The Worst

“Can you explain how to make a genus 2 handlebody?”


I was really confident on the results of Chapter 5, but the background was shaky at best in my mind. I had a great result, proved an open conjecture, but couldn’t explain the background with confidence.

And I knew it. I knew it as I was reading my thesis and making notes in prep for my viva. I knew what the worst question was just from reading my thesis. I could have spent more time trying to unpick it and prepare. Instead I hoped it wouldn’t come up.

In workshops I’m regularly asked, “What’s the worst question that your examiners could ask?” It varies for every person. I think each candidate knows what the worst question is, because they’ve already encountered it. In preparation for the viva it’s an area to definitely spend time on. Don’t just hope it won’t come up.

No Accident

I’ve got a few questions for you: Did you do the work? Did you show up at the library or the lab or the office? Did you overcome obstacles through the tough times? Did you learn, did you grow, did you develop?

If you did all of these during your PhD, how could you be in a bad position for the viva?

It’s understandable if you are nervous, but it’s no accident that you’ve got this far. Keep going.

Evolving Viva Survivors

From next Tuesday, the site is changing.

The podcasts will be here, the other resources page will still be here, and the overall aim will stay the same: I want to help PhD candidates feel ready and confident for their viva. The Viva Survivors Podcast has helped do that for almost five years. From next week, the podcast will be an irregular part of the site.
From 18th April there will be a daily post of viva prep help. Every day at around 9am there will be something new on the site. The posts will cover a wide range of themes – practical help, inspiration, questions, ideas, tips, humour – all aimed at helping you be ready for the viva. I’ve been fortunate to produce the podcast for almost five years. I’ve delivered over 100 “Viva Survivor” workshops since 2010. I have a lot of concrete ideas for how to help people that I want to share.
I also have ideas which I’m working out. The new daily blog will, for me, be a way to test these ideas. My hope is that over time it will help me to help more and more PhDs prepare for the viva. The podcast isn’t going away! My goal at the moment is to have a new episode up around once a month or so. For some time though my heart has wanted to do more writing. I’ve looked for opportunities to experiment with new ideas. This change will help me do that and, I hope, help a lot of people too.
The site design will change over the next few weeks to reflect the new nature of things. I hope that I don’t break any links, but if you spot any then do let me know over email.
I’ll be tweeting new posts every day, but the best way to ensure you see them is to subscribe using the box on every page. That way you will get an email when a new post goes up. If you already subscribe but don’t want daily emails with viva-related thoughts then you can unsubscribe too.
My hope though is that you and others will join me on this next stage of Viva Survivors. If you’ve got any questions about it then email me or tweet at me. I hope that this site becomes even more valuable.
Thanks for reading.

Episode 64: Q&A Special 2


This episode has been a long time coming through one thing and another. I had to get a new laptop in the last few weeks, and then configure everything, so while I had this second Q&A Special recorded I couldn’t edit it. But hurrah, I’ve done it!

I got a couple of questions via email for this episode, and decided to add to those by sharing some answers to interesting questions I got at workshops in the last few months. I’m going to put an open call for questions out on Twitter and on the podcast from this point on! So whenever I get, say, six or seven questions in the list I’ll record a new Q&A Special and put it in the schedule.

This episode also marks a change of music! I had been thinking about a new theme tune for some time, and then heard of Jukedeck, a service that uses AI to compose music. I found a tune that it had composed and tweaked a few parameters, and it gave a really cool new piece of music that I’ll be using from now on.

Would you like to come on a future episode of the podcast? Email me, tweet at me or leave a comment on the site and I’ll reply. Send questions about the viva for a future special and if you’re looking for more help with viva preparation, you could also check out my books and ebooks.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Coming Soon: a new Q&A episode!


I’m recording two new episodes of the podcast this week. I plan to record several more interviews in the next few weeks too. I like that the bulk of the podcast’s archive is about sharing stories and experiences, but I’m also happy that there’s been space now and then to do things which are a bit different – like the Academic Jobs Specials, the chances to reconnect with past guests, and the Ask An Examiner special. Last year I tried a Q&A episode, and while only a few questions came in, it ended up being one of the most downloaded and listened to episodes that I released last year.

Everyone loves a sequel

Since we’re at the start of a new year, it seemed like a good time to return to this and do another episode which is all about answering your questions about the viva. So:

  • Got questions about effective viva preparation? Ask!
  • Want to know about viva expectations in the UK? Ask!
  • Thought about doing a podcast but unsure of where to start? I’m happy to help!
  • Got ideas for future episodes you want to throw past me? Please do!
  • Curious about how a shy pure mathematician ended up interested in the viva? I’m happy to talk about it!

Whatever you want to know, please ask, either in the comments on this post, or by tweeting at me. Or you could email me, but in any case you’ve got until February 8th 2017 to get questions in to me. I plan to record the podcast soon after that, with an eye to publish on Monday 13th February.

Ask away

Really: this episode won’t work without your questions. Just let me know what you’d like me to cover. If you don’t have a specific question, but rather a general theme, that’s fine too – just let me know. Thanks for reading this post, please share it with others who might have questions!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

January Sale! (and Update)

Happy New Year!

Let’s start with something fun 🙂 If you want to save yourself some money on viva preparation books then go check out Books right now! The Viva Prep Handbook is £2.49 delivered to your door and you can get that and Fail Your Viva for only £8.99. They’re on this special offer until my birthday on January 18th; do check them out!

2016 on the podcast micro-review!

Last year was a good one on the podcast. There were fewer visitors to the site but there were also fewer new episodes because of work and time commitments at my end. Despite that, there was a greater number of downloads and listens than 2015! So fewer people visiting, but people exploring a lot more of the archive, listening to stories of PhD research and viva experience. The number one episode of 2016 was Episode 59, where I chatted to @DrHelenKara about life as an independent researcher. Plus we talked about our book that we published in May, Self-Publishing For Academics!

Coming up in 2017!

I’m planning the schedule now and I’ll record new episodes soon. The first new episode will debut in February, and I’m looking for people who want to share their story in the next few months. One of the first episodes will be a second Q&A episode. I’ll write a post in the next few weeks to start getting your questions about the viva, the podcast and anything you want to know that I might be able to help with. If there are any questions in your head now then email or tweet at me!

Back to the Sale!

That’s nearly all for this post, but please do go and check out my January Sale of viva preparation books: the ultra-concise Viva Prep Handbook is £2.49 delivered! 3000 words of viva preparation help condensed down from six years of workshops that I’ve delivered all around the UK.

Plus you can get that bundled with Fail Your Viva for £8.99. Fail Your Viva first came out four years ago as an ebook in the Kindle Store. It has some pretty good reviews on the Kindle Store, but since Day 1 of the release I’ve had people asking about a print edition. Very happy to have helped people with that in the last year, and you can get it now bundled with The Viva Prep Handbook, delivered, for £8.99. All of these offers are only for the next two weeks, so get them at these prices while you can.

If your viva is coming up, check out the archive for stories of people who have been there and got it done. If you need some more help then either email me or check out one of my books or ebooks. And if you want to share your research journey and viva experiences then drop me a line and come on the podcast.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


What happened?

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a new episode, and I’m sorry to say that there might not be another before the end of 2016. Episode 63 came out a few days before we went on a family holiday. When we came back we had the convergence of a busy work period and our daughter started nursery, which has added a new adjustment to the flow of our daily lives here at Casa Ryder.

It dawned on me recently that I had forgotten to follow up with a few people who had volunteered to come on the podcast – and then it dawned on me that I had forgotten to even promote the podcast through the Twitter feed. Recently, I’ve been working on a few new projects and a few old ideas, and the podcast has slipped through the cracks as a result.

So what now?

  • I need to spend time to shake up the design of the site and get the Other Resources page up to date;
  • I need to follow up with people who have volunteered to come on the podcast and share their experiences;
  • I need to book a window in my diary to start a new research project and I want to ask both for your help to promote it, and for question ideas;
  • And I need to do another Q&A episode, because I enjoyed the challenge of making the first one.

If I spend a bit of time now and think it through, make a proper plan, then I can get 2017 off to a good start!

In the mean time…

…if you’ve been in touch before about coming on the podcast, expect an email in the near future. If you’d like to come on and share your research and viva experiences, then please get in touch. If you’re looking for viva experiences from a wide range of PhD graduates then check out the Archive. And if you’re looking for a bit of extra support then check out my ebooks and print offerings – including the ultra-concentrated Viva Prep Handbook!

Thanks for reading, thanks for your support and thanks for listening to the podcast.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 63: Dr Daniel Soule

Well hello there!

In this episode I’m talking to Dr Daniel Soule, who completed his PhD in 2007 at the University of Glasgow. Dan’s thesis was on nationalism and post-devolution elections in Scotland, and we talked about how he did his research, how he prepared for his viva, and what happened on the day.

We also talked about research writing: through his training business, Grammatology, Dan’s worked with thousands of researchers to help them write better. We chatted about some of his experiences and advice for researchers at all stages. Check out his website, and you can find him on Twitter as @grammatologer.

Would you like to come on a future episode of the podcast? Email me, tweet at me or leave a comment on the site and I’ll reply! Similarly, if you’ve got comments or questions about this episode or the viva in general then please drop me a line. If you’re looking for more help with viva preparation, you could also check out my books and ebooks.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 62: Dr Richard Leahy


In this episode I’m talking to Dr Richard Leahy, who completed his PhD at the University of Chester earlier this year. Richard’s PhD is in 19th Century Literature and Culture, and his research explored the evolution of artificial light in the literature of that period. We talked about how he did his research, how he prepared for his viva and what happened on the day. You can find him on Twitter as RichardLeahyLit.

Get in touch if you want to come on a future episode! If you have any questions, comments or suggestions then email me, tweet at me or leave a comment on this post. And if you’re looking for more help with viva preparation, check out my books and ebooks – you can find details on this site about them!

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Episode 61: Dr Tom Mitchell


In this episode I’m talking to Dr Tom Mitchell, who had his viva in February this year. Tom’s research is in sport psychology, and he looked at the concept of identity in English professional football. He did his PhD part time at Liverpool John Moores University, and is now a Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett University.

Get in touch if you’d like to join me on a future episode, it’s always great to hear from people who want to share their PhD and viva experiences. If you have any questions or ideas then email me, tweet at me or comment on this post. And check out my ebooks and books on viva preparation, like The Viva Prep Handbook which came out last month!

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)