Major, Minor, None

You’re most likely to get minor corrections. Check to see how much time your university allows for them to be completed. Passing usually means, “passing subject to completing these” – so find out the timeline in advance for the most likely outcome and figure out what that could mean for you.

You don’t need to plan for no corrections. If it happens, great! That’s it. Your only bonus is to be completely done probably a little sooner.

You’re least likely to get major corrections, but some candidates do. Doing a PhD is hard, writing a thesis is hard. It’s to be expected that sometimes, despite best efforts, the thesis does not quite match the standard needed even if the contribution is sound. It’s major because it takes more time than minor, because there is more to do. But it’s not a fail, and you shouldn’t expect it for you.

If you do, genuinely, expect to get major corrections then talk to your supervisors about why you’re thinking that. Get a second opinion and explore your options.

Slow & Steady

Don’t rush preparing for your viva.

You’re busy, of course. You’re stressed, at least a little, most probably.

You only have so much time and you want to make sure you’re ready.

Start sooner rather than later. Do what you can. A little each day will help.

A little reading. A little writing. A little thinking. A little talking. A little practice each day.

It all adds up.

For viva prep, slow and steady helps you be ready.

Asks, Favours & Requests

Not all viva prep needs to be done alone.

It’s OK to simply ask, “Can you help me?”

It’s OK to ask for a favour, “It’s not something little, but I really need help. Can you?”

It’s even OK to make a request, “I need this specific thing and I need you to do it, please.”

Supervisors, peers, colleagues, friends, family – all can be there to support you. Given where you are and what you’re doing, given the state of the world, uncertainty and pressure – even if others around you are feeling it too – you can ask. Tell people what you need, when you need it, why you need it, then work with them to get what you need.

And when someone asks you, do your best to help them too.

Poorly Prepared

Poorly prepared for your viva means you didn’t bother, or you didn’t take it seriously.

Poorly prepared for your viva means you relied on hope rather than work to get you through.

Poorly prepared means you didn’t find out about what was involved with the viva.

You didn’t ask graduates about their experiences to help set your expectations.

Poorly prepared means you didn’t read your thesis or practise or do anything really after submission.

Poorly prepared maybe even means that you just submitted any old thing and hoped it would pass!

The actions (or lack of actions) that could lead to someone being poorly prepared for their viva are pretty clear.

So are the actions that could help candidates be ready.

7 Questions To Help You Annotate Your Thesis

Annotating your thesis is useful viva prep. You have to really think about your thesis while you do it and you create a more useful resource for afterwards. I have general ideas I think are good for annotation, but every candidate has to do something that works for them. With that in mind, here are seven questions that could help you:

  1. What do you want to find easily?
  2. What is important in your thesis? (bonus question: how are you defining important?)
  3. Where do you need to add short notes?
  4. Where do you need to add longer notes?
  5. What pages would benefit from a few sentences to summarise them?
  6. What do you need to underline? (bonus question: why?)
  7. What do you need to highlight? (bonus question: why?)

Annotate your thesis so it is useful for you. Ask questions and set parameters before you start. Figure out what you need to do and then go do it.

A Long Way From Impossible

There’s lots about life that is difficult at the moment. Some aspects might even be practically impossible, compared to life in 2019, or even a few months ago. Thankfully, the viva isn’t one of those impossible things. There are difficult aspects to vivas, but none are impossible.

  • Knowing what to expect is not impossible. You can ask, you can explore, you can find out.
  • Knowing what to do to prepare is not impossible. It takes time – but not a lot – it could be tricky to manage if you’re social distancing and have limited space, but it can be done.
  • Knowing what to do on the day is not impossible. Ask others how they approached it, find out what’s involved with an online viva, decide how you want to approach the situation.
  • Building confidence for the viva is not impossible. Reflect on what you’ve done previously, see what you can do to remind yourself of all your talent. You must be talented to have got this far.

Some things in life will be beyond your control now. Some things will be impossible for you to do anything practical to change the situation, and that can feel really, really hard in so many ways.

Your viva is not one of those things.

Your viva, in all aspects, is a long way from impossible.

Keep going.

Mock Viva Dos and Don’ts

Do have a mock viva because they’re generally seen as a useful part of viva preparations, but…

  • …don’t have a mock viva if you want to go through a script.
  • …don’t have a mock viva if you’re not prepared.
  • …don’t have a mock viva and expect that your actual viva will mirror what happens in the mock.
  • …don’t have a mock viva at short notice.
  • …don’t have a mock viva without thinking about what you want to get from it.

Do have a mock viva! Rehearse the general situation of your viva – what to expect, how to respond – and most importantly, what it feels like to be in that situation.

Unique, Not Unknown

Your viva, in a nutshell.

A unique exam, arising in response to a unique thesis, written by a unique candidate. There has never been a viva the same as yours before; there will never be another the same again.

But there are regulations: the rules that frame how vivas have to happen. There are academic practices: ideas from research culture about what makes a viva good. There are expectations: built up from all of the stories of past candidates, relatively probable situations, structure and outcomes for the viva.

Your viva will be unique, but not totally unknown, not totally unexpected. You can never have total certainty for it, but the more light you can shine on the probable circumstances the better you will feel for your once-in-forever experience.

Is Survival Enough?

Every candidate needs to survive their viva, and given what is needed at the viva, every candidate can survive their viva.

You can want and have more though.

  • You can survive and enjoy your viva. It could even be fun!
  • You can survive your viva and learn from it. Pick up interesting ideas from your examiners or discovering something for yourself.
  • You can survive and thrive in the viva. Grow through it, be re-energised.

You can do more than survive, but survival could be enough. It may be all you get. As with so much about the viva, and life in general, it comes down to how you approach it. If you want to enjoy your viva, what could you do to tilt things in that direction? If you want to learn, what questions might you need to ask? If you want to thrive, how might you need to prepare?

Surviving is the default; is it enough for you?