December is a month of traditions. Celebrations, music, decorations, meals – some traditions form a backdrop of culture, while others are more homegrown.

  • “Our tree has been up for over a week. That’s how we’ve always done it.”
  • “Christmas dinner will involve turkey, that’s what we always have.”
  • “You can’t open any presents until you’ve had some breakfast, that’s just the way it is!”

You’ll have your own traditions: they might involve Christmas or not, family or friends, excess or restraint. And it might not always be possible to live up to those traditions or in some cases even exercise them. This year especially, people who feel strongly attached to “the way things are supposed to be” are liable to be disappointed if they don’t let go a little.

The viva is an exam of traditions. Regulations, university processes and common stories – these form a background for expectations, while departments and colleagues can show you a more local view.

  • “Vivas last around two hours. That’s what everyone says.”
  • “Expect them to ask a lot about your methods, all my friends were asked about them.”
  • “Your external will take the lead, they’re the expert after all, right?”

Your institution will have rules for the viva. Your discipline might have common expectations. Your department might have ideas – norms – which influence how vivas take place. They might feel comfortable or not, according to your preferences; in some cases you might be able to adapt them or adapt yourself to make them better for you. In the next year or so, you and your examiners might be disappointed that some parts of the viva will not be “the way things are supposed to be.”

December’s traditions are part of a background; you might have your own, but you have a reference point for interpreting others. The viva’s traditions, whatever they come to, will be something partly new to you. You’ve not had a viva before, and you’ll have to interpret the experiences of others to make sense of them.

(December and the viva have a strong tradition for celebration, keep that in mind and do what you can!)