Aware of the Outcomes

I don’t think I knew – at all – what the result of my viva might be.

I naively expected that I would pass, and I was right in expecting that. I suppose I expected I would have to make some corrections, which was right again – but I had no idea as to what that really meant, how much time I would be given, how that would be sorted out. I knew none of it.

I didn’t know that there were regulations about vivas. I didn’t know that there were categories of outcomes. Had I been aware of all this I think I would have been better prepared for what happened at the end of my viva. I was told that there was something still to do, told that I had three months to get it done. It wasn’t bad, but it was a surprise.

Be less clueless than me. Find out what is expected formally for different outcomes at your institution. Be certain of what’s expected for minor corrections particularly, as that is the most common outcome.

Nerves In Perspective

PhD candidates are generally nervous about the viva. In my experience, most will feel a portion of nervousness at some point before they meet their examiners. Some will continue to feel it during their viva too.

I don’t know that a person can ever completely overcome a feeling of nervousness, but I’m convinced that they could learn to put them into perspective:

  • The viva is important, so it’s natural to be nervous about it.
  • You may be nervous about it, but it’s only going to be for a few hours. Then it’s done.
  • Most people pass – and pass well – so however nervous you feel, the outcome is most likely going to be good.

Nervousness isn’t always rational. You can feel nervous and be confident for success at the same time. Try to focus on what you need to do, so that you can do well.

For the viva particularly, remember that those nervous few hours come after thousands of hours of work on your part. Remember that, and those thousands of hours might help you see that those few hours in the viva are going to be fine.

The First Step

Getting ready for the viva could take twenty hours of work spaced out over several weeks.

What’s the first task on your list?

  • Gathering stationery supplies?
  • Reading the first page?
  • Chatting to your supervisor?
  • Clicking for a random piece of advice from a pretty good blog about the viva?
  • Asking a friend for help?
  • Or something else?

You might have worries about the viva or preparing, but once you take your first step you’re on your way to success.

What will your first step be?

How Will You Feel?

I ask “How do you feel?” a lot.

By my records I’ve asked this question in seminars and webinars at least 300 times, to over 5000 PhD candidates. It’s good to reflect on in a seminar but that’s one moment, weeks or possibly months before the viva.

I can’t ask the title of this post because it would be impossible to answer well! Who knows how you will feel on the days leading up to your viva, or in the moments before it. It’s helpful to reflect on how you might feel though, because however you feel, now or later, there is always something positive you can do to help for the viva.

  • If you felt worried: you could ask someone you trust for advice.
  • If you felt unprepared: you could make a plan and help steer yourself closer to ready.
  • If you felt great: fantastic! Now, what could you do to really hold on to that feeling?

However you feel now, there’s something you can do to help yourself. However you might feel in the time leading to the viva, there will be something you can do to help yourself. Reflect, then decide on what you’ll do to help.

Number Posts

I try not to be clickbait-y in the titles that I choose for posts. Numbers are sometimes really useful to help me round up ideas, and they also help to draw attention too. It dawned on me that in and amongst the many posts I’d published that I had probably done posts “counting down” from ten to one.

I checked – I have!

Another thing about “number” posts: they’re usually pretty clear. While it won’t be enough for you to try to memorise “eight cool things” about your thesis or “ten top references” in your bibliography, giving yourself a nudge with a number could help you to look at your research differently. It might help you to summarise or capture things neatly too.

Used appropriately, numbers can stick in the mind quite well!

All Your Victories

Write down all of the things that you’ve achieved over the course of your PhD.

Write down as many things as you can think of where you’ve succeeded despite a setback.

List all the times you overcame your own doubts and worries.

Consider how much work you had to do to write your thesis.

Consider the background state of the world against which you’ve done all of this.

With all of your victories, you are in a great position to now succeed in your viva. Any nerves that you feel are not a sign that you are missing something; you’re just recognising that the viva is important.

With all your past victories you can work towards one more now.

Together In The Viva

The viva is you and your examiners; the viva isn’t you versus them.

You don’t have to challenge all their questions. They don’t have to bring you and your work down.

It’s not combat. It’s not a trial. It’s not an ordeal. You don’t have to prove that you’re better than them somehow.

It’s you AND them creating your viva.

Instead of worrying about what you have to do “to win” – make sure you’re ready to share your best self and best stuff. Make sure you know what you need to about the process and your examiners to help the viva be as good as it can be.

And Now…

…you’re ready to face one more challenge: your viva!

Wait, I skipped ahead! Go back to the beginning…


You got onto a PhD programme because you were good enough. Your story before then, your successes, your challenges, your grades and skills, they convinced your institution you could do a PhD.

You worked through to submission because you were good enough. It won’t have been easy. You’ll have had success but also lots of challenges. Some days and weeks will have been joyous, but perhaps some months will have felt awful. In the end though, you did it. You did your research, you wrote your thesis and submitted it. One more milestone reached.

You prepared for your viva by building on what you did. You highlighted the important stuff, reflected on how you did it and got ready to talk to your examiners. You’re good enough. You really are!

You’re good enough, and now you’re ready to face one more challenge: your viva!


Now, right at the end, it’s worth reflecting on the journey that’s got you this far.

Webinar: 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva

A little webinar update!

I’m running my 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva session next Monday, 8th February 2021. It’s a 1-hour webinar all about why you can feel confident for your viva, exploring some of the things you can do to be ready, as well as giving space for you to ask any questions you have about the process.

I’ve run it many times since I developed it last spring, during the first UK lockdown, and it’s a real thrill to be able to offer it again. I’ve heard from people how valuable it’s been for them as they come to the conclusion of their PhD journey and am so happy I have the space to continue to offer this support. In a strange, weird and sometimes-awful time, 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva is one of the things I’m happiest I’ve been able to do in the last year.

Registration is open now, and there’s an earlybird discount for anyone who books before midnight tomorrow. If your viva is sometime this year then I think this session will really help you. Take a look at the session details here – if you have any questions, simply get in touch via email or Twitter.

I hope to see you at 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva next week! 🙂


PS: I have more sessions coming up in the next few months! Check out what’s coming soon at this hub page.

Take A Blank Page

You can do a lot with one blank sheet of paper to help your viva prep.

You could write “What’s important?” as a provocation to get you thinking about what really matters in your thesis. Respond to the prompt using the rest of the page.

You could divide a blank page into three and capture responses to each of the following questions:

  • Why does your work matter?
  • How did you do your research?
  • What are your best results or conclusions?

Taken together, these create a good summary of your research.

With a single sheet of A4 paper, you could make a list of ten references that have really helped your research.

Or cut the paper up into ten bookmarks to help you navigate your thesis.

Or just put it in your printer and print a copy of The tiny book of viva prep from the Resources page!

A blank page can be intimidating before you do something – but you don’t have to do a lot to get something valuable.