To Begin Again

What would you do differently if you were to start your PhD over?

Candidates have asked me about what they should say to this sort of question in the viva. It feels like it could be a trap: similar to interview questions asking people to talk about their failings or weaknesses.

Perhaps if you did something differently that’s the same as saying you got something wrong?

Maybe if you made a change you’re admitting there’s room for improvement?

I can understand the worry, but don’t think there is much to worry about. A question about starting again isn’t a trick or a trap: your examiners are trying to engage you. They want to know about what you’ve learned. There are many ways you could start to respond:

  • “Knowing what I know now, I’d start by exploring…”
  • “I’d save time as I wouldn’t have to learn how to…”
  • “I didn’t have the opportunity to research X; perhaps I’d start with that…”

You can’t start over. You can begin to explore just how far you’ve come – and what a difference that journey has made to you.