Surprising Questions From Candidates

I’m enjoying a nice summer break, but while I do I am missing sharing viva help in webinars. Before 2020 I’d already delivered viva sessions and workshops for a decade.

With all of that combined experience – as you might imagine – I’ve been asked a LOT of questions about the viva. From the hyper-specific to the incredibly-vague and the super-practical to the ultra-hypothetical, thirteen years later I’m still asked questions that I’ve never been asked before.

And I’ve been asked more than a few questions that really surprise me. For example:

  • Can I have a break if the viva is long? Yes, in fact you can always have a break!
  • Can I take my thesis with me to check details? Yes, you’re expected to have it with you!
  • Will I know who my examiners are before my viva? Yes, this is arranged well before the date!
  • Will my examiners fail me if I forget something or don’t know something? No!
  • How mean will my examiners be? They won’t be, that’s not what they’re there to do!

Sometimes, when I’m asked a question, the person apologises, “Sorry, this might be a stupid question-” and I always cut them off. There are no stupid questions when you’re looking for information or trying to learn more, particularly at a webinar about the PhD viva.

There are no stupid questions, but there are questions that are surprising to me.

I’m surprised that some of what people don’t know about the viva isn’t just shared by supervisors. I’m surprised it’s not passed on through peer groups. I’m surprised that candidates don’t know that they can have a break, for example, or that examiners aren’t trying to be mean.

But they’re not stupid questions. I’m always glad to make a space that could help.

I would encourage you, to help your communities and culture, do pass on what your viva was like. Share to help build up the general sense of what to expect.