Solving The Prep Problem

I’ve loved maths since I was a child and first realised the wonder that 4 times 6 was the same as 6 times 4. My love sent me on a journey that lead to a PhD in pure maths. A lot of specific technical knowledge and talent has been vacated over the last thirteen years to make room for other things in my brain, but I’d like to think that the maths mindset has never left me.

There’s a shorthand that a lot of people use when they think about maths – “it’s all about getting the right answer” – as if that’s always simply one thing. Different problems lead to different solutions though; in some cases the “right answer” is really a whole collection of things, a solution space.

It’s the same sort of thing with the problem of “how to do a PhD well” or “how to prepare for a viva”. Neither has a right way. There are lots of possible solutions that might work for someone.

The solution space for viva prep is huge:

  • You could spend an hour every day between submission and the viva, doing something purposeful to help you get ready.
  • You could do nothing, no further work after submission.
  • You could read your thesis the day before and leave it at that.
  • You could read your thesis every day and try to impress it all into your brain.
  • You could read lists of questions and try to figure out what to say.
  • You could cover your thesis in notes and helpful marks.
  • And you could do combinations of all of these – and even more.

Time is a variable, confidence is another – though it’s much harder to measure – as well as access to resources, personal needs and circumstances. All these variables, and more besides, have to go into the equation for how to prepare, when to start, what to do and everything else involved in viva prep.


But… One thing I know about the maths mindset, or how I tend to think about things, is that it is easy to overcomplicate things. To try and factor in everything, or solve the biggest, grandest problem – when actually, there are much simpler ways to look at things, or even to consider just parts of the problem. For starters:

  • To get ready for the viva, to begin with, you need to have read your thesis. So do that.
  • It could be helpful to find out more about the viva. So make a note of when you’ll read the regulations.
  • You need to decide if you want to ask for a mock viva. So have a think, and ask or not.

I try to think about the Big Problem Of Viva Prep For Everyone. You only need to think about the little problem of getting yourself ready. It’s much simpler, and you can probably identify all the variables with ease.

Take a look, and then solve for you.