Headers & Footers

Annotation can help make your thesis more useful for the viva – and there’s a lot of empty space in the borders of your thesis pages.

The top and bottom of a page could be helpful to highlight key points, to summarise the content or even to offer a word of encouragement. If something is great, use the header to make it stand out. If there’s something tricky consider using the space at the bottom to leave a helpful note or two.

Headers and footers don’t need to be filled but they’re a great opportunity for you to prepare and to help in the viva. How will you use yours?

Tortoise Prep

I imagine that if Aesop wrote a new fable about a Tortoise and a Hare getting ready for their vivas there would be some interesting updates…

The Hare would rush their prep. They’d get it done but only by working furiously. And they might burnout or feel overwhelmed as they got closer to their viva.

Unlike the original fable they would still “win” – as they’re not in competition with the Tortoise – but it might not be an easy race for them to get ready.

The Tortoise would go slow. The Tortoise would start early. They would go step-by-step, day-by-day. No hurry, no pause. No need for rush. No need for stress.

The Tortoise is just as ready for their viva as the Hare, but their journey is much better for them, their confidence and their viva.

In your viva prep: be more Tortoise.

Check Your Checklist

In the days leading up to the viva your big picture checklist might look a little like this:

  • Research? Done!
  • Pages? Written!
  • Thesis? Submitted!
  • Prep? Completed!
  • Confidence? ………

Your confidence might be the last thing you have to check off. It’s hard to mark as “done” with a simple tick. Unlike the previous items you can’t simply see confidence.

Confidence can be found by reflecting on all of your experiences of research. It can be seen in the progress you’ve made. Confidence is nestled amongst all of your writing and your finished thesis – proof that you’ve grown in ability. Confidence is built up through preparation for the viva and realising that you’re ready.

It isn’t always simple to check confidence off your list, but you can do it.


Underlining can make your thesis better for the viva.

  • You could underline key references.
  • You could make sure you can find your typos.
  • You could show key words or definitions.
  • You could underline a sentence that is amazing.
  • You could have one colour of ink and underline one type of thing in your thesis.
  • You could have several colours for different needs.
  • You could have full lines or dashed for different emphasis.

Annotating your thesis during viva prep adds value to what’s on the page, making it more useful for the viva. Reflect on how underlining could help you and your thesis.


There’s no best, one-size-fits-all plan for viva prep. You have to explore what works for you, and if you’re busy that could feel quite stressful.

This blog contains lots of ideas for what might help someone get ready. How do you plan all that out? You explore by applying constraints to see what could work.

  • What if you started your prep four weeks before your viva?
  • What if you could only prepare for thirty minutes per day?
  • What if you used your Saturday mornings?
  • What if you thought it would take twenty hours?
  • What if you had a list of tasks or goals first?
  • What if you assumed a start or finish date for your prep work?

Exploring just a few constraints can help you arrive at sensible options for getting the work done.

Stop stressing about how it will all get done. Start exploring with useful constraints that will help you be finished.

Mocks Are Maybes

We don’t own a toaster.

The rest of our family think we’re really weird. They can’t wrap their heads around why we choose not to have a toaster and prefer to use our grill. We still toast things! We just don’t use a toaster.


You might not want a mock.

Madness!!! – is what some well-meaning people might say. You need a mock to rehearse for the viva! Or how will you get a feel for being in the viva?? Well-intentioned comments but you might not want or need a mock.

A mock could feel stressful to you. It could be that you think your supervisor wouldn’t be the best choice to help you. Or you might want a mock but not be able to have one because of your schedule.

And all of that is fine.

Instead, you could have discussions with friends over coffee, deliver a seminar or find some other way to get more comfortable with being in the kind of situation you’ll find in the viva. A mock could help, but all of these other options could be just as helpful for you.


In our house we need a way to toast bread – but we don’t need a toaster.

You need a way to rehearse and practice for the viva – but you don’t need a mock viva.

Thesis Highlights

Two or three little colourful pens can make a big difference to your viva. Highlighters can help make important details stand out in your thesis so you don’t have to search for them. A little effort during your viva prep can help create a thesis where you can find things more easily.

  • Key definitions? Now standing out!
  • Important references? Simple to spot!
  • Essential results? Always obvious!

Your thesis contains a lot of information. Make what matters most easy to find, simple to spot and extra helpful for your viva.

Sensible Prep

Getting ready for the viva involves big pieces of work and little tasks.

It could feel like there’s lots to do, maybe even too much, especially if you have other responsibilities. Start the process by getting everything out from your brain and onto a space you can track.

Write a list. Jot things down on a whiteboard. Start a new document and type anything that comes to mind.

Once you think you’ve got everything out, try to put some order in place. What comes first? What goes last? How could you fit this jigsaw of jobs together?

It’s possible to get ready for the viva by simply doing something productive for an hour per day for enough days.

It’s sensible to get ready for the viva by thinking a little, planning a little and then getting to work.

Part-time Prep

Generally speaking, a candidate doesn’t need to take time off in order to get ready. If you have any typical responsibilities – a job, family, friends, caring responsibilities or your own needs – then viva prep can fit around everything you need to do.

If you feel pressured because you work full-time and have a life as well, then the only thing you need to do to get ready is plan and possibly start early. You don’t need to cram lots of things in your diary. A little organisation will help.

  • How could you find thirty minutes to an hour most days for viva prep?
  • If you can’t commit to most days, when could you make the time?
  • Would starting a month before the viva give you time to spread out the work you need to do?
  • Would that create a space with as little stress as possible to do what you need?

Prep is part-time. By submission there’s only a small amount of work needed to be done. If you have a full-time life there is still plenty of space for prep. A little planning and organisation helps make it less stressful.

The Possibility of Disruption

Most of the time viva prep goes well. Most of the time nothing goes wrong in the viva. Despite concerns, most video vivas have no real problems.

But there’s always a chance that something could happen. Not unexpected, just unlikely, and definitely unwelcome.

  • A last-minute crisis leaves you less time to get ready.
  • A delay on your viva day means someone is running late.
  • A glitch means you can’t see your examiner or they can’t see you.

There’s a chance something could go wrong; whatever that might be you can work to make it better.

And sometimes it’s worth planning just in case the unlikely happens.

  • Sketch a plan for your prep so there’s space for last-minute crises.
  • On viva day, be organised so there’s much less chance you’re late.
  • Practise with your equipment and check your wi-fi so you can be confident it will all work – and arrange a backup plan!

There’s a possibility of disruption to your best laid plans around your viva. But you can do something about it. Either by planning ahead of time or acting when the moment comes, you can make sure your viva is the best it can be.

If something goes a little wrong, pause – be shocked, frustrated, cross – then think “what can I do?”

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