I ask people at the start of Viva Survivor sessions what they need to know about the viva. I ask if they have gaps of knowledge, worries about what might happen or vague hypotheticals.
I’m happy to answer anything and everything that candidates want to talk about. Recently, a participant in a session turned the question around on me: what did I think people needed to know?
It’s a good question. Here’s my answer:
- The vast majority of candidates pass the viva. This doesn’t “just happen”…
- …candidates pass the viva because of what they’ve done, what they know and what they can do. Perfection is not the goal or expectation. Candidates must necessarily be really good at what they do to get to submission and the viva.
- Examiners will be prepared, and that’s a good thing. They’ve read your thesis, made notes and thought a lot about questions; that’s far better than the alternative!
- Examiners may have challenging questions, but they ask them with respect for you and your work. They’re not there to interrogate or tear work apart. Questions can be challenging, but that’s due to the nature and standard of the research involved.
- There are broad expectations for what the viva is like. These aren’t secret.
- Most candidates get some form of corrections. You probably will too. Examiners recommend them to help make the best possible thesis submission.
- The viva can be prepared for. You can’t anticipate and have model answers for every question, but by preparing well you can be ready and confident to answer any question that comes up.
- The viva might be the final test, but it’s not the only test. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy into your PhD: the viva is not the only milestone you’ve passed. You’ve consistently applied yourself and achieved. The viva is one more time you have to meet the standard.
And that’s what I think candidates need to know about the viva.