Big Things I Learned At My Viva

I find it helpful to look back on my viva now and then. A lot stands out to me that I wasn’t expecting at the time. As time goes by some realisations grow more important in my mind, so I thought today I’d share a few to think about for yours.

  • Comfortable clothes help a lot! You can look smart and be comfortable. You may want to dress to impress, but don’t wear shoes that are too tight or something that you find impossible to keep straight. Smart can be nice – but comfortable is what you need.
  • I was asked to give a presentation to start my viva. This was good for me. It forced key talking points and questions to be on my mind. Even if you’re not asked for a presentation (they’re not common) consider spending time thinking about what you would include. Or give a presentation for friends as part of your preparation for the viva.
  • I learned that vivas can be four hours long! Mine was. Yours could be, although it’s not very likely…
  • …which makes it all the more important that you ask other people about their experiences. You can’t predict your viva, but if you listen carefully to enough stories you can get a sense of what yours could be like.
  • Corrections aren’t a punishment. Examiners ask for them to try to help make your thesis better. I didn’t know that. I didn’t think my thesis would be perfect, but at the same time I hoped I wouldn’t be asked to make any changes. That’s unrealistic. As I later learned, most people are asked to do some kind of corrections. You probably will too.

A big learning point has only come with time and distance: my viva was important, my PhD was important and is important to me still – but neither of them are the most important things I’ll ever do. Take it seriously, of course, but you don’t need to obsess and worry.

And when you’re all done, take some time to reflect. What have you learned from your viva?