The Last Correction

Most PhD candidates are given corrections to complete after the viva. Typically examiners give a list of typos, clear instruction on sections that need to be revised and so on.

While they’re often not too numerous or too onerous, corrections are not wanted! After years of work and months of writing, who wants to revise their thesis again?

To help get them done, re-organise the list you get from examiners. Break it down into specific actions. A to-do list of typos and everything else – then get to work.

It might be the work of an afternoon in some cases, or a small project that takes place over weeks, but there will come a time when there is only one more thing to cross off. One last mistake to fix. One final paragraph to polish.

Savour the last correction. While there’s admin and graduation before you’re really “done” this is the last real thing you need to do. Savour that moment…

…then be done with it. Get it done and celebrate.

Get Corrections Done

Big or small, whether they feel fair or not, after the viva just get your thesis corrections done. Your examiners will be clear about what needs doing and why – if there’s any doubt in your mind, ask them.

Corrections are a part of the process; no-one wants to do them, but they’re required for a good reason. They help to make your thesis that little bit better, more valuable or easier to read.

Unless you have a very good reason to think that your examiners have made a mistake: say thank you, make a list, make time to do them and get them done.

The Next Steps

At some point your PhD will be finished.

Then what?

You don’t need to have all the answers. There’s no single right path that should be followed by a PhD candidate as they prepare to finish. It will help though to consider, while you’re writing up and getting ready, what your next steps might be.

  • Perhaps explore what excites and interests you. Where could you find opportunities that would allow this?
  • Maybe necessity governs your next actions. What needs must be satisfied by work, in terms of time, money and location?
  • It could be that you need to take simple steps before then. Is your CV up to date? Do you need to get help from others? When will you make time to do what needs to be done?

To figure out your next steps you probably also need to look back at the journey so far. This can help you decide what you have to do or what you could do, but it also helps prepare you for the viva too. Looking back could bring into clarity the trajectory that you’re on, both for the viva and for life after the PhD.

Tell Your Story

After your viva tell your story to anyone who you think it will help. Why you did a PhD, how you got through it, what happened at the viva – share practical help but also how it felt as you were working your way through. Help others see that they can make it through too, that it’s not luck or chance.

Before your viva tell your story to yourself. Remind yourself of what you did to get as far as you have. Find words to describe how you overcame obstacles and resolved problems. Help yourself see and believe that you are capable, talented and not lucky.

Before You Move On

After your viva, before you are finished with your PhD completely, take a little time.

Thank everyone you need to thank.

Reflect on what you’ve learned over the years.

Decide on what you don’t need to take with you into the future – the number of papers and notes I’ve kept for fourteen years without needing them is astounding!

Find someone who needs help or advice and offer what you can.

Then when you’re ready, move on to the next big thing.

Whatever it is, as important as your PhD and viva were, I’m sure that what you do next will be even better.

The End of the Beginning

The viva is the beginning of the end. Passing it is, I like to think, also the end of the beginning.

However you feel about your PhD journey, particularly if it has been challenging or coincided with the pandemic, it is coming to a close. You will reach your destination and find that you’ve still a long way to go.

Your PhD was just for starters. Where will you go from here?

You don’t need to have all the answers about this at your viva. You don’t need to explain your career plans to your examiners. But maybe you do have an idea. Maybe you have something you’re striving for.

Good. Go for it. Throughout your PhD, with all the challenges you’ve faced, you’ve survived. You’ve managed to keep going in difficult circumstances. And after you’re done, you’ll find more challenges but also more ability to face them.

Your PhD will be done soon, the opening act complete. The end of the beginning. So keep going.

The Beginning of the End

That’s the viva. At and after submission there’s still lots to do, but at and after the viva there’s hopefully only a little way to go. Still work, but not too much.

The viva is the beginning of the end of your time as a postgraduate researcher. If you’re tired at this stage remember that there’s not far to go, not much longer you need to keep going.

Prepare for it, enjoy it if you can and finish the work you started.

You Pass

In most cases the viva is a tough, fair, interesting conversation. In most cases the candidate finds out they have to complete some corrections afterwards. In most cases the candidate discovers that their worries about what might happen didn’t match up with what did happen.

Your viva could be an anticlimax. It might not live up to all of your expectations. It could be boring. It could be fine but not the amazing event you thought it might be.

After thousands of hours of work spread out over several years of a research programme, in the space of a few hours you’re pretty much done.

Before you can believe it, it’s all over.

You pass.

Wait For It

There’s a lot of waiting in the thesis submission and viva process. Waiting to hear that your examiners have got your thesis. Waiting to find out when the viva is going to be. Feeling like you’re waiting for the day to arrive. Waiting on the day to begin – and waiting to find out what it will be like.

I don’t have any tips for the day-by-day waiting for things to come around, but one thing you can do for the day of the viva is to make a plan for the short break at the end of the viva. Your examiners will need a little time to talk and reach their conclusions before they tell you what the outcome is. Make a plan for that short period – it’s commonly between five and twenty minutes but could feel a lot longer if you don’t have something to do.

Whether you’re on campus or at home, decide in advance to take a short walk around the space you’re in. Or stretch. Or make a drink. Or read a book. Or whatever you need to do at that time.

Decide beforehand what you will do so that you are not left with just nervous thoughts, waiting to find out what the outcome will be.

Look Forward

The viva is nearly-but-not-quite the end of the PhD journey.

It really won’t take much to get ready for it.

You’ll get to have a conversation with two interested academics about your research.

Once your viva is finished and your corrections are complete you can start the next phase of your life or career as Doctor Somebody.


What other reasons can you find to help you look forward to your viva?