Why am I researching the viva?

Well, there might be a clue in the name of this site… But more seriously, here’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.


A few days ago I set a survey in motion asking seven quick questions of PhD graduates from UK universities. I talk to a lot of people about the viva – some of them are graduates, and I try when possible to interview them for this podcast – but most of them are candidates. They’ve worked hard for three or more years, become experts in their field, and then I meet them at workshops where some of them are terrified that their world is about to come crashing down. Having spoken to quite a few PhD graduates there are stories and experiences I can pass on, but sometimes the “official” stats seem unclear. I thought it might be interesting to capture a snapshot of what PhD graduates from the last fourteen years have been through – both to see what the stats are, and to see what kind of a picture it creates. And who knows, there might be some interesting things in the data!


I’ve created a survey with seven quick questions which you can find at tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey – it is a Google Form which outputs to a spreadsheet which I’ll perform some data analysis on. I’ve kept the questions to a minimum, but think that this will be enough to find some interesting results. In a later post I’ll talk about some of the questions I’m planning to ask (and it would be great to hear from you if you have any thoughts about what I might try to look for). At a minimum I’m eager to see whether the impression on lengths of viva that I’ve seen anecdotally match a larger data set, and I also want to see if there are any correlations between lengths of viva and impressions of the experience. I’m curious to see if there are any common factors that cause clustering in the data as well.


The reason for these posts and the flurry of tweets and shares is that I need your help! According to some data in a recent Times Higher article there were in the region of 200,000 PhD graduates from UK universities in the period that I’m interested in. According to a handy sample size calculator I found online I need at least 400 respondents before I can start to expect that the results I’ll get will reflect reality. And the more I get, the more confident I – and others – can be in the conclusions I draw. My plan is to collect data until the end of April and then start to seriously analyse the information I’ve got (although I’ll be converting data before then) before I start to release what I’ve found.

My first goal is to release the results as a series of blogposts and pdfs via my websites, and also to use the results in the viva prep workshops that I run. But there must be other interesting things that could be done, and again, if you have any thoughts, please let me know! I want the results of this research to be really valuable for PhD candidates at UK universities.

How You Can Help

If you had your PhD viva at a UK university between 2000 and 2013, then please take two minutes to fill in the survey at tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ then please consider sharing the survey among your network. Or if you know a PhD graduate whose data would help the survey, please tell them. Every contribution and share will help this research and will ultimately help PhD candidates know what to expect about their viva.

Thank you for your time in reading this!

Nathan (email me here, find me on Twitter here and here)