Why Do You Do What You Do?

Asking why your research is valuable starts the work of exploring what your significant original contribution is.

Asking why you wanted to explore this area gets at a different but equally fascinating discussion: what’s your interest?

Everyone has their reasons for why they do what they do. Those reasons aren’t always near the surface though. Over time they can even become buried beneath the daily hard work involved in doing a doctorate. I loved the challenge of maths – it was intriguing, it was hard, it was puzzling – and by the end of my PhD I was starting to forget that. It took a little re-reading and exploring to uncover that again.

Whatever your situation, reflect on why you do what you do. What’s your interest? What fascinates you? Reflect on the big picture and on each chapter. Pick out what gets you excited and fascinated.

Your examiners will be happy to find a passionate, excited researcher in the viva.


You can be enthusiastic for the viva and also feel nervous about it too. They’re not mutually exclusive states. Rather than think of ways to combat nervousness, could you think of ways to boost your enthusiasm?

To my mind, there’s lots of reasons to be enthusiastic about the viva.

It’s the final test! You’ve written a thesis! You are talented to be there!

Of course, I have a different perspective on the viva. The reasons I can think of to be enthusiastic might or might not help you.

So what would?

Fired Up

What could get you enthusiastic for your viva? Not just “not stressed” or “prepared” but ready.

Would a piece of music do it?

Exercising in the morning?

A motivational talk from someone who believes in you?

I meet very few candidates who are excited about their viva or even looking forward to it. I think sharing expectations and viva stories can help change perceptions – but, on reflection, that won’t make many people fired up that their viva is coming. They’ll be prepared, not scared, but not excited either.

What might do it for you? Even if you can’t get super-excited, what steps are you going to take to get you further away from worry, closer to happy?