What’s In Your Toolbox?

When you reach the viva you have more than facts and theories. You have tools for thinking, seeing and doing. They’re shaped by experience, forged through work, refined by everything you’ve done.

Ahead of your viva, reflect on the tools you’ve made for yourself: what tools are you taking with you into the viva? How do you think of what you’ve developed? And can any of these tools be improved on through your viva preparation?

Behind The Curtain

In The Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy’s friends all thought they were missing something.

The Scarecrow didn’t have a brain, the Tin Man lacked a heart and the Lion had no courage. Dorothy takes them to see the Wizard, thinking that a great and powerful man like him will be able to give them the qualities they lack. Ultimately though, he shows them there is nothing he can give that they didn’t already have. All he gives them are symbols that recognise what was there.

Those qualities were there because they had the opportunity to show them through their adventures. They had to do something to demonstrate their intelligence, their love, their bravery, but after years of doubt they couldn’t see they had those qualities. They had to have the symbol and someone to point it out to them.

There are two Wizards in your viva. They can’t magically give you a PhD. Their questions give you the opportunity to demonstrate what you can do, something that you’ve been doing for a long time.

The curtain is pulled back and the truth is there. There’s no magic, but that’s no problem. You already have everything you need.


When I tell candidates their examiners will be checking their competence in the viva, I feel them pull back. Perhaps we’ve heard the word “incompetent” too often. Now even if we talk about the opposite it comes to mind. I ponder the viva and how to help people all the time. So I keep thinking about this word, competence, and if there’s a better way to get the point across.

I turn to the thesaurus and find:

expertise, fitness, know-how, proficiency, savvy, skill, suitability, talent, the right stuff, what it takes

As a candidate you’re not being asked to be superhuman. You need to be good. You need to have done something good.

That has to necessarily be the case by the time you submit. There’s just no other explanation.

To get this far you have what it takes.