Annotation Helps

One of the best reasons to annotate your thesis is to make things stand out. For example:

  • Highlight key references and how you’ve used them;
  • Underline your typos for easier correction later;
  • Draw attention to jargon and specialist terms;
  • Draw attention to key passages of your thesis;
  • Highlight the parts you’re most proud of.

Annotation is purposeful work while you’re doing it; afterwards you have a more useful resource for your prep and the viva.

You can make your thesis clearer while you get ready for the viva. Start by asking yourself, “What would help me?”

Facing Doubts

The end of the PhD can be an anxious time. If you’re worried, or unsure, or feel like an impostor, then you’re the person who needs to take action.

You don’t have to face everything alone, but you do have to face it. Don’t forget that there are people around you that you can ask for help. If you don’t need help then figure out what you’re going to do, and get it done.

Doubting if you’re ready isn’t enough. Thinking about why you have doubts isn’t enough. You have to work your way out of the situation.


But what if my examiner says something I’ve done is rubbish?

Imagine you’re in that position. What exactly did they say? It’s unlikely that they just used the word rubbish, but that’s what your brain has just made of their statement or question or opinion. You’ve interpreted that as “rubbish”.

Don’t panic. Take a breath. Ask them why.

Sit back. Listen. Put your feelings to one side and make notes.

When you know exactly what your examiner doesn’t like you can respond. When you have all of the details you will know what you need to discuss with them.

They might have misunderstood something: that doesn’t mean that what you did is rubbish, it just means that you didn’t communicate it as well as you hoped.

They might think something is missing: that doesn’t mean that what you did is rubbish, it just means that it’s not quite as complete as you hoped.

It’s unlikely your examiners will call something in your work rubbish. It’s certain that you have not produced a perfect thesis from perfect research – which means they might have questions or comments about the imperfections. This is natural.

If they say something is rubbish or that’s what you hear, you still get to engage with them – and you should. Ask why. Listen. Think. Respond.

And keep doing it.

Your examiners are not your biggest critics; it’s likely that you have taken on that role.

Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

Let’s categorise!

Bad Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

  • You want to see exactly what your viva will be like.
  • You want to rehearse answers to specific questions.
  • You want to be grilled by your supervisor and prove yourself.
  • You want to perfect yourself before you meet your examiners.

Good Reasons To Have A Mock Viva

  • You want to see what vivas are typically like.
  • You want to see what other people might ask about your thesis.
  • You want to see how well you can answer unexpected questions.
  • You want to boost your confidence for the real thing.
  • You want to see if there’s anything else you need to do to prepare.

If you think a mock viva might help, it probably will. If you think it will do all of the work to make you “perfect” for your viva, it probably won’t. It’s practice, not perfection. Make sure you have the right reasons in your mind.

Don’t Panic!!!

Don’t panic during your prep or in the viva.

Don’t do it. De-list it as an option. It’s not on the table.

Find something that looks like a mistake in your thesis? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

Examiner asks an odd question? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

Examiner makes a critical comment? Don’t panic. What can you do instead?

If you weren’t allowed to panic, what would you do instead?

SCAMPERing Through Your Thesis

I like acronyms as useful tools, particularly for unpicking things or prompting thoughts. Last year I shared a post on how to use the tool SCAMPER to think about how to extend the research you’ve done for your PhD. Recently it struck me that SCAMPER could be useful as a reflection and review tool.

Today’s post is a series of questions inspired by SCAMPER to get you reflecting about your research. Use these with journalling or free-writing to spark some thoughts about your thesis.

  • Substitute: what did you change from something someone else had done?
  • Combine: what ideas did you bring together in your thesis?
  • Adapt: how have you altered the approach that you started with?
  • Magnify: what areas did you decide to focus on?
  • Put to other use: what pre-existing tools or ideas did you use?
  • Eliminate: how did you simplify things as your work developed?
  • Rearrange: as your thesis was nearing completion, what changes did you have to make?

Use these questions to think about your research and thesis. Reflecting on the three or more years of work you’ve completed is an essential part of the viva prep process.


…you’re talented.

…your thesis is done.

…you only have a little way to go.

…is not like your first year.

…you’re at the end of the journey.

…you’re able to think clearly.

…you have experience.

Whatever first year, second year, third year was like, now is not then. Now you’re on the final approach to being done. Now you’re the expert.

Now you can be ready for your viva.

Help Wanted

You might be looking to appoint a couple of people to the position of “Viva Prep Helper-Outer”.

What do you need from others to help with your viva prep? What are you looking for?

Think about it and make a decision. Find out who is available. Think about what they know and what they can do.

Make it clear that it’s a low-paid job, but you might be able to manage the odd coffee by way of compensation. Essentially the position is somewhere between a coach and a consultant. You want questions, ideas, advice, encouragement and someone to listen.

You might need to take on more than one person.

Don’t be too demanding on anyone’s time, and remember to settle up with anyone who is a really big help.

Say thank you when your viva is done, and be ready to help someone in the future.

The Flipside of Blame

Outside of the usual typos and copyediting, my biggest corrections were to rewrite two chapters. They followed a similar flow, two case studies using a process I’d developed. My examiners were happy with the result, but not with how it was set out. It took me several weeks to re-arrange the model I had in my head. Thankfully, the second chapter was much easier to write once the first had been done.

Last year, sharing this story with a PhD candidate they asked, “So who was to blame? Your supervisor? They should have caught it, right?”

Wrong. My supervisor was responsible for giving me feedback, and he did. He told me that those chapters explained the process that I had developed, which they did.

“Well, your examiners then, they were just being harsh.”

No, they were doing their jobs. They fulfilled their roles perfectly. They asked for corrections to help make my thesis the best it could be.

I was to blame for my corrections…

…and the flipside of blame is responsibility.

I was responsible for writing my thesis, and I was responsible for ensuring it was the best it could be for submission. No-one else. The chapters needed something. I could have spotted that. I could have seen that my descriptions, while accurate, were missing a lot of the terminology and rigour that was appropriate. It was hidden in the background, when I needed to bring it front and centre.

Blame and responsibility are shadows of the same thing. It depends where you position yourself to look at the situation. You’re responsible for your corrections…

…and you’re to blame for how good your research is overall.