Traffic Lights

Traffic intersections use simple colour-coding to indicate what actions should be taken. They’re used to prompt very specific behaviour and action. Perhaps we can borrow the terminology to consider the kinds of questions that might come up at a viva…

Green light questions are anticipated; you are entirely comfortable with them. Whether it’s about something in your thesis, your research or your general field, if you were to hear a green light question you would be happy to just go (and start talking)!

Yellow light questions force you to slow down. You might have to change pace. There’s no problem but you need to think and focus more. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. You’re not expected to know everything or remember everything in your viva; pausing for a moment to get your thoughts together is good.

Red light questions make you stop. A question could be unexpected. It could be something you struggle with. And it might make you feel uncomfortable.


In the real world, red lights make people stop – but then they go again, and that’s also like the viva.

If a question is hard, unfamiliar or unexpected at the viva you still need to respond to it. You still have to engage in order to meet the expectations of the viva.

If you know of a red light topic for you, what could you do to improve how you feel about it? If it’s a yellow can you make it a green?