What’s Your Worry?

Don’t keep your viva worry bottled up in your brain where you can merely be anxious about it.

Write it down. Tell a friend. Talk to your supervisor.

Your worry could be unfounded. Talking to someone who has had their viva or knows about the process could put your concerns in perspective. They could help you see what you can do to help yourself.

Your worry could be easily resolved. Being clear with yourself and knowing what’s wrong and could allow you to move forwards.

Your worry could be a tough situation – in which case exploring what you could do and what you will do, possibly with support from others, will allow you to work past that worry.

It’s natural, given the importance of your viva, that you might have worries. If you do then you can also do something about them.

Clumsy Paragraphs

Everyone writes them. Too-long sentences or a missing conclusion. Half-finished thoughts or poorly-punctuated points.

Despite your best efforts, you might not find clumsy paragraphs in your thesis until after submission. Don’t stress too much, there’s a chance to get it right – two chances actually!

First in the viva, there’s the chance to set the record right with your examiners. Explain what you really meant and make it clear. They’ll listen. They might have questions or need things in more detail but you have the opportunity to get it right.

Your second chance is in your corrections. Most candidates have corrections to complete after the viva. This is a great opportunity to get your thesis as good as possible. Never perfect! But better.

In your preparations you have to do two things. Read your thesis carefully to see if something isn’t quite right – that’s the easy step. Step two, if you find something, is to hold on and accept that it’s going to be OK; the clumsy paragraph or section can be fixed but you have to wait for the viva to start that process.

It will be OK. Everyone makes mistakes. In the viva process everyone gets the chance to correct them.

A Few Thoughts on Survive

After many years of working in this area I still think survive is the best verb to associate with the viva.

Manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.

Survive doesn’t mean it’s going to be a struggle, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.

Difficult is different for everyone. Manage might be harder or easier. Survive doesn’t come automatically.

The difficulty of the viva might be found in different things for different people.

Survive doesn’t mean you might not thrive in the viva. Survive doesn’t mean you will be scarred by the experience. Survive has a positive aspect for you: whatever the difficulty, whatever you did, you kept going.

Surviving doesn’t automatically mean the circumstances were bad. They were difficult. They were a challenge.

Not so great that you could not keep going.

The Formalities

Find out when and how you’ll have your viva. Check the regulations. Google your examiners and bookmark their staff pages. Note down key expectations your supervisors share. Be sure of the viva process at your institution.

The formalities matter. They’re also a really small part of the viva and of getting ready for it. Sort them out as soon as possible so you can focus on preparing yourself, your thesis and your confidence for the viva.

Your Way

In the end, getting ready for the viva comes down to you figuring out your way to make it work.

There’s a lot of viva advice, both general and practical. This site alone contains over 24 hours of podcast interviews and 1500+ blog posts. You can’t do it all. As helpful as I like to be you can’t apply it all to your situation.

You have to do it your way.

Your friends, colleagues and supervisors will be able to help. They’ll have their experience. They might have key information which could help you get ready. But they’re not you: your life, your research and your situation might be so different that to do what they advise might be stressful or even impossible.

You have to do it your way.

So listen. Find sources that you can trust. Ask questions, then check the answers against your situation. Find a way to make it work for you. There’s lots of good advice out there. There are lots of things that will help you be ready and feel ready. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to viva prep.

You have to do it your way.

Page 1

It’s likely you’re going to see the first page of your thesis a lot when you open your thesis. All through your prep and in the viva too you’re going to see “Chapter 1” or “Introduction” again and again. Maybe you’ll see that page so much that you start to look past it.

But what if it had a short message of encouragement you had left for yourself?

What if it highlighted three key points?

What if there was a small picture stuck in to make you smile?

Could you include a helpful reminder?

Or just three words: You Got This.

The printed copy of your thesis is a valuable resource for your viva. You can refer to it at any point, and in advance you can annotate it to make it as useful as possible for you.

So what will you add to the first page to make a difference?

Support Your Choices

When a candidate hears “defend your thesis” it’s easy for them to think of the viva as a battle, a struggle or a debate.

Perhaps a better way to describe the viva is that it’s a chance to support your choices. Your examiners have read your thesis. They’ve prepared for your viva. They have questions and opinions but the space is there for you to support what you’ve done.

You can clarify the unclear, add details or expand on your process. In sharing more of your research you have the opportunity to support your choices. So in your preparation be sure to check details that need checking, highlight details that are important and summarise anything that could make a difference.

The viva is one more opportunity to show what you did, what you know and what you can do.

Hard Limits

There are limits for everything related to your PhD journey.

There is a finite number of hours you could have spent on your PhD.

You can’t read everything that could be relevant. You would never have time to work towards your research in a practical way.

You can’t do everything that might advance your research goals. You would never have time to write up your thesis.

You have to make choices. You have to accept the limits, like them or not. You have to work within them, whether you want to or not. And, of course, the last eighteen months will have brought more limits.

Rather than rail against the limits and the maybes and the could-have-dones, reflect on how the limits of your PhD have had an impact. Explore the difficult limitations as you might have to talk about them in the viva. Remember that despite the limits – or in some cases, because of the limits – you have made it through.

Again & Again

I’ve been playing the video game Hades every day for about a month and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

The son of the Greek god Hades fights to escape the Underworld. It’s fantastic, stylish, polished and deep. It is an absolute delight to play and experience – even though there’s a steep learning curve, lots of challenges and skillsets to juggle and bring together. Again and again you die and return to the start…

…and in a weird way it makes me think of my PhD journey!


Again and again I had to rise to the challenge. Sometimes I knew what I had to do. Sometimes I found what I was looking for. Sometimes I could just do what I needed to.

But again and again I faced setbacks. Things didn’t work. References couldn’t be found. Answers were not forthcoming.

Again and again I started again. I would have to go back to the beginning of a problem and try to look at it from a new perspective. I would need to find a new way forward.

Again and again I grew. I became more skilled, more knowledgeable, more sure that I could take on new challenges.

And again and again I was surprised, delighted and frustrated as I continued on my journey.


All of your agains – the repeated steps, the start-overs, the learning, the experience, the knowledge-building – all of the frustration and growth and joy – all of this is what you take with you to the viva.

No more agains. The final step, more or less, and the talent, work and time you’ve invested helps you through.

Done, finally… Until you take on your next challenge.

Comfort or Stretch

Comfort, Stretch and Panic are a helpful trio to consider when challenging yourself. The first two words are helpful to consider as springboards for reflection in your viva prep.

For Comfort, think about what skills or knowledge you’ve developed on your PhD journey. What do you know now? What is a comfortable challenge for you? What can you do that you couldn’t do before? How might you apply some of that thinking or skill in the viva?

For Stretch, think about how you have grown. When did you need to apply yourself more? What was it like in those times? Did you boost your confidence or determination? What parts of your research stretched you?

Comfort and Stretch can help you get ready for your viva. You can reflect on these areas by yourself – but if anything leads you to Panic – or to stress or to worry – then ask for help. Ask your supervisor, talk to friends and explore what the viva is really like.

Comfort and Stretch can help you get ready, but there’s really no need to Panic about your viva.

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