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?


If you want

  • to get opinions on taking your research further…
  • finding homes for publications…
  • anything connected with your future academic career…

…there aren’t many people you could ask, who could base it on your work and not just offer general advice.

The viva is an exam, but there will be opportunities to ask for your examiners ideas and opinions. Think carefully about what you would want opinions on. Make a list of questions to help your future self.

And if your viva is some way off, think carefully about who might make for good examiners. Who would you want to be part of an exclusive little group to help you?

Pop Quiz!

The viva begins…

Quick! Ten words or less, what’s the main contribution in your thesis?


Why did you follow the methodology that you did? Hurry!


Rush, rush! What would you do differently if you started again?


…and so on.

Have you heard of a viva like this? No? Nor have I, and yet candidates worry about pausing before they answer. The viva’s not a rapid fire exam, a game show or a straight test of memory. Examiners are looking to explore, to host a discussion.

Get ready for a conversation, not a quiz.

7 Questions To Answer At Submission

There’s a few key things it would be good to know around submission time. Questions which occur to candidates all of the time, but which I very rarely have answers for because they’re particular to their institution. If you’re submitting soon, find answers to these questions:

  1. In what time frame does your university hope to hold your viva after you submit?
  2. Under what circumstances would you be liable for fees after submission?
  3. Who will be in the room for the viva?
  4. What are the range of possible awards or results for the viva at your institution?
  5. In particular, how long are you given for minor corrections at your institution?
  6. What is the post-viva process at your institution?
  7. What are you unsure about when it comes to the logistics and process of the viva?

You’ll likely pick up answers to most of these questions by osmosis during your PhD. It’s within your power to find answers to all of them, and find out how things are done at your university.

If your answer to Question 7 is anything other than “nothing” then find someone who can help. It’s up to you.

When The Tide Goes Out

I love walking along the promenade near where I live.

Every day looks different depending on the weather, the light and the tide. Sometimes you can’t see the shore. Some days waves crash over the railings, threatening to soak you if you walk too close.

On a quiet day when the tide is out you can get a really good look though. Just stand there and stare. See what you can see.

All the details of the shoreline jump out. The little features that get lost under ten feet of water. You have to stop at the right time or you’ll only see a blue-grey surface.

Doing a PhD sometimes you just keep going to get the research done and your thesis submitted. Work work work through good days and bad, great results and imposter syndrome, nervous talks and valuable conversations, you push on through until you’re done.

Then the tide goes out.

You can stop, and you can stand, and you can stare.

What do you see?