In Case Of Emergency

What if your external examiner cancels with a week to go?

What do you do if you get an email asking you for submission fees, and you’re sure that doesn’t apply to you?

What would you do if you broke your leg or just got sick a few days before your viva?

What do you do? Who do you call?

You can’t plan what you would do for every unexpected event – they’re unexpected, of course! But you can be a little prepared all the same. Spend two minutes as soon as possible, months before your viva if that’s where you are now: get a name, email address and phone number for someone at your university who could help in case anything unexpected, a real emergency, happens in the lead up to your viva.

Your supervisor might be the person to call, but equally it could be a member of staff in your Graduate School or Doctoral College. Figure out who the most likely person is, get their contact details written on a Post-it Note and put that away just in case.

You’ll never know when an emergency will strike, you can’t always know how it might be solved. But you can know who to contact first to help you.

All About Me!

It’s my birthday, and it dawned on me that I’ve put a lot of myself into the daily blog since I started it in 2017. I recorded an episode of the Viva Survivors Podcast a long time ago with my best friend interviewing me, but I’m all over the place in the blog, bits and pieces of me cut out and glued into this scrapbook of viva help.

So here are a few of my favourite posts where a part of me makes up the idea of the piece:

I don’t think you can do something like this, for nearly a thousand posts, without bits and pieces of yourself creeping in. I’m happy that I’m here and there throughout the blog. I hope you find these posts interesting, and in some cases entertaining too!

Now, while I go and celebrate not-quite-being-40-just-yet, if you have time reflect on what I’ve been reflecting: where can you find yourself in your work? Where are you in your thesis and your research?

Six Steps For Friction-free Prep

In preparing for the viva you have your thesis, your knowledge, your talent…

…and a lot of things potentially in your way, stopping you from getting ready! Busy days, family ties, worry, uncertainty over what to do – there’s lots to slow you down!

Thankfully, there’s a few simple steps you can take to remove the obstacles in your way:

  1. Make a plan. Just a short one, just an idea of when you need start, when you need to stop and what you need to do.
  2. Get your materials together. You need your thesis, some stationery, some paper and some papers you’ve referenced too. Get it all together, don’t leave things for later when you can procrastinate and avoid prep because you don’t have that paper you need.
  3. Find a prep space. It might be your dining table, it could be your office, it could be a cafe. But find a space that you can work well in.
  4. Tell others what you need. Probably, you need them to leave you alone from time to time! Get the space you need.
  5. Do at least one thing every day. Read a chapter, write a summary, check a reference – do something so it becomes a habit. Small tasks add up.
  6. Make a task list for your plan. What are all the tasks you have to get done? Cross them off as you go to see your progress as it happens.

Be practical. Don’t stay in your head with worries, doubts, procrastinations. Work better by removing things that create friction as you get ready to pass your viva.

Opening Questions

How did you get interested in this area? How would you summarise your research? Could you tell us about your most important contributions?

There are other potential opening questions. None are trivial, all rely on a deep knowledge and talent that you alone have.

Opening questions often ask for summaries, considered opinions and so on. Your examiners don’t ask because they imagine you have ten short monologues prepared. They ask because they expect you will have been asked questions like these many times before. Responses should flow relatively naturally as you’ve thought about these ideas many times before.

They’re not asked because they’re easy. They’re definitelynot easy questions with easy answers. Instead, they’re asked because they give a natural way for the viva to start. Here’s a chance for you to start well. Here’s an opportunity for you to let your nerves and anxieties recede and let you knowledge and talent take the foreground.

You’re the only one who could give a great response to opening questions. Because of what you’ve done and what you know, you will give a great response to whatever question starts your viva.

No Two The Same

No two vivas are completely different either.

One friend might have a two hour viva, another’s is three – but both got minor corrections.

One friend might have been asked to give an overview of their research to start, while another was asked how they got interested in a topic – and both were done in under 90 minutes.

One friend got minimal corrections, another got major – but both enjoyed the experience.

Any two vivas will have similarities and differences.

Many vivas have common similarities – approximate length, tone of examiners, areas of questioning maybe within disciplines – and ways in which they differ. Differences don’t mean bad things, just difference.

Listen to stories and realise that vivas generally are fine, and that there are some expectations underneath all of the variety of experiences.

Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva

There are lots of reasons. Any one of the following might be enough:

  • You did the work.
  • You’re talented.
  • Your examiners are there to examine, not interrogate.
  • Vivas have expectations.
  • Examiners have responsibilities.
  • You can prepare for the viva…
  • …and you will have prepared for your viva. (right?!)
  • The viva isn’t a total mystery.
  • Of the three people in the room, you have the expertise when it comes to your thesis.
  • You have a history of rising to meet challenges.

Taken in combination, they paint an impressive picture for the outcome of your viva.

There are many more reasons you will pass your viva, specific to you, your thesis and your research journey. The many reasons you’ll pass align with reasons you could be confident about your performance in the viva.

You’ve not got this far by accident; you’ve not got this far by only showing up.


There’s lots of Finally!!! moments at the end of a PhD.

Finally!!! My thesis is finished!

Finally!!! My viva is almost here!

Finally!!! I’ve passed my viva!

Finally!!! My corrections are done!

Finally!!! I’ve graduated! I’m finally, finally, done!

At each moment where you think Finally!!! take time to think: what got you this far? How far have you come?

And what can you do to get you to the next Finally!!!?

Everything? or Enough?

Have you done everything you could for your research and thesis? It’s almost impossible!

Have you done enough for your research and thesis? Probably, since most candidates do!

It helps to define “enough” before you try to decide if you’ve achieved it.

Similarly, you can’t do everything in preparation for your viva, but you can do enough. Figure out where you have gaps, where you need support, where others can help you, then work your way to being ready. Decide in advance on what you need to do before you get to work.

You can’t do everything, you can do enough.

Tend To Your Confidence

Confidence is essential for the viva, but you can’t just turn it on.

You have to nurture it.

If you want to grow vegetables, you could throw some seeds in a hole in the ground and wait to see what happens.

Or you could match the right seed to the right type of soil at the right time of year. Be deliberate. You could track when you water or add nutrients. You could decide how you will trim leaves or not, what supports you might need to help the plant grow well, whether or not you need to do something to help remove pests. There’s a lot you could do to help. You can’t guarantee the outcome, can’t see exactly what the final harvest will be, but you can do your best to steer the situation to the best possible outcome.

You can do the same thing for your confidence in general, and in particular for your viva. You can try things, find opportunities to give you more experience. You can reflect on your progress through your PhD to see times when you’ve clearly improved. You can think about what you could do to help your confidence on the day itself.

Not guaranteeing an outcome, but steering your confidence – and yourself – to the best possible outcome.