Find Confidence

There’s a great TED talk from five years ago by Amy Cuddy. In it she describes how adopting certain kinds of physical poses can influence how people feel. The shorthand sometimes used is “power-posing,” an archetypal pose of confidence, a display that shows power. Research at the time suggested that adopting certain poses made people feel more confident, and also made people they were interacting with judge them to be more confident.

In the intervening five years there have been attempts to replicate the study or to look more deeply into the subject; they’ve raised questions, and that’s what science is supposed to do. But the core is still there: adopting physical poses can change how confident you are.

Now, I’m not writing today to say “pose like a superhero and you’ll feel awesome in the viva!” My main takeaway is a thought that has been in my mind for some time now, and which I’ve explored on the blog before. Confidence is not about hope: it’s not something you have or don’t, it’s not something mercurial that just comes and goes and you don’t know why.

There will be lots of things that trigger you in one way or another when it comes to how confident you feel. I think that for the viva you owe it to yourself, if you’re worried at all, to invest a little time exploring what could make a difference to how you feel. What can you do to make yourself more confident? For you it may not be about expansive physical stance, but there will be some conditions that help you more than others. Find them. Use them.

Upcoming Workshop

Your viva prep could be going great. You could feel totally ready for the day. Great! Keep going, and share what’s working for you with others.


Maybe you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re not feeling sure. Maybe you’re looking for more help than you can find. If you are, or if you know someone who is, then please check out my Viva Survivor workshop which is on October 4th in Manchester. I run this session in universities all over the UK, and have done for seven years now. I want to help as many researchers as possible with their viva prep and have been developing independent sessions and resources for the last year. This is the only independent session I will run in 2017.

The fantastic Classroom at Ziferblat, our venue for the Viva Survivor workshop!

The venue is the fantastic Ziferblat Edge Street in Manchester. The details for the workshop are at the Eventbrite page: what you can expect, what others say about the workshop and why this session might be for you. It’s going to be something quite special – I’m very happy to be able to share something like this. Registration is only £50 and this pays for your attendance at the session, on-course materials, refreshments and a participant pack with lots of goodies to help with viva preparation.

My first book, part of the participant packs!

Thanks for reading. If you need help, ask for it. If you can give help, offer it.

Overthinking On Examiners

It’s tough to generalise about examiners but it’s easy to tie yourself in knots about them.

Get an examiner who is an expert and you won’t have to explain the back story to your thesis… Unless they decide to test you and make sure that you understand it all…

Get an examiner who isn’t too connected then there’s no chance that they’ll have an ego to bruise… Although you might need to explain some things to them…

Get someone you know and at least it won’t be a total stranger coming to examine you… Doesn’t sound so bad actually…

It’s tough to generalise about examiners because they’re people. They have their own wants and needs, their own thoughts and feelings. So do you. We can go back and forth on pros and cons, try to second guess what someone might be like, but it’ll only ever be a guess. Whatever qualities you’ve discerned in the past, they’re there to exam your thesis.

All that said: they’re only people. Forget pros and cons. Think about what you need. Think about who you know. Talk to your supervisor. Don’t try to second guess what someone might be like or say. You’ve done the work. Find people who might appreciate it. Do your best to prepare. Then go to the viva and answer their questions.

Six More Whys

I wrote a short post a few months ago with six why questions to help reflect on your research. Here are six more to continue the process.

  1. Why had no-one already done what you’ve done for your PhD?
  2. Why is your work original?
  3. Why is your work necessary?
  4. Why would someone else care about your research?
  5. Why is your thesis now finished?
  6. Why will you be celebrating after the viva?

Make some notes and let your answers rest for a couple of days. Come back and reflect some more.

Make opportunities to explore your research now your PhD is almost done.


Graduated. (yay!!!)

Final submission. (yay!!)

Corrections approved. (yay!)

Doing corrections. (well…)

Given corrections. (probably)

Viva over. (viva passed!)

In the viva. (in flow, I hope)

Ten minutes before the viva. (………)

Day of the viva. (last minute nerves)

Day before the viva. (getting centred)

Weeks before the viva. (preparation)

Submission. (phew!)

Weeks before the submission. (finishing up)

And so on.

We can start at the end of the PhD and work backwards. You can start from today and plot forwards. We can get as detailed as we like, but have to acknowledge that we can’t know how everything will play out. Think and plan. Get a sense of the direction you’re going in.


My internal examiner had a quirky sense of humour. At the end of the viva I was asked to wait in my office while the two examiners had a discussion without me. I got some water, paced a little then sat at my desk.

knock knock

“Nathan,” said my internal ominously, “It is time for your sentence.”

Without missing a beat he started off down the corridor without me.

As I followed him I was 99% sure that his pronouncement was a stab at humour. I was sure I had passed, because I felt sure no-one would say it is time for your sentence if they were about to tell someone they had failed.

Remember: your examiners are there to come to a decision, but it’s wrong to think of it as judgement, or passing sentence. They’re making an award. They’re recognising what you’ve done and helping you see what you need to correct for the final submission. It’s not a trial, it’s an exam.

The picture of the viva you carry in your head will affect how you feel about it.

Per Scientiam Ad Meliora

My school’s motto. Those four Latin words have been rattling around my head for twenty-five years. We were told it meant “through knowledge to better things”. I’ve loved it since the headmaster explained it on the first day.

Three thoughts:

  1. It’s a pretty good motto for a PhD. Whatever your experience during the PhD, good or bad, after the viva you’re headed to better.
  2. What’s your knowledge? You’ve done a lot. What have you introduced to the world that wasn’t there before?
  3. What could “better” be? Your thesis has to be good by the end. What are you going to do to top it after the viva?

However far you’ve come, you can go further.


I’m happy to be doing this daily blog, to have the podcast archive to share, a starting selection of original free resources and also some paid ebooks to offer. But I’m not the only person who tries to help people prepare for the viva. Look around you. Your university might have some great resources that it can offer; they could have a series of videos to help, posts and articles about viva experiences or resources that they’ve bought in – great things like Viva Cards or The Good Viva Video.

If you see something useful, share it. If you need something, ask people. If something doesn’t exist, make it.

I’m going to keep writing, making and helping.

Find The Vague

When you come to viva preparation time you will read and re-read your thesis. And you will find typos. That’s to be expected: spellcheck won’t catch everything, and neither will you. It’s not so bad though: make a note of them when you find them and you can correct later.

Instead of going on a typo hunt though, I’d recommend purposefully looking for vague sections of your thesis. Read your thesis carefully, line by line, and see what doesn’t quite make sense. What could be clearer? What might someone struggle with? Spend some time now making notes on that.

Your examiners can probably read past a typo, but they’ll notice something vague and be more likely to dig into it with you in the viva. If you find the vague ahead of time you’ll be more prepared in case it comes up, but you’ll also be better at explaining things in the future.