The First And Last Questions

Old viva advice says that the first question you’re asked at the viva will likely be easy, while the last question likely won’t be. Like a lot of advice, there’s a kernel of truth to this belief but a lot more to be said.

Let’s say that the first question you’re asked in the viva will likely be simple: whatever it is, you’re being asked to start the viva and start it well. Your examiners want to get you talking, get you past nerves and worries; they ask something simple about the beginnings of your research or get you to share an overview of what you’ve done.

These might not be easy questions, but they will be simple to understand and likely be topics you’ve thought about and talked about a lot in the past. First questions are asked for a specific purpose. They get the viva started well. They may or may not be easy, but your examiners won’t be looking to make things hard for you.

The last question of a viva could be many things:

  • “Do you have any questions for us?”
  • “How would you like to see your ideas developed in the future?”

Or it could just be another question: challenging, probing, digging into the work and words of your thesis.

First, last and everything in between: take every question as it comes.

Breathe. Pause. Think. Respond as well as you can.

Every question is an opportunity for you to share a little more and add to the good things that your examiners think about you and your research.