What assumptions are you making about your viva? Here are some I think are generally valid for the viva.

  • Assume your examiners will be prepared.
  • Assume you’ve written a good thesis.
  • Assume that perfection is out of reach.
  • Assume you have enough time to get ready.
  • Assume that you have what it takes.
  • Assume your viva will follow the general pattern of vivas.
  • Assume that it will be different to every other viva you’ve heard of too.
  • Assume that you will pass.

I like to assume – and think it’s fair to assume too – that once you’ve passed you’ll go and do something even more impressive.

Assume It’s Going Well

A couple of months ago I got an interesting question at a workshop:

“How can you tell when the viva is going badly versus when you just think it’s going bad?”

This is a good question. Sometimes when we perceive things as being a problem, or tricky, or going bad, it’s just down to our perception. If you were worried that something might go wrong in the viva you might prime yourself to look for any data that would back that idea up. The tone of a question, the inclination of an examiner’s head, the slightest pause – anything could help to confirm your worries.

I’ve reflected on the question for a while, and the best thing I can say in response is “assume it’s going to go well, and assume while you’re in the viva that it is going well.” Unless your examiners pause things to say, “There’s a big problem” or “This is not what we expect” – both of which are really, really unlikely – then you can continue to assume it’s going well.

There’s perhaps a deeper question that needs addressing for the person at my workshop, which I didn’t have time to follow-up then:

“Why would you think your viva wasn’t going to go well?”

If you’re assuming there could be a problem then do something about it. Prepare more. Talk to your supervisor. Find out more about expectations. Learn more about your examiners.

Change your assumption.