For The Hundredth Time

It might take a lot of re-reading to remember something that you need to know. On the morning of my viva I knocked on my supervisor’s door to check the definition of something I had been using in my work for over two years. I tried and tried but it just wouldn’t stick.

It’s not trivial to build up a mental model of the knowledge you need for your research. What’s harder is building up the certainty and confidence that you are good enough, that you’ve done enough. You might need to repeat that over and over to yourself. You might have to reflect and review and consider many times to see that you’ve done enough.

Survive means manage to keep going in difficult circumstances. If you get to submission, if you’ve got this far, then you’ve got through enough to show you can succeed in the viva.

For the hundredth time: if you’ve got this far then keep going.

In Case You’ve Forgotten

If you’re working towards your viva now you are so close to being finished. And to get this far you’ve already successfully completed many major milestones. Some you will share with other candidates, they’re part of the general PhD journey; some will be your own, and no-one else will have had to rise to the challenges that you have.

If you’re nervous, concerned or afraid then at least remember that you are good. You can do this. Don’t forget how far you have come. Don’t forget how you have succeeded despite living through strange and challenging times. You’re so close. You can do this. Keep going.

Your Why

Whether you feel good or bad as you finish your PhD journey, remember why you did this in the first place. What was your reason for starting a PhD? Why did you want to do it?

Your why can help you renew your efforts if you’re tired or silence doubts when you think you’ve not quite done enough. Your why can motivate and reassure. Your why could have changed over time, so reflect on that too: why did you start a PhD and why did you keep going?

There are lots of possible whys: whatever it is, yours is good enough. Come back to it if you need a boost or a push to get finished.

You’re almost there. Keep going.

A Few Thoughts on Survive

After many years of working in this area I still think survive is the best verb to associate with the viva.

Manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.

Survive doesn’t mean it’s going to be a struggle, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.

Difficult is different for everyone. Manage might be harder or easier. Survive doesn’t come automatically.

The difficulty of the viva might be found in different things for different people.

Survive doesn’t mean you might not thrive in the viva. Survive doesn’t mean you will be scarred by the experience. Survive has a positive aspect for you: whatever the difficulty, whatever you did, you kept going.

Surviving doesn’t automatically mean the circumstances were bad. They were difficult. They were a challenge.

Not so great that you could not keep going.

Before and After Submission

Before submission focus on getting your research completed and your thesis finished.

After submission focus on getting your confidence raised for the viva through a little preparation.


Before submission you don’t need to prepare for your viva.

After submission you don’t need to second-guess and nitpick details in your work.


Before submission you’re on track to pass your viva.

After submission you’re on track to pass your viva.


The definition of survive is manage to keep going in difficult circumstances. It applies to the whole PhD as much as it does to the viva.


Before submission? Keep going.

After submission? Keep going.


If ever you’re tempted, by a hard day or a tough moment in your PhD to say one of the following, remember to add the word “yet”:

  • I haven’t got it to work…
  • I haven’t figured it out…
  • I’ve not submitted my thesis…
  • I’m not ready for my viva…

“Yet” is a reminder – you can do this, you want to do this, there’s time to do this – and even a promise, I will do this.

You might not be there yet, you might not be ready yet, but you will be.

There’s time. Keep going.


(inspired by countless posts and podcasts by the always-inspiring Seth Godin)

Four Years

That’s how long I’ve been writing this blog. Longer than I spent on my PhD!

I started with the following short post in 2017:

I’ve got a few questions for you: Did you do the work? Did you show up at the library or the lab or the office? Did you overcome obstacles through the tough times? Did you learn, did you grow, did you develop?

If you did all of these during your PhD, how could you be in a bad position for the viva?

It’s understandable if you are nervous, but it’s no accident that you’ve got this far. Keep going.

I’ve written about a lot of different aspects of the viva in the last four years, over 1400 posts, but this remains a core message of the blog. The final two words of that first post resonate personally, particularly given the last year or so.

Keep going. That’s my overall plan for this blog. I’m proud that Viva Survivors has reached so many people over the last four years, but equally happy that it’s had such an impact on me personally and professionally. I’ve been thrilled in the last twelve months to use this platform to reach out and share webinars. I’m looking forward to sharing more exciting things in the coming months.

If this is your first post or your hundredth, thank you for reading!

If your viva is coming soon, keep going. You’ll do it.

If your viva is behind you, keep going. There’s even better stuff ahead.

And again, thank you for reading 🙂

The Middle

A lot of space is given to the origins of a research project in how we think about the viva and what you might need to talk about. How did you get started? What ideas influenced your first steps? What literature did you read?

Lots of space is also given to the outcomes of a PhD. What are your conclusions? What results helped you reach those conclusions? What’s the overall result of your thesis?

These two themes are important, but we mustn’t forget the middle of your PhD. The middle where you kept going. The middle where you most likely found your way past dead ends and small failures.

How did you get through the middle? What did you learn? How did you keep going – and how could you use that to keep going now?

You Kept Going

A short reflection for today using my favourite thinking provocation, Why? How? What?

The last year or so has been hard – but if you’re reading this today (March 26th 2021) and your viva is soon, then you kept going despite it all. That means something. Reflect on the following:

  • Why did you keep going?
  • How did you keep going?
  • What did you accomplish as a result?

Take some pride. Take a sense of real achievement from all you’ve managed to do. Remind yourself that you kept going in such a strange time. You must have what you need to succeed in your viva too.

What’s Going To Stop You?

Nothing. Nothing is going to stop you now your viva is in sight.

You were good when you started your PhD, and have invested work and time into getting better. You’re good enough now.

You started with ideas and questions, and even if you don’t have full answers now, you know more and know enough now for your thesis and the PhD.

You’re reading this post, so whatever happened to you throughout 2020 and up to today – whenever you’re reading this – you endured. You worked around hardship, overcame challenges and more, whether it was fair or not.

You can make it through your viva now too.

You have got this far.

You did this.

Keep going.