People sometimes think of The Hobbit as just the prologue to The Lord Of The Rings.

The story of The Hobbit is barely a footnote in the first Lord Of The Rings movie. They take a few seconds to say “Bilbo found a magic ring” – but there’s so much more to it than that! Dwarves and trolls and fantastic expeditions, elves and a dragon and incredible heroism…

The Hobbit is an epic adventure. It’s not only so Bilbo can find the One Ring.

…we now cut from Nathan’s Book & Movie Review Corner, back to the Viva Survivors blog…

I think candidates sometimes forget that the time spent doing the PhD is not just the prologue. And your thesis is for more than passing the viva. It isn’t just there to please your examiners and pass an exam. It stands as a separate, lasting contribution. It means something.

The ways you change, the things you learn, the things you can do by the end – it’s epic, not just the prologue.

I love The Hobbit, but The Lord Of The Rings is the grander story. Your life after the PhD probably will be too.


I sometimes think viva preparation is like renovating a house.

Annotating your thesis is like hanging wallpaper. Making a summary is like knocking a wall through to let in more light. A mock viva could be repairing the roof, making sure the house is ready in case of a storm.

None of it helps if you don’t have a good house and foundations: your thesis and the research you’ve done to get you there.

Renovation takes time. Viva prep takes time too, but if you feel stretched because of work, because of life, then breathe. It’s OK. Do what you can, and remember you’ve done the hardest part of your PhD.

You laid strong foundations over years of work.

When The Tide Goes Out

I love walking along the promenade near where I live.

Every day looks different depending on the weather, the light and the tide. Sometimes you can’t see the shore. Some days waves crash over the railings, threatening to soak you if you walk too close.

On a quiet day when the tide is out you can get a really good look though. Just stand there and stare. See what you can see.

All the details of the shoreline jump out. The little features that get lost under ten feet of water. You have to stop at the right time or you’ll only see a blue-grey surface.

Doing a PhD sometimes you just keep going to get the research done and your thesis submitted. Work work work through good days and bad, great results and imposter syndrome, nervous talks and valuable conversations, you push on through until you’re done.

Then the tide goes out.

You can stop, and you can stand, and you can stare.

What do you see?


I have that phrase about “a particular set of skills” from the movie Taken in my mind a lot when I start workshops. Not for the attitude, because I don’t want PhD candidates to see the viva as a fight to the death. The phrase resonates because candidates come equipped with a skill set, knowledge and experience to match what their examiners bring to the table. When it comes to examiners’ questions, candidates know a lot and can work out a lot because of the talent they’ve built up during their research.

Don’t forget: you can’t do a PhD without developing your particular set of skills.


Where does your drive come from? What pushes you on to complete your goals? I’m not asking because your examiners necessarily will want to know, but because I think it’s good for you to bring it front and centre for yourself.

Is it for personal achievement? Is it for a career? Is it to make someone proud? Is it to be the best? There’s no right or wrong answers, just a source of energy.

The PhD is supposed to be difficult. Your motivation can help move you beyond the difficulties. Doing things can get so intense that we forget why we’re doing them in the first place. So take a step back and put that motivation at the front.

Why are you doing this? OK, now do it.