Examiners have intentions for vivas: questions they might want to ask, a tone or atmosphere they want to encourage.
Candidates have experiences in vivas: a mix of the reality of the situation and how they feel about it during and afterwards.
Of course, examiner intentions feed into candidate experiences. Over time they create the culture that future candidates come to expect.
The overall feeling I get from candidates is that vivas are a bit scary, a bit uncertain, probably something to worry about. The overall feeling I get from graduates is that vivas aren’t as scary as they seemed to be, and while they require action and preparation they’re typically not something to be stressed about.
So we need to steer the culture.
Academics need to be asked more about their general approaches to vivas. Graduates need to be asked about their experiences in vivas. The details need to filter out so that a more thorough picture emerges. Candidates need to hear about experiences and intentions – examiners do too – and over time we can steer the expectations so that they match the overall reality of the viva.
But for today, if your viva is coming up, ask your supervisor what they do to get ready for a viva. What questions are in their mind? What approach do they take? Ask PhD graduates from your department what their viva was like. How did they prepare? How were they feeling? And what happened on the day?