A Problem Shared

You’re the only person who can pass your viva, but there are many, many people who can support you before you get that far.

It may be that you just need a little encouragement, but if you have a problem then consider how others could do something practical to help:

  • Your supervisors can help you understand the role of examiners. They can help you unpick how you express your research. They can help you by hosting a mock viva. They can’t solve your problems for you, but if you share them they will do their best.
  • Friends and colleagues can help by understanding what you’re going through. They can share viva expectations or perhaps simply listen while you explain your research and ask questions. If you have a problem they can signpost you towards something that will make a difference.
  • Your family and loved ones may not understand your research! But if you have a problem then they will listen. If you can share the root cause they might have a suggestion that could help. More than anything, if you have a problem, they will want to be there to help.

With the viva, as with many things in life generally, there are problems and there are Problems. There are little things and Big Things. You are not alone. You don’t have to solve every pre-viva problem or Problem by yourself.

You are good, you are skilled, you are capable and knowledgeable – and you are not alone.

Reach Out

If your viva is coming up, ask your friends, your colleagues and your supervisor for help. Think about what you need, think about when might be the right time to ask, be specific – but ask. They would want to help.

If you know someone with a viva coming up, get in touch with them. Are they OK? Instead of asking them what they need, offer what you can do. Be clear about how free you are and what you feel able to do.

Every candidate has to pass the viva with their own talent and thesis – but every candidate can also get ready with a helpful band of allies to get them there. Reach out and ask for help, or reach out and offer it.

The Pillow Fort Principle

How can you make a sanctuary for yourself before your viva? How can you make a nice space for preparing, or create an environment that is going to help you feel good as well as get ready? It probably won’t involve setting up cushions and a blanket, but the same idea applies: how can you make a safe, sheltered, secluded space that’s comfortable, quiet and just for you?

What do you need to help make this real?

How do you need your friends and family to support you?

How can you take a little pressure out of your situation to help you get ready for your viva?

I could make suggestions, but they wouldn’t be as good as your responses to these questions.

What kind of a viva prep space are you going to make for yourself?

Friends & Family

There may be a disconnect between you and your friends and family when it comes to the viva. Colleagues, peers, your supervisors – they’ll all have an idea of the stakes involved in a PhD and what the viva means. Some of your friends and family, friendly, supportive and lovely, will have no idea.

They see you working, but don’t know how you do it.

They see you busy, but don’t know what you’re doing.

They see you stressed, but don’t know why.

You might have trouble sharing how and what you do, but you can certainly help them with why. Practically, they may be able to do very little to help you prepare – they probably can’t ask you questions, or help you explore expectations, and they won’t be able to look through your thesis to help you annotate it – but they could do a lot to support you and help you feel ready. They can help you create an environment in which you’ll thrive through your preparations and in the viva itself (assuming you have a video viva).

Let your friends and family know why you’re doing what you do, and they’ll find ways to help you.

Who Do You Know?

You are the only person who can pass your viva. That does not mean that you have to get ready alone.

Who do you know who can help you prepare?

Who do you know who can help you to feel relaxed?

Who do you know who can ask you relevant questions about your research?

Who do you know who can share their experiences about the viva?

Who do you know who can help you be certain of what to expect?

Who do you know who can support you?

You don’t have to get ready alone.

Thank Your Supporters

You can’t get to the end of a PhD without supporters.

They could have lots of different connections to you – your supervisor, your colleagues, family and friends – and they may help in lots of different ways.

You need help along the way, from people who can give you critical but constructive feedback, and people who help you to believe in yourself.

Say thank you when you go the distance. Reflect on what your supporters have done to help and write a word or two in your acknowledgements. Let them know how they’ve helped when you’re getting ready for your viva, and ask again if there’s one more thing they can do to help you get it right. Let them know how you’ve done afterwards and thank them one more time!


Today is my tenth wedding anniversary and I have been fortunate to have my wife support me for the last decade. I know what work I’ve done to come this far, and know I couldn’t have done it without her love, her encouragement, her patience, her listening, her feedback, her humour and so much more. This site wouldn’t exist without her support.

Thank you Kay 🙂

Asks, Favours & Requests

Not all viva prep needs to be done alone.

It’s OK to simply ask, “Can you help me?”

It’s OK to ask for a favour, “It’s not something little, but I really need help. Can you?”

It’s even OK to make a request, “I need this specific thing and I need you to do it, please.”

Supervisors, peers, colleagues, friends, family – all can be there to support you. Given where you are and what you’re doing, given the state of the world, uncertainty and pressure – even if others around you are feeling it too – you can ask. Tell people what you need, when you need it, why you need it, then work with them to get what you need.

And when someone asks you, do your best to help them too.

Boundaries For Prep

If home is nearly everything now, how do you make the space – physically, mentally and cognitively – to do the work you need to prepare for your viva?

You may need to close doors to signal to others you’re busy. You may need to tell them. You may need to ask for very specific things: leave me alone for an hour, can you do X so I can do Y, and so on.

Boundaries help. It’s OK to ask.

If you’re working from home alone, it’s probably helpful to put boundaries in place for you too. “I’ll spend thirty minutes per day” or “I’ll only do prep in the dining room” or “I’ll make a to-do list and mark things off”.

What do you need to put in place to help you prepare? What boundaries will help keep you working well as you get ready?

Who Do You Need?

Today’s post is even more personal than yesterday’s question. It depends on who is around you, in your circle, and what they can practically offer or do for you, as well as what you really need.

The cast of characters in your preparation play could include supervisors, mentors, colleagues, friends, university staff, family members – and from a distance your examiners too.

You might need someone to ask you questions.

You might need someone to check in with you.

You might need someone to get facts from (or, in the case of examiners, facts about!).

You might need someone to tell you what you need to know.

You might need someone to tell you it’s going to be OK.

You might need someone to tell you all about their viva.

Who do you need? It could be more useful to think about what you need others for first. Once you know that, you’ll know who to ask.

5 Meetings To Have Before Your Viva

Getting together with others can make a big difference to your viva.

  1. Have a meeting with your supervisor to discuss possible examiners before submission.
  2. Ask a friend for coffee to talk about your research.
  3. Sit down with friends and family to help them understand what you’ll be going through.
  4. Pop in and see your researcher-developers to see what courses or resources might help.
  5. Arrange a mock viva with your supervisor to have a useful rehearsal for the real thing.

Perhaps meeting is too strong a word for some of these ideas, too formal maybe. Still, you don’t have to get to the viva by yourself: ask others for help and they will give it.

You have to do the viva alone, but plenty of other people can help you get there. Explore what you need and ask for what you need most.