You’ve done everything you can, become everything you are, know everything you can and need to know.

Viva day comes and you have to leap and trust you’ll reach the other side. A day that’s different from all the others in your PhD life, but still just a day like any other.

You’ve got what you need. So now you come to it: a leap of faith, an act of confidence.

Of course you’ll reach the other side of your examiners’ questions and discussion. How could you not?

The PhD Epilogue

After the final act, the climactic battle between good and evil, heroes and villains clashing, a white knuckle adventure with thrills and chills…

…there’s corrections.

It’s always worth remembering that for most candidates the PhD process does not end with the viva and a little paperwork. After your viva – which, white-knuckle-or-not, comes after weeks of preparation and years of work – there will probably be a few more weeks of work while you finalise your thesis. You remove any typos, tweak a few paragraphs, add something here and there.

A little epilogue when the battle is done (and won!) but where the hero has to think about what they’ve learned, and leave their adventure behind. Perhaps they find a new adventure, maybe they retire to a different life or return to what they knew before.

Don’t forget about this period. Look forward to it if you can.

A short time to finish things, to calm down, to recover, to find your feet before adventure calls again and you start on a new journey.

Typical Amounts Of Time

PhDs typically take between three and seven years to complete in the UK.

Thesis examinations happen around two or three months after submission.

Vivas are usually 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours long.

And all of these things are typical, but not representative of your experience at all. They’re common, but not even close to universal: averages and groupings that don’t respect the variety of experiences in postgraduate research.

In all of these different situations, it’s perhaps best not to focus on how long something is taking – How much longer? When will I be done? When will this be finished? – and instead divert yourself to action. Your thesis submission deadline might be a stressful milestone in some cases, but you don’t have to have that pressure waiting for you in the viva.

Stop watching the clock, start doing something. What can you do to help yourself? Don’t worry about how long your viva might be: what can you do in the viva to help yourself, or what can you do to prepare well?


When it’s going to rain, take an umbrella.

If it’s due to be cold, wrap up warm.

If there’s ice on the path, take care!

Sensible advice that many can follow, partly because weather forecasting has got pretty good. More data helps to create more reliable predictions, which helps direct advice for those who need it.

The forecast for vivas, and the advice that follows, can also be viewed similarly, but comes in two parts. First, general advice, because there are general expectations for vivas – the atmosphere, the intentions, the needs, the outcomes, and so on. Vivas happen in certain ways, so it follows there are general preparations to make.

The second part is your unique circumstances. There are things you need to do for the viva, and things you need to do for yourself. Generally, you might need to read your thesis, learn a little about the process and your examiners, and reflect on how you’ve got this far. But specifically, for yourself, you might have to write a particular summary, or have a mock viva, or wear something that helps you to feel confident.

In both cases, there is lots of data to help you forecast: information about vivas and information about yourself. It’s up to you to interpret that data, see where it leads you, and act accordingly.

What’s your viva equivalent of taking an umbrella?

You Must Be This Tall To Ride

Amusement park signs have never bothered me.

I’m tall and I don’t like rollercoasters. Those signs with arrows indicating heights have always been for someone else. My daughter, however, is six, and tall for her age, but short for the signs. “You can’t go on this one, it’s not for you, not yet, not now.” Tears of frustration follow, until another diversion is found.

Frustration and sometimes tears show up around the end of a PhD too. Frustration brought on by fear, worry, anxiety – candidates wondering if they’ve hit the mark. Has their thesis passed the test? Have they done enough? It’s not wrong to wonder, it’s natural given how important everything is at that stage. The thesis, the PhD, the effort that goes into them – your efforts – they’re all important.

It takes time for children to grow so that they pass the arrow on a rollercoaster sign. Academia doesn’t print any signs like that, but they’re there, invisible, and probably behind you now as you head towards the end of your PhD…

You Must Be This Good To Viva.

And to get as far as you have, you must be good enough.

One Day In Your Life

Your viva isn’t a day just like any other.

It’s unique to you, but it will be similar to a lot of other vivas.

Check the regulations, talk to others about their experiences and ask your supervisors for their thoughts on what to look out for. Focus on what you can prepare for, rather than worry about what you can’t control.

It’s a big day: important now, but only one important day in your life.

Clear Out

It’s early in the year for spring cleaning, but I have been sorting out my office space and shelves recently.

Last summer I was struck by a notion, I wish I could remember where I read it, but (paraphrasing) it said “The less stuff you have, the more enjoyment you can give to the things you do have.” I like this idea. It really got me thinking about my shelves and storage spaces and possessions.

Rather than have fifty boardgames, each of which I play once a year – maybe I should have twenty I really like which I play more often. Having fewer means I could decide more quickly on what I play too! Instead of hoarding books (because they’re mine!), maybe I could trim down my bookcases to see more of what I actually want. Stop hoarding trinkets of past hobbies just because I used to do this or collect that.

Focus instead on the things I like, or the few things I do want to keep.

Have less, to focus more.

Which makes me think of viva prep (of course).

There are many things one could do, but not all have equal value. Focus more on a few things than spend only a little attention on lots. You don’t need to re-read every paper in your bibliography, but you can focus on the few that will really help. You don’t need to read every paper by your examiners; perhaps focus on the most recent ones to get an idea of current work. You can’t write endless summaries of what you did and why, but you can choose two or three to invest time in.

Focus on what you need most for the viva. Find the few things that will give you the most help.


You will be vulnerable in the viva. In a way, you have to be.

Your examiners have to ask you questions. But they are carefully asking questions. They’re not trying to hit a weak spot; they have to ask you questions, they have to listen to your responses, there has to be discussion. In doing so, they may hit a weak point, either in your work, your knowledge, your understanding or something else. But that’s not their intent.

You have to put yourself in a position where you’re open to questions. You have to put your thesis out there so that it can be questioned.

You can’t be invulnerable. You have to be vulnerable. For some people that’s one of the scariest things you can do.

What can you do? Acknowledge it, but don’t just worry about it. Work on it, maybe work through it. You can’t build a suit of armour that covers you, but you can – through preparation – make a more confident way of being open to questions and discussion.