me. But still - people can show a whole new side of their personality in this kind of role. And I hate the idea of making a fool of myself in front of people I respect. So I was tense for at least a week beforehand, and preparing diligently.
In the event, the whole thing was very amiable - enjoyable even. Defending my dissertation was a pretty minor part of it. Most of our time was spent chewing over the implications of different technical choices as I go forward with my project. Chemical LTP or glutamate uncaging? Organotypic or acute slices?
And I passed. And got some pretty nice feedback. So I can go on....