A few years back I heard of universities offering first year PGRs the opportunity to sit in on vivas. They could take some of the fear out and get some real, observed expectations for their own viva. When the time came maybe they would pay it forward and offer a future first year to sit in on their viva. It’s a really nice idea…
…but I’m not sure how widespread it is as a practice. In the same way that a supervisor being present could make you nervous at being observed, I could see that this kind of experience could be stressing for a candidate, even if it could be good for future candidates. I know it might help someone, but I don’t know that I would have done it if it was my viva.
You can ask around though. Even if you can’t sit in, you can find out what it was like for others. Ask specific questions about their viva experiences and build up a picture. Also check if your institution has licensed The Good Viva Video by Angel Productions, which shows some realistic expectations.
There’s lots of information about the viva out there. You don’t have to look far. You don’t need to be a fly on the wall to learn about them. The viva experience doesn’t need to be a mystery.