Unhelpful Things…

…to say to friends who have their viva coming up:

  • “Good luck!”
  • “Don’t worry!”
  • “You’ll be fine, nearly no-one fails!”

Better things to say include:

  • “You’re talented, don’t forget!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “How are you doing?”

And if you’ve had a viva and it was fine, don’t just tell your friend that they’ll be fine. Tell them why you were fine. Tell them your story, short and simple, but with enough to help them see what the viva can be like – and what helped you be ready for yours.

The Unhelpful Truth

You’ll be fine

True because viva’s go well in the overwhelming majority of cases. Unhelpful because it says nothing of why this happens.

Friends, family, colleagues and supervisors may try to reassure you with the unhelpful truth. And it’s well meant, because they care, they want you to do well and they also believe you will be fine.

To take the kernel of truth – that the viva will go well – and make it helpful, you might have to do a little work.

Ask specific questions about viva expectations. Ask your supervisors to tell you about what examiners actually do. Ask others to support your preparation practically. Remind yourself that you must be talented to have got this far: it can’t simply be luck that has carried you to completion.

You will be fine – for lots of reasons. Find them.

Don’t Worry

This is one of the phrases that seems useful on the surface. An encouragement to steer someone away from nerves.

  • “Don’t worry, you’ve done the hard work…”
  • “Don’t worry, you’re the expert…”
  • “Don’t worry, they’re not there to interrogate you…”

Here’s the thing: “don’t worry” doesn’t stop people from worrying! I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I am trying to be really conscious about the words I use in the future. I know I’ve said it before but I’m trying to remove it from my “viva help vocabulary”.

All of the reasons above are true, as justifications for why someone doesn’t need to be worried. It’s difficult for an already worried or nervous person to hear those reasons when they hear “don’t worry” first.

Helping a friend prepare? Don’t say “don’t worry”. Simply try to help them focus on their achievements. Get them to talk to you about the work. Steer their perspective.

Get them to realise how talented they are to have submitted their thesis, and how well-placed they are to succeed in their viva.