The Centre Of Attention

In the viva, it’s you. Your work is what’s being discussed, but you did it. You’re the topic of conversation.

How do you feel about that?

At a recent Viva Survivor session, a participant told me that he was sure about his work, confident in his ability, but he felt really uncomfortable being the centre of attention. That feeling can be hard to shift. There’s no magic solution; a well-intentioned “don’t worry” won’t solve the problem.

Maybe a change of language could help: instead of “I have to be the centre of attention” maybe “I get to be the centre of attention”. Your viva isn’t just happening, it’s happening for a reason, because you’ve done something good.

Maybe practice could help: find opportunities to put yourself in the spotlight. A mock viva. Give a talk. Invite a group of friends to come for coffee and ask you all about your work. Get more comfortable.

Trying to live with discomfort won’t help. Trying to just not worry is no good. You have to do something.

Think and change your perspective. Act and change your perspective. Pick one or do both.


Anxiety and negativity crop up around the viva. There are lots of unhelpful associations. If you have negative thoughts then it’s important to take a step back:

  • Make a list, get it all out in the open, what are you really thinking about here?
  • Next, for each thing on the list, is there something you can actually do? (for example, you can ask friends to help you unpick possible objections to your work, but you can’t find everything you’ve never thought about before!)
  • Finally, make a list of concrete steps to take to reduce the impact of things you can do something about.

There’s no sense in worrying about things you can’t alter. And there’s no sense in only worrying about things that you can work on.

Be clear about which is which, and then you’ll see what you can do.


When postgraduate researchers imagine the viva they often dial it up to 11…

The viva is not just tough, it’s very tough. The questions aren’t just tricky, they’re very tricky. It’s not just long, it’s very long, and so on…

It’s more than challenging, it’s a nightmare! Examiners aren’t critical, they’re harsh! I ask someone, “Are you nervous?” and they reply “I’m terrified!


If this is where your head is at, it’s possible to turn the dial back. For a start, just how talented are you as a researcher?


You did the work to get this far. That means something.