Best of Viva Survivors 2021: Viva Prep

It’s an established tradition at Viva Survivors that I finish each year by sharing a selection of posts before the New Year. Over the coming days I’ll share long posts, short posts and posts on confidence; today we start with the important topic of viva prep. In many ways viva prep isn’t complicated, but there are lots of ways someone could get ready for their viva. Here are some ideas:

Getting ready for the viva involves doing the work – but it doesn’t have to be a burden. Sketch a plan before prep time comes, spend time with your thesis, spend time on practice and you’ll be ready.

Tomorrow: a selection of some of my favourite long posts from this year!

A Visit From St. Nate

‘Twas the night before my viva, and all through my place
Not a sound could be heard with my book in my face;
My thesis was filled with ideas and notes jotted
And I felt oh so bad for the typos I’d spotted!
I was anxious of all my examiners might ask,
And worried in case they should take me to task…
One last time I had settled to read by the fire,
But soon felt the need that to bed I retire.
When then from nearby I heard such a clatter,
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
Away to my laptop I crossed with a dash
(and hoped that the battery had not caused a crash)
I lifted the lid and what then did appear
In a window: a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer…
And a kind friendly driver who seemed like a mate
-With my viva tomorrow this must be St. Nate!
Quicker than fibre his reindeer they came,
And popped out my screen as he called them by name:
“Hey Talent! Hey Effort! Determined and Steady!
Go Confident! Persistent! Survivor and Ready!
To that desk over there, the one by the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
My brain was disturbed as I watched them all fly,
And their landing place shocked me! I let out a cry-
The sleigh crashed down safely with an “Eek!” and a “Phew!”
And all eight deer were safe (and of course St. Nate too)
Then they pawed through my thesis, each with their hoof-
I thought they’d wreck my prep then I’d hit the roof!
As I drew in my breath to make some great sound
St. Nate caught my eye and stepped forth with a bound.
He was dressed in blue jeans and a faded check shirt
And carried a book titled Vivas Don’t Hurt!
His reading reindeer made appreciative whispers,
Like excited folks holding presents at Christmas;
He told me the deer were sure I was done,
And they hoped that my viva would be lots of fun.
“Your years of progress were not due to luck!
You did the work and got past being stuck.”
He continued, “Remember this, it’s true:
Your thesis contribution is all thanks to you.”
His smile was sincere and he reminded me more
Of the work I had done, and what now was in store:
A chat with two people for whom I’d prepared;
And while I was nervous, I was no longer scared.
My confidence lifted, he nodded his head.
(and I wondered if I was dreaming in bed…?)
He said nothing else but continued his work
While his reindeer team danced… And then started to twerk…
Then he whispered once more: “You’ve got this, alright?
Your examiners just want to talk, not fight.”
Then he jumped on his sleigh, to his deer gave a whistle
And I started to wake as they shot like a missile-
But I heard him exclaim, ere they left my mind’s sight:
“Happy Vivas for all, and to all a good night!”


Inspired by the wonderful poem by Clement Clarke Moore

Merry Christmas from Viva Survivors!

Alone For The Viva

Consider the movie Home Alone and the PhD viva, two very different things:

One of these things is a story about someone preparing to face two determined professionals in advance of a really important day. A particularly talented protagonist uses everything they know to be ready for the challenge ahead. They face uncertainty and mixed feelings about the situation, but very quickly become prepared despite a tight deadline. In the end, the challenge is resolved quickly and positively thanks to the protagonist’s talent and their preparations.

And the other thing is the movie Home Alone.

It’s The Thought That Counts

For Christmas gifts, even if the present is not quite what you wanted, when someone gives you something it really is the thought that counts. Someone took the time to think about you and wanted to do something that’s nice. It’s not quite right but it’s the thought that counts.

The same sentiment isn’t true for viva prep.

There’s lots of thinking involved – reading your thesis, rethinking as you check papers , considering what matters as you write a summary – but thinking alone isn’t enough for the viva. You have to speak. You have to engage with your examiners’ questions and respond.

You have to think to get ready but you also have to talk: mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars could all be great ways to improve your confidence for engaging in the viva.

Simply thinking for your prep won’t be enough.

Practical Support Beats Good Luck

Your supervisors, colleagues, friends and family can do more to help than simply wish you the best.

Your supervisors can offer focussed support, a mock viva and the benefit of their experience.

Colleagues can provide a sympathetic ear, share expectations and ask relevant questions.

Friends and family can help make a good space for you to get ready. If you tell them more of what you’re going through they can help make a difference to your prep and to your viva.

Practical support is much better than being wished good luck.

Make Space

Doing your viva prep might mean that you need more space or time than you currently have. You already have a busy life and now there’s one more thing to do. It’s only for a limited time but it could feel like a lot.

Thankfully, taken together, all of the tasks you might do to get ready for the viva don’t amount to much. Making space to do them means, depending on how busy you are, just finding a little room:

  • Breathe. Remember that many, many people have had their viva and have got ready for it. You can too.
  • Plan. Think ahead. Explore when you need to start and sketch out when you will do certain things.
  • Get help. There are many people around you who can give you support. Ask!
  • Do a little work, often. You don’t need to spend hours at a time. Small tasks build up how ready you are.

Thinking ahead and planning can create the space and environment you need to do the work as stress-free as possible. You’re busy, but only a little space is needed to get your prep done.

End Of Year Blues

It’s a lovely time of year, but looking back I felt a little blue reflecting on my work of the last twelve months.

The projects that stalled. The work that never went ahead. I had to cancel some sessions because of lockdown. The contacts that never followed up.


Then I reminded myself to reflect some more.

On all the sessions that did run – and there were lots of them. All the people I shared them with – and there were lots of them! I didn’t develop my new zine project, but I did share another year of daily blog posts. And I was asked to deliver a keynote talk for a conference, something that I was thrilled by and still smile about now!

If you aim high with your PhD then there will undoubtedly be times when you feel blue. When you prepare for your viva you will probably be reminded of things that could have gone better. The answer isn’t to set your aim lower, but to remember that for all the things that don’t work out as well as you hope there will be plenty that does. There could even be things that have greater results or impact than you imagined possible.

Beat end of year blues by focussing on the things that worked out well.

Beat end of PhD blues by preparing for your viva with a focus on your successes.

Final Prep

What’s the last thing you will do to get ready for your viva? What final action will leave you satisfied, a small smile on your face that you’ve done all you can?

When will it be? The morning of your viva, a final check of some detail? The day before, deciding what to wear? A few days ahead of your viva when you have a final chat with your supervisor?

Sketching out a plan for prep helps to make it real. Knowing the final step can give you something to guide you. Deciding for yourself what that final task will be really cements that this is for you.

Your research. Your prep. Your viva.

Ready or Not

When the date is in the diary your viva is going to happen whether you’re ready or not.

Don’t agonise over the date. Don’t fret about what might happen or what your examiners might ask.

Instead do the work. Do the work that’s needed to get ready.

The work will help steer you away from concern and lead you towards confidence. Preparing for the viva is a practical path and not a long journey – certainly not compared to your PhD as a whole.

Your viva is going to happen, ready or not. Choose to be ready.