When Are You Ready?

You can’t be ready for your viva until you’ve at least submitted your thesis.

You need to have spent some time doing various viva prep tasks.

To be ready you have to feel some amount of confidence for the viva.

To be ready you have to have some idea of what to expect.

Ready isn’t an irreversible state: you have to maintain it.

Once you do feel ready, consider: what could you do to hold that feeling? What can you do to keep feeling confident?

Opportunities To Practise

A key step of viva preparation is investing a little time to practise. A mock viva could be a great rehearsal for the real thing, but it’s not the only option.

  • Simply talk. Sit down over coffee, over video if you need to, and just tell someone about your work. Invite their questions. Ask them to prompt you if you’re not being clear.
  • Give a talk. Invite colleagues to listen. Use a few slides but only to help frame your thesis and research. Don’t talk for long; use the time to get into conversations.
  • Have a mini-viva. There are thousands of possible conversations that this resource could prompt. One or two might give you useful practise.

There are reasons why mock vivas are generally valued as a part of viva prep. They’re supposed to help you explore what it would be like to be in the viva. More fundamentally though, you need practise at responding to questions; taking the time to think and feeling comfortable doing so.

So what opportunities will you make for yourself?

The Wrong Thing

I can’t imagine what someone could say in the viva, without going to flippant extremes, that would be so wrong as to lead to a terrible outcome.

Wrong couldn’t be saying too little or too much; your examiners will help steer the conversation.

Wrong couldn’t simply be factual error – your examiners would rather check details than simply let an inaccuracy through.

Wrong couldn’t be the result of nerves: your examiners are human and would understand. They’d give you space to get past nerves.

Wrong couldn’t be simply saying “I don’t know” – that wouldn’t be wrong, that would just be not knowing something.

It would be wrong to be arrogant, it would be wrong to pick a fight, it would be wrong to assume that you know what’s what for everything connected to the viva!

But would you do that?

If you are worried, consider what you could do to lessen those worries. If you’re nervous, explore how to build your confidence.

And if you’re still worried about being wrong, remember that it’s far more likely that you would say the right thing than the wrong in your viva.

What’s Your Worry?

Don’t keep your viva worry bottled up in your brain where you can merely be anxious about it.

Write it down. Tell a friend. Talk to your supervisor.

Your worry could be unfounded. Talking to someone who has had their viva or knows about the process could put your concerns in perspective. They could help you see what you can do to help yourself.

Your worry could be easily resolved. Being clear with yourself and knowing what’s wrong and could allow you to move forwards.

Your worry could be a tough situation – in which case exploring what you could do and what you will do, possibly with support from others, will allow you to work past that worry.

It’s natural, given the importance of your viva, that you might have worries. If you do then you can also do something about them.

Clumsy Paragraphs

Everyone writes them. Too-long sentences or a missing conclusion. Half-finished thoughts or poorly-punctuated points.

Despite your best efforts, you might not find clumsy paragraphs in your thesis until after submission. Don’t stress too much, there’s a chance to get it right – two chances actually!

First in the viva, there’s the chance to set the record right with your examiners. Explain what you really meant and make it clear. They’ll listen. They might have questions or need things in more detail but you have the opportunity to get it right.

Your second chance is in your corrections. Most candidates have corrections to complete after the viva. This is a great opportunity to get your thesis as good as possible. Never perfect! But better.

In your preparations you have to do two things. Read your thesis carefully to see if something isn’t quite right – that’s the easy step. Step two, if you find something, is to hold on and accept that it’s going to be OK; the clumsy paragraph or section can be fixed but you have to wait for the viva to start that process.

It will be OK. Everyone makes mistakes. In the viva process everyone gets the chance to correct them.

A Few Thoughts on Survive

After many years of working in this area I still think survive is the best verb to associate with the viva.

Manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.

Survive doesn’t mean it’s going to be a struggle, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.

Difficult is different for everyone. Manage might be harder or easier. Survive doesn’t come automatically.

The difficulty of the viva might be found in different things for different people.

Survive doesn’t mean you might not thrive in the viva. Survive doesn’t mean you will be scarred by the experience. Survive has a positive aspect for you: whatever the difficulty, whatever you did, you kept going.

Surviving doesn’t automatically mean the circumstances were bad. They were difficult. They were a challenge.

Not so great that you could not keep going.

The Formalities

Find out when and how you’ll have your viva. Check the regulations. Google your examiners and bookmark their staff pages. Note down key expectations your supervisors share. Be sure of the viva process at your institution.

The formalities matter. They’re also a really small part of the viva and of getting ready for it. Sort them out as soon as possible so you can focus on preparing yourself, your thesis and your confidence for the viva.

Your Way

In the end, getting ready for the viva comes down to you figuring out your way to make it work.

There’s a lot of viva advice, both general and practical. This site alone contains over 24 hours of podcast interviews and 1500+ blog posts. You can’t do it all. As helpful as I like to be you can’t apply it all to your situation.

You have to do it your way.

Your friends, colleagues and supervisors will be able to help. They’ll have their experience. They might have key information which could help you get ready. But they’re not you: your life, your research and your situation might be so different that to do what they advise might be stressful or even impossible.

You have to do it your way.

So listen. Find sources that you can trust. Ask questions, then check the answers against your situation. Find a way to make it work for you. There’s lots of good advice out there. There are lots of things that will help you be ready and feel ready. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to viva prep.

You have to do it your way.

Page 1

It’s likely you’re going to see the first page of your thesis a lot when you open your thesis. All through your prep and in the viva too you’re going to see “Chapter 1” or “Introduction” again and again. Maybe you’ll see that page so much that you start to look past it.

But what if it had a short message of encouragement you had left for yourself?

What if it highlighted three key points?

What if there was a small picture stuck in to make you smile?

Could you include a helpful reminder?

Or just three words: You Got This.

The printed copy of your thesis is a valuable resource for your viva. You can refer to it at any point, and in advance you can annotate it to make it as useful as possible for you.

So what will you add to the first page to make a difference?

Support Your Choices

When a candidate hears “defend your thesis” it’s easy for them to think of the viva as a battle, a struggle or a debate.

Perhaps a better way to describe the viva is that it’s a chance to support your choices. Your examiners have read your thesis. They’ve prepared for your viva. They have questions and opinions┬ábut the space is there for you to support what you’ve done.

You can clarify the unclear, add details or expand on your process. In sharing more of your research you have the opportunity to support your choices. So in your preparation be sure to check details that need checking, highlight details that are important and summarise anything that could make a difference.

The viva is one more opportunity to show what you did, what you know and what you can do.