A Little Feedback

After submission there’s a nice opportunity to get a little feedback. Just a little, mind you, not too much.

You know what you know. You know what you think. You probably have some idea of what your supervisor thinks too. You know what others have said at conferences and in seminars and so on.

You don’t need a lot of new feedback at this stage. You have years of it. What you need is just a few thoughts to help you keep thinking in new ways about your research.

Ask for what you need. Ask your supervisor for their thoughts on your strengths, and if there’s anything you could have done differently. You’re not problem hunting, just exploring ideas. Tell friends about your research, and ask what questions they have. Offer to give a seminar if you have time, and listen to questions from that.

A little feedback can go a long way.

Needs & Examiners

You need to talk about them with your supervisors.

You need to know why they’re a good choice.

You need to know why they might be interested in your work.

You need to explore their research.

You need to think about how their work is related to yours.

You need to believe they’ll be fair.

You need them to do their job.

And you need to accept that they’re just people, same as you; they’re not on a great high pedestal, they’re just humans, filling a necessary role, and doing it because they’re highly qualified to meet the needs of your viva.

Answers To “How Long Will My Viva Be?”

One of the most common concerns of PhD candidates is how long their viva will be. It’s a question that I can give no definite answer to for any particular candidate, but one that generally has many relevant answers:

  1. About two to three hours in many cases.
  2. As long as is needed.
  3. Typically less time than you worry it will be.
  4. Typically more time than it actually feels like on the day.
  5. Rarely less than one hour; rarely more than four.
  6. Several orders of magnitude shorter than everything you’ve done so far for your research.
  7. It doesn’t matter.

That’s the big picture: it doesn’t matter. Maybe it feels important, but it’s more important to focus on being prepared, feeling ready and approaching the viva with as much confidence as you can, rather than spend time concerned about how long it will take.

There are lots of answers to “How long will my viva be?” – including the most honest one, “You’ll find out.”

There are far more interesting questions to spend time unpicking and answering.

No More

The viva means no more.

No more time. No more writing. No more reading. No more meetings. No more experiments or interviews or models. No more prep. No more re-reading. No more wondering about what will or won’t come up.

No more…

…or enough?

After all of your PhD, enough time. Enough writing. Enough reading. Enough meetings. Enough experiments, enough interviews, enough models. Enough prep. Enough re-reading. Enough wondering about what will or won’t come up.

There’s a point where it’s all enough.

You’re getting there.

Perfectly Impossible

I got a note from an anonymous seminar participant:

I have written the perfect thesis. Should I worry about the viva?

If the first statement was true, I could see no reason why they should. If their thesis was perfect, really, why would they need to worry? If I had a perfect thesis, there wouldn’t be much point!

Small problem: there is no perfect thesis. Imperfection is inevitable. The perfect thesis is an impossibility.

But an imperfect thesis doesn’t automatically mean that someone should worry. They might anyway, because they have doubts, or questions, or 101 concerns. And there could be a problem in any imperfect thesis that leads to tough questions or tricky corrections: both are part of the process, neither “should” be worried about.

An imperfect thesis doesn’t mean you failed. It means that you didn’t achieve the impossible.

You have a thesis. You have you. You have everything you need to beat back your worries and succeed in the viva.

What To Wear

Wear whatever helps you present the best “you” that you need in the viva.

If you feel you need to communicate you’re serious, or you know your stuff, or you recognise this is important then wear something that shows this. If you need something to act as armour to protect you, or even a superhero costume then pick something that helps in this way.

If you just want to be really cool then go for it!

In any situation, not just the viva, what you wear can send signals to others about who you are, who you want to be and what you think about the situation.

Of course, you pick up on those signals too. You can reinforce the truth you want for yourself.

Noting Your Mistakes

They’re there, in your thesis. It’s “when” rather than “if” you see them. When you find mistakes after submission there’s not much you need to do. Correction time will come.

Highlight mistakes if you want to, underline them or make a list if that’s helpful. All of these approaches could be useful so long as they’re not a focus for your preparation or a distraction from the viva.

Personally, I like lists: a list of changes gives you a starting point for correction time. Your examiners may end the viva by giving you a list of what changes they think will help; share yours then if you like, but don’t start your viva by showing your list!

Saying, “Here are all the things I know I need to change,” while honest, may not be the best opening for the discussion…


Read every paper! Run every experiment! Think every thought!


Find every typo! Check every detail! Answer every question!


You can have great expectations of your thesis, your viva and yourself, but remember you can’t do everything.

Remember that you don’t have to either.

Do I Need To Have A Mock Viva?


If your supervisor offers you can say no. You don’t need to ask for one. You can just leave it be.

Of course, most people who have one find it useful, but you don’t have to have one. It’s not a viva pre-requisite. If you’re busy, or you already feel ready, or you just think there’s something else you could be doing instead that will help more, then don’t have one.

But if you’re worried then think twice. Think back to Monday’s post and explore for yourself: Why are you worried about having a mock viva? What’s at the root of that worry?

You can still say no to the mock if you’re worried, I’m not advising you go ahead with it – but you should probably do something about the worry.

There are lots of good reasons to have a mock, and plenty of reasons you might not want to. Make sure you focus on the right reasons either way.

20 Uses For Post-it Notes In Viva Prep!

Post-it Notes are some of the most useful things you can use to support your viva prep. They are excellent for helping to annotate your thesis. Raid the departmental stationery cupboard, then begin:

  1. Mark out the start of each chapter.
  2. Bookmark important parts of your thesis you want to be able to find easily.
  3. Stick in a small square summary at the start of a chapter.
  4. Stick in a small square conclusion at the end of a chapter!
  5. Highlight an important reference.
  6. Expand on a point.
  7. Explain jargon.
  8. Summarise key points in a section.
  9. List notable questions on a piece of theory.
  10. Use as a placeholder for a future correction or update.

And this is just a sample of what you might stick in your thesis!

You could also use Post-it Notes to:

  1. Map out your preparations.
  2. Jot down notes about examiners.
  3. List key points about aspects of your work.
  4. Make notes for your mock viva.
  5. Prompt your reflections.
  6. Remind yourself of important points.
  7. Leave an uplifting message for your future self.
  8. Draw attention to an important paper you need to check.
  9. Sketch out a step-by-step process.
  10. Count down the days until you’re all done!

As ever with viva prep, consider what you might need to feel ready for your viva, then what you might do to get to that feeling.

This Post-it Note post not sponsored by Post-it Notes!!! 😀