The Viva Is The Viva

The viva is a conversation.

The viva is a test.

The viva is the end of the PhD.

The viva is pass or fail.

The viva is inevitable.

The viva is something you can prepare for.

The viva is an unknown because it’s different every time.

The viva is your one chance.

There are lots of ways that people talk about the viva. Lots of comparisons. Lots of things that are true and lots of things that are “true”.

The viva is lots of things but you don’t have to take time to consider them all. You can invest your energy in the aspects that help you; you can remember that the viva that matters most to you is your viva.

The viva is the viva.

Your viva is your viva. What elements can you focus on to help yourself? What actions can you take to be ready?


As preparation for the viva read three recent papers by your internal examiner. Read three recent papers by your external examiner.

Look for links between your work and their work. Look for connections between your interests, methods and the kinds of questions you ask.

When you find connections you find ideas that are worth thinking about so you can explore them well in the viva. If you discover that your work is not closely connected then you can think before the viva about how you can share your ideas effectively.

Knowing about the links between your work helps. Knowing if the links aren’t there helps too.

You have to look for the links.

Tell Them

In my earliest academic days I was given the following advice for structuring a presentation: tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them.

“Them” in this case was the audience. Over the years I’ve realised the heart of the good advice here: set expectations, share what you’re sharing and summarise at the end.

It is good advice generally.

In the viva you’re at the stage of telling your examiners what you told them in the thesis, more or less. You’ve set it out for them, they read it; now you have to summarise, clarify, expand and make sure they get what they need.

Of course, there are more ways you could tell them at the viva too.

You could tell them a story. You could tell them more. You could tell them what you left out. You could tell them what you didn’t get to do. You could tell them what you hope to do in the future. You could tell them what you plan to do next. You could tell them your opinion.

You could tell them lots of things, but remember that the viva is not a presentation, and it’s not the questions that come at the end. It’s a discussion. Prepare to tell your examiners lots of things, but prepare to be part of a conversation rather than someone simply answering questions.

The Baby Viva

I was talking with someone recently about the first-year viva. Sometimes it’s called a transfer viva or an upgrade viva. The person I was talking to referred to it as “the baby viva” and in that second I smiled and could see exactly what they meant.

  • The baby viva because it’s smaller.
  • The baby viva because you’re still concerned: just because it’s small doesn’t meant that it’s not important to get it right!
  • The baby viva because there’s still a long way to go.
  • The baby viva because a lot of the fundamentals are still the same as the final viva – research, preparation and discussion.

I’m not sure that the term “baby viva” will catch on! But it helps to frame things.

Keep Going: The Launch Party

On Monday I shared a post about my new Viva Survivors anthology, Keep Going! The book will be available via the Amazon Kindle store and through my Payhip site from Thursday 26th May, but I’m now very excited to announce the lunchtime launch party I’m hosting on Wednesday 25th May 2022!

At 1pm I’ll host a space on Zoom to share and celebrate the launch. I’ll talk about the book, the blog, the viva and take questions from the audience: depending on numbers I may not be able to respond to every question on the day, but I’ll do my best. There’ll be one or two fun surprises as well!

And registration, at this Eventbrite link, is free! I’m delighted to throw the doors open and welcome you to share in my celebrations of five years of blogging and the book’s release. If you like you can also pre-order a copy of the ebook with your registration 🙂

Thanks for reading, do take a look at the event and share the link if you know someone working towards their viva now. I’m proud of the book that I’ve been bringing together for the last six months or so and am thrilled to share it soon!

My Examiner Criteria

A long time ago, my supervisor asked me to think about who could be a good external examiner for my PhD. He suggested initially that I go to conferences and look for people who did the same sort of work as me.

I did that and found no-one.

I decided to think about what I really wanted in an examiner. What would a good examiner look like to me?

First, they would have to have experience. I wanted my external to be someone who had been an academic for a long time. I wanted to know that they had had time to consider what made a good piece of research; they would have seen lots of things and have an idea of what “enough” looked like for a thesis!

Second, I wanted someone with a good reputation. I wanted it to be someone that other people spoke highly of. If my supervisor and others who I respected thought the person was good then chances are they were.

Finally, I wanted someone who was nice! I was fortunate to go to lots of conferences, but unfortunate to meet several academics who were rude. I met people who belittled postgraduate students. I met people who were critical to the point of being offensive.

If someone behaves that way in public, why would I want to be examined by them in private?

I was fortunate to meet some nice people though. I had a hunch they would be fair.

I combined all of these criteria – experience, reputation and niceness(!) – and came up with a shortlist. My criteria worked for me: my supervisor listened and my suggestions matched some of his.

If you’re asked to share ideas for possible examiners then I think my criteria are good – they may not be what matters most to you though.

Consider your criteria. Consider what you would value and why. Then explore names that come to mind. Talk with your supervisor and see what happens.

You can’t go too wrong by thinking about nice, decent people though.

Fuses & Feelings

My mum called in a panic: her electricity had gone off and she had no power.

By the I time I got to her house, she had checked and reset the main fuse box. The power was on again. It was still a mystery though. What happened? It just went off? The TV was the first thing she noticed… Hmm…

We decided to relax with a cup of tea. My mum set the kettle to boil and the power shut off again. Five minutes of careful trial and error helped us realise it was not the TV, the main fuse box or the electrical socket in the kitchen that was at fault. The kettle was no longer safe and was tripping the mains fuse, in turn, shutting off the power.

With the fault diagnosed, my mum didn’t have a kettle for a day, but everything else was fine.


This reminds me of so many times I’ve found myself cross, worried, anxious and unsure. Sometimes I feel one of these ways and I just don’t know why.

Taking a step back helps.

Reflecting helps.

Thinking about what happened in the lead up can help too.

How you feel about the viva has an impact on how you get ready for it. If you feel anxious or worried then it’s worth trying to unpick what the cause is. Anxiety and worry are right on the surface. Explore what’s underneath.

There are many possible causes, including:

  • Not knowing about an aspect of the viva;
  • Having a concern about what to do to prepare;
  • Being unsure of how to respond;
  • Being worried that you won’t be able to respond at all.

There will be many more, much more personal reasons to feel anxious. Something could just trip the fusebox of your feelings. Reflect, explore and find out the cause – then think about what you can do to set that right.

Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology

About a month ago the Viva Survivors blog celebrated five years of daily posts! With this milestone in mind I’ve been working on something a little special. I’m thrilled to announce Keep Going, a Viva Survivors anthology:

Keep Going is the best of the first five years of daily posts. I’ve found my favourites out of nearly 1800 posts: from reflections on the PhD journey to lists of questions, practical prep ideas to confidences boosts. I’ve curated, edited and polished an anthology to celebrate five years of writing – but more importantly to be a help to someone with the viva in their future.

I’m doing the very final checks and logistical arrangements now. The words have been checked and typeset. The post order has been finalised. The cover has been created by the wonderful Maria Stoian!

There’s a few more things to do but Keep Going will be available very soon!

How soon?

Keep Going will release on Thursday 26th May 2022, and will be available as an ebook in the Amazon Kindle store and also via Payhip (where I have my own little ebook shop). To celebrate a little more, I’m hosting a launch party on Zoom on Wednesday 25th May, but I’ll share details of that in the next few days.

I just couldn’t wait any more to tell people about what I’ve been working on for the last few months! Look out for more details in the next few days on Twitter and here 🙂

Thank you for reading!


Back To Basics

You do the research and you write a thesis.

Two examiners, one from your institution and one from elsewhere, prepare to examine you. They read, make notes, think and discuss what they need to to do at the viva.

On the day, they need to lead a discussion. They need to ask questions that explore, clarify and assess.

To be ready, you need to prepare. You need to read, think and rehearse. You also need to remember that you did the research and you wrote a thesis. At the viva you could be nervous but you can feel confident because of the thousands of hours you’ve already invested to get this far.

There’s a lot to say about the viva, of course, but the basics cover a lot.

1 2 3 196