Expect The Unexpected

Hindsight is wonderful. Before my viva I worried about whether or not I would forget things in the moment; would I be able to explain this process or that proof, things I knew really well…

…what if, what if, what if…

It never occurred to me that my examiners might ask me questions that, well, had never occurred to me.

I didn’t expect that they would ask questions about the background of my field. I didn’t expect that they would ask questions to explore things which I thought were obviously true. I didn’t expect them to question why I had included a chapter exploring a topic that had produced negative results.

I didn’t expect that they would only ask a fraction of the questions that I had expected.

Your examiners will ask you questions you could plan for, but they will probably also ask questions that you can’t anticipate – because you’re not them, you think differently, have different experiences and knowledge and are approaching the viva with a different agenda.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be prepared for them.

  • Use the valuable opportunities of a mock viva or conversations with friends to get comfortable answering questions you haven’t considered before.
  • Read through your thesis and try to imagine how someone other than you might read it. What would they be thinking? What could they ask?
  • Realise that your examiners are not asking unexpected questions for fun: they’re exploring your work to drive the process of the viva.

It’s impossible to anticipate every question in the viva. It is possible to engage with every question that your examiners ask.