I’ve never read Anna Karenina. I get stuck about twenty pages in and change to something else on my Kindle. As I’ve read the start many times, the opening line remains with me, often translated as:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
There’s a nice poetry in that statement, and I think it’s relevant to the viva too. In my decade of becoming fascinated by the viva, I hear more stories that mirror Tolstoy’s sentiment: I’ve heard of plenty of happy viva stories that sound quite similar. The few unhappy viva stories are memorable because they are distinct.
Happy vivas are happy because they go well. They’re the majority of vivas; there are general expectations being met; most candidates get minor corrections; most examiners approach their role in the right way; most candidates, even if they are nervous, realise it’s not an insurmountable task. They can prepare and they can continue to do well.
Unhappy vivas always have particular stories. The candidate who didn’t get on with their supervisor. The supervisor who didn’t do their job. The examiners who weren’t right. The regulations that weren’t followed. The candidate who felt rushed. The candidate who didn’t know what to expect. It only takes a few of these little details to make a viva thoroughly unhappy.
Don’t expect an unhappy viva. If you have concerns, do something as soon as possible. Don’t just let it go and hope for the best. Do something.
Do expect a happy viva. You’ve got this far for a reason. You’ve done the work. You are good at what you do. You are where you’re meant to be.