Not Noticed

Twenty minutes before my first webinar of the autumn I realised that I couldn’t close my office door.

The panel from the side of the bath was in the way, leaning just beside the door. I had taken it off two months earlier to fix a leak and never quite got around to putting it back. I’d become so used to it being there that I no longer noticed it when I was passing through the doorway.

I spent two hurried minutes jiggling and fiddling with it to get it back into place on the side of the bath where it belonged. Then I washed my hands, took a deep breath and it was time for the webinar.

My bath panel is pretty big but it was only a little problem to resolve. It was stressful in that moment because of the urgency. It would have been far better to look around in the previous days (or weeks!) and sort it out sooner.


Little problems can be overcome once we notice them. Little problems in your thesis or your research are less stressful to resolve before the viva than in your viva. While you can’t just prime yourself to notice what you’ve not noticed previously, you can work carefully during your viva prep to look for little problems.

  • Read your thesis without skimming. What do you see? Typos aren’t a problem because they don’t require you to come up with a solution. A clunky sentence might be a problem. How do you make it clearer? A forgotten topic is a problem. What can you do to refresh your memory?
  • Ask for considered feedback when you rehearse. Your friend not understanding you is a problem. How can you explain your point better? Your supervisor disagreeing with you is a problem. How can you explore the issue?

A clunky passage in your thesis or a misunderstanding in the viva will not lead to your failure. Little problems are little, but remember: little problems are less stressful to resolve before the viva than in your viva. By working to spot what you’ve not noticed before you can pre-emptively fix things – or give yourself more practice solving little problems for the viva.