Holding On

At the start of a new academic year I’m reminded of how much my life has changed over the last few years; while for the most part I am very happy with where I am now, I still remember vividly how sharp and how stark things have been at times.

Survive means manage to keep going in difficult circumstances – and while it doesn’t have to be dire to be difficult it helps to reflect a little and remember how you have made it through.

If you have survived this far that means you kept going. How? What did you do through your PhD to make it so far when things have been so tough? What have you learned about yourself? How did you adapt?

As your viva comes closer, whatever else you feel, remember that you persisted. Whatever bad times you’ve had, you held on, you made it through. You were determined, often enough, to get to the end. How did you hold on? And what you can do now to keep holding on until your viva is done?

Out Now: Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology

I’m thrilled to announce that Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is out today! I celebrated with my book launch party yesterday and am now very happy that the book is available to buy. What is it? Here’s a little snippet from the book blurb:

Keep Going collects posts about viva expectations, viva prep and examiners, as well as:

  • reflections on the PhD journey and confidence;
  • practical steps for getting ready for the viva;
  • thoughts on what it really means to survive the viva.

Over 150 posts from five years of writing, carefully curated and edited to be a valuable guide for every postgraduate researcher with a viva in their future.

I’ve been working on Keep Going for the last six months: curating the very best from nearly 1800 blog posts and five years of writing. The book is available now in three places, as an ebook and in print. Here are the links if you’re interested:

It’s been a great project to make this book for the last six months and a thrill to present it to you today.

I define the work I do as “helping PGRs become PhDs”. Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is made for that purpose. If you have a viva in your future this book will help you know how to be ready for it. If you know someone with their viva coming up then please pass on news of the book.

Thanks for reading!


Keep Going: The Launch Party

On Monday I shared a post about my new Viva Survivors anthology, Keep Going! The book will be available via the Amazon Kindle store and through my Payhip site from Thursday 26th May, but I’m now very excited to announce the lunchtime launch party I’m hosting on Wednesday 25th May 2022!

At 1pm I’ll host a space on Zoom to share and celebrate the launch. I’ll talk about the book, the blog, the viva and take questions from the audience: depending on numbers I may not be able to respond to every question on the day, but I’ll do my best. There’ll be one or two fun surprises as well!

And registration, at this Eventbrite link, is free! I’m delighted to throw the doors open and welcome you to share in my celebrations of five years of blogging and the book’s release. If you like you can also pre-order a copy of the ebook with your registration 🙂

Thanks for reading, do take a look at the event and share the link if you know someone working towards their viva now. I’m proud of the book that I’ve been bringing together for the last six months or so and am thrilled to share it soon!

Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology

About a month ago the Viva Survivors blog celebrated five years of daily posts! With this milestone in mind I’ve been working on something a little special. I’m thrilled to announce Keep Going, a Viva Survivors anthology:

Keep Going is the best of the first five years of daily posts. I’ve found my favourites out of nearly 1800 posts: from reflections on the PhD journey to lists of questions, practical prep ideas to confidences boosts. I’ve curated, edited and polished an anthology to celebrate five years of writing – but more importantly to be a help to someone with the viva in their future.

I’m doing the very final checks and logistical arrangements now. The words have been checked and typeset. The post order has been finalised. The cover has been created by the wonderful Maria Stoian!

There’s a few more things to do but Keep Going will be available very soon!

How soon?

Keep Going will release on Thursday 26th May 2022, and will be available as an ebook in the Amazon Kindle store and also via Payhip (where I have my own little ebook shop). To celebrate a little more, I’m hosting a launch party on Zoom on Wednesday 25th May, but I’ll share details of that in the next few days.

I just couldn’t wait any more to tell people about what I’ve been working on for the last few months! Look out for more details in the next few days on Twitter and here 🙂

Thank you for reading!


All Right, Alright

You don’t need to answer every question. You don’t need to know every fact. You don’t need to have absorbed every detail about your examiners.

To be alright in the viva, you don’t need to get everything all right in advance of it. You don’t need to respond in the right way for every question. Of course, do your best! Of course, try and work hard! But if your mind goes blank, or your freeze, or you forget, you will still be alright.

You will have done enough before the viva and will do enough during the viva to pass.

You’ll be alright.

One Way

There’s no single right way to select examiners. There’s no best criteria for deciding whether you should have you supervisor at your viva. I can think of many options for planning out and completing viva prep. I have a lot of suggestions for how someone might build their confidence before their viva – but I don’t know the best one to suggest to you offhand. And, of course, there are many different questions that can be asked at the viva, many approaches that your examiners can take, endless variety of situations on the day.

There are so many aspects of the viva that have lots of possibilities and yet, ultimately, there’s only one way you succeed: you do the research, grow as a researcher, write your thesis, submit it, then prepare for and pass your viva.

It’s the only way to get it done.


Survive means manage to keep going in difficult circumstances. In some ways I feel like this is quite a mundane definition, almost boring: it doesn’t capture the flavour of what people tend to think about survival. Over time we have skewed survive to only mean situations where life is threatened and nearly all hope is lost.

Survive implies, I think, a challenge that is being worked through. It feels like the best verb to describe the kind of challenge being overcome in the PhD viva: it’s not a new challenge, it’s not impossible, it’s not supposed to be a struggle. It applies to the PhD as well, of course, though the challenge is bigger, for longer and can take many forms.

Manage to keep going in difficult circumstances sometimes doesn’t capture the nuance of the difficulty or the challenge. It doesn’t account for how someone might feel about their PhD or viva. It’s still the best verb I can think of for describing how someone can engage with the circumstances of their viva.

Rewarding Progress

If you need any extra motivation to get viva prep done, consider setting rewards for when you finish tasks. Big or small, rewards help spur people to action. What sort of rewards might help you? What sort of milestones in your prep could you aim for?

  • What could you do to reward a read-through of your thesis?
  • How will you celebrate when you have finished exploring your examiners’ recent publications?
  • And how could you bring a smile to your face after completing a mock viva?

You could ask others to join you for some friendly social pressure, or set some future rewards by yourself. The fact that you set rewards for yourself will do nothing to dampen your enthusiasm, so long as the reward is suitably motivating!

A Happy Accident

I started the daily blog five years ago today by publishing No Accident.

It was a short post to start an ongoing daily blog! I wanted to begin by exploring what gets a postgraduate researcher from the start to the end of their PhD. In the last line I clumsily expressed a simple truth about nerves and the viva:

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

I meant that it wasn’t only luck. The outcome of a viva and a PhD doesn’t depend on an accident of any kind. A person can have good fortune but only when they do the work and that works out for them.

I’m sure many postgraduate researchers, even given the last two years or so, feel fortunate at times. They do an uncertain experiment that works out. A resource arrives when it is most needed. An opportunity you just seem to thankfully stumble into. A happy accident, maybe you are the right person in the right place at the right time, but still you have worked to put yourself in that place and time.

Over the last five years I have been very grateful for everything that writing this daily blog has brought my way, for all the things that I have stumbled into! I’m thankful for the funny looks from people who don’t get it; strange looks from people who do get it but think it’s kind of weird to do; grateful emails from people who have been helped by one or more posts.

I’m very thankful to Nathan-in-2017 for following the idea of a daily blog and for all other iterations of me over the last five years who kept going.

If you find yourself encountering a happy accident situation, recognise and remember the work that you’ve done. Be grateful when your hard work pays off.

Use all of that to keep going.