Best of Viva Survivors 2017: Viva Prep

I’m rounding 2017 off with five days of link sharing for five different areas I’ve posted on this year. I’m starting today with the topic of viva prep which is something I think about every day. How can we best approach it? How can I help people think about it and then do something effective? Here’s a list of some of the best posts from 2017 to help with preparing for the viva!

I hope these posts are really useful for you. There are hundreds of posts on the blog from 2017, so go looking and see what you find.

Found something else on viva prep that you think is awesome? Let me know! And please share my best of 2017 posts with anyone who might need them. Retweets are always welcome!

Happy Christmas

A quick note…

This is the last blog post until the 27th. For a few days after that I’ll be publishing round-up posts on some of my favourite posts from the last nine months, then things will get back to normal (for some value of normal) with new daily posts.

However you celebrate this time of year, I hope you have a good time.

If your viva is in the New Year, take a break, prep can wait.

All the best, and thanks for reading!


Future Resources

I have an ever-growing list of ideas, potential projects and things to make to help people be ready for their viva. If you look around this site you’ll see lots of resources already:

  • over sixty episodes of the podcast in the archive;
  • a curated list of useful links from all over the place;
  • original free resources like The tiny book of viva prep and my first Viva Minicast;
  • pages with my ebooks and print guides;
  • and, to date, almost 250 daily viva posts!

I get stuck thinking about which future projects and resources to prioritise. Which should I do first? Are there any I shouldn’t bother with at all? What kind of resources will help? What would make the biggest difference?

Rather than try to figure it all out for myself, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you have ideas for the kinds of resources that could help, then please, tell me! What you do you want? What do you think would help? Where are there gaps in terms of helpful resources about the viva?

Please email or tweet at me if you’ve any ideas!

Often the first step to finding a solution is really figuring out what you need. So… What do you need?

Don’t Worry

This is one of the phrases that seems useful on the surface. An encouragement to steer someone away from nerves.

  • “Don’t worry, you’ve done the hard work…”
  • “Don’t worry, you’re the expert…”
  • “Don’t worry, they’re not there to interrogate you…”

Here’s the thing: “don’t worry” doesn’t stop people from worrying! I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I am trying to be really conscious about the words I use in the future. I know I’ve said it before but I’m trying to remove it from my “viva help vocabulary”.

All of the reasons above are true, as justifications for why someone doesn’t need to be worried. It’s difficult for an already worried or nervous person to hear those reasons when they hear “don’t worry” first.

Helping a friend prepare? Don’t say “don’t worry”. Simply try to help them focus on their achievements. Get them to talk to you about the work. Steer their perspective.

Get them to realise how talented they are to have submitted their thesis, and how well-placed they are to succeed in their viva.

Best Laid Plans

The Three-Part PhD Plan!™

  1. Do a good piece of research;
  2. Write a good thesis;
  3. Be ready to answer questions in the viva.

All of these are achievable for a PhD candidate. There’s a lot more detail to The Three-Part PhD Plan!™, of course, but it can be done (and is, all the time).

But still most candidates get minor corrections, and obsess about getting them despite their best laid plans. They’d rather get none at all. Indeed, if you follow The Three-Part PhD Plan!™ how can you get any corrections?


  • …the word is “good,” not “perfect” – with best intentions you can make mistakes;
  • …writing a good thesis is non-trivial and you’re learning as you go – you can miss typos or have a structure that could be improved on;
  • …you’re clever, and talented, and well-read but you’re not omniscient – you can’t know everything or have considered everything in your field.

None of these are disqualifying, and none of these have to be massive ordeals to correct post-viva.

Aiming for minor corrections isn’t the right goal. Aim to do your best.

How do you do that? Check out The Three-Part PhD Plan!™

What Did You Learn?

If that question seems too vague, consider:

  • What did you not know at the start of your PhD but know now?
  • What can you do now that you couldn’t at the start?
  • What were the false starts and dead ends that still helped?
  • What can you pass on to others?
  • What can you do to keep building on your talents?

A thesis has to have a significant, original contribution to knowledge. I think a PhD graduate has to have made a significant change in themselves to complete. What’s yours?


Weather Report

Last weekend the news promised Snowmageddon in the UK. 30cm of snow! Freezing temperatures! And as the cold weather arrived there were lots of shots of drifts, stuck cars, cancelled trains and more.

Meanwhile where we live, near the mouth of the Mersey, the snowfall wasn’t heavy and didn’t stick. We had clear paths on Monday morning. Even after a freezing night over Monday night there was just a little frost.

The weather report matters. Headlines are important. We need the big picture, but it’s important to dig in to the specifics, the really fine details. I think this is particularly true when examining how you feel about your thesis ahead of the viva. I would have honestly said I felt good about my thesis…

…except for Chapter Five. I knew I was unsure. I had questions I was still grappling with. The results were fine, but how I got there was all confused in my mind.

If you feel great about your thesis, is that really everywhere? If not, dig down, zero in, where are you not feeling good? Why?

If you’ve got doubts, again, is that with everything? Where are the bright spots? Why?

The national weather report won’t tell you what’s out your window. You have to look for yourself. And just having a general impression about how you feel about your thesis isn’t enough: get detailed!

My Good Day Socks

I’ve noted before that I wore a pair of my “good day socks” to the viva. There’s no magic involved, just a little boost. An association I’d built up in my mind with particular socks and the state of “having a good day”.

I’d done the work, read my thesis, made notes, met with my supervisor and more. I was as ready as I could be for the viva.

So on they went: cushioned, comfortable, secret pattern hidden at my toes and heels. It put a smile on my face and stilled the wings of one of the butterflies in my stomach.

A little boost.

When you’ve done the work, when you’ve read your thesis, when you’ve made your notes and met with your supervisor – what else can give you that little boost in confidence?

Is it silly? Does that matter?

Postscript: For the longest time I had three or four pairs of good day socks and all of my other socks were normal. One day it struck me… If I had more pairs of good day socks, then every day could be a good day! Or rather, I could prime myself every day to think of the day ahead as a good day. Socks, songs, routines, whatever makes a difference. For the viva or everyday, what could make that difference to you?