Ten 2-Minute Viva Prep Tasks

A simple post! Here’s a list of ten things you can do in two minutes or less that will make a difference to your viva preparations.

  1. Find and download the regulations for thesis examination for your university.
  2. Check and make a note of a member of staff you could contact – in your Graduate School or Doctoral College – in case you need help with arrangements for the viva.
  3. Gather together a suitable assortment of stationery to support annotating your thesis.
  4. Write and send a short email to three friends who could help you have a mini-viva.
  5. Find and bookmark the webpages of your examiners for later reading.
  6. Write a short email to your supervisor(s) asking about their availability in the coming weeks.
  7. Contact two or three people you know who have recently had a viva in your department and ask them a few questions about the experience.
  8. Write “YOU CAN DO THIS” at the top of the first page of your thesis.
  9. Stick a Post-it Note at the start of each chapter in your thesis to help you navigate it well.
  10. Write down one thing that you know is a valuable contribution in your research.

Viva prep takes time, but there are lots of little things that can make a big difference. Whenever you have a spare moment, think about what you can do to help yourself get ready.


Bonus 11th suggestion! Read this blog post about the book I published a few months ago! Ordering in print or ebook will also take less than two minutes and will help! 😉

Six Half-Hours Of Prep

Thirty minutes is a meaningful block of time to move you closer to being ready for your viva. There’s lots you could do. Set a timer and then:

  1. Read your thesis. Focus on a particular section to help you think and remember, or just go gently through your big book of good stuff to help you remember the flow of your work.
  2. Bookmark important passages. Take a dozen Post-it Notes or sticky tabs and go exploring. Find the best bits and make them stand out.
  3. List ten important references. Capture the papers that have helped your work the most. Write down title, author, journal and year of publication – as well as a few sentences for why each reference has helped you.
  4. Explore your examiners. Check who they are. Check their interests and make notes. Check their recent papers and make notes. Look for common threads or ideas.
  5. Write a 1-paragraph summary of your research. Condense it down to a few sentences. Can you think of three keywords that you would have to use in any conversation to describe it?
  6. Zoom with a friend. Give them a 5-minute overview of your research, then ask them if they have questions.

Half an hour might not be long, but it’s enough to make a difference to how ready you are for your viva.

Number Posts

I try not to be clickbait-y in the titles that I choose for posts. Numbers are sometimes really useful to help me round up ideas, and they also help to draw attention too. It dawned on me that in and amongst the many posts I’d published that I had probably done posts “counting down” from ten to one.

I checked – I have!

Another thing about “number” posts: they’re usually pretty clear. While it won’t be enough for you to try to memorise “eight cool things” about your thesis or “ten top references” in your bibliography, giving yourself a nudge with a number could help you to look at your research differently. It might help you to summarise or capture things neatly too.

Used appropriately, numbers can stick in the mind quite well!

The Best Of The Best Of Viva Survivors 2020

Between Christmas and New Year I shared some of my favourite posts from the blog from 2020. In case you missed them here’s a link to those posts, and a link to my favourite post from each category!

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Viva PrepSix Steps For Friction-free Prep does exactly what it says in the title. I explore all the different aspects of this post in detail in other posts, and they’re topics that I like to come back to again and again. I like the simplicity of this post.

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Long PostsBeing Thankful stands out to me. Gratitude helps. It can’t always solve problems immediately, but can help frame the situation better. Viva prep and the viva can both be challenging, but being aware of what has helped you (and what could help you still) can encourage you to look again at where you are and what you have to support you.

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Short Posts – I realised in May that I had latched on to a few new ways of expressing something about being “ready” for the viva. Better & Ready was a neat way of sharing these thoughts.

Best of Viva Survivors 2020: Surviving – for the last few years I’ve finished off my best of series with posts on confidence. Exploring confidence has helped me personally a lot over the last decade. But for 2020 it felt appropriate to reflect on surviving a little more, another topic that comes up in my work a lot. Is Survival Enough? raises the point that while survive is a good verb to have in mind for the viva, it’s not the only thing you could find through the process.

Interesting Times is an important post for me too; back in March 2019 it had to be written. At the start of that week I went from being a guy who travelled up and down the UK most weeks between different universities, to being a guy who stays in his little home office and smiles into the camera to deliver a seminar.

Going back to gratitude: I’m very thankful that I was able to keep maintaining this blog all through 2019 and keep helping where I could. Thank you for reading! And if any of these posts resonate with you, or you know someone who might benefit, do pass them on!

All About Me!

It’s my birthday, and it dawned on me that I’ve put a lot of myself into the daily blog since I started it in 2017. I recorded an episode of the Viva Survivors Podcast a long time ago with my best friend interviewing me, but I’m all over the place in the blog, bits and pieces of me cut out and glued into this scrapbook of viva help.

So here are a few of my favourite posts where a part of me makes up the idea of the piece:

I don’t think you can do something like this, for nearly a thousand posts, without bits and pieces of yourself creeping in. I’m happy that I’m here and there throughout the blog. I hope you find these posts interesting, and in some cases entertaining too!

Now, while I go and celebrate not-quite-being-40-just-yet, if you have time reflect on what I’ve been reflecting: where can you find yourself in your work? Where are you in your thesis and your research?

Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva

There are lots of reasons. Any one of the following might be enough:

  • You did the work.
  • You’re talented.
  • Your examiners are there to examine, not interrogate.
  • Vivas have expectations.
  • Examiners have responsibilities.
  • You can prepare for the viva…
  • …and you will have prepared for your viva. (right?!)
  • The viva isn’t a total mystery.
  • Of the three people in the room, you have the expertise when it comes to your thesis.
  • You have a history of rising to meet challenges.

Taken in combination, they paint an impressive picture for the outcome of your viva.

There are many more reasons you will pass your viva, specific to you, your thesis and your research journey. The many reasons you’ll pass align with reasons you could be confident about your performance in the viva.

You’ve not got this far by accident; you’ve not got this far by only showing up.

Not Every Day

It’s not every day you sit down to talk with two examiners about your thesis, the end point of years of study and research. Not every day you get to find out what they think. Not every day – there may be no other days in your life like your viva day!

It’s an important day, but still just one day. Without over-obsessing, over-analysing, over-investing, it makes sense to ask a few questions to be as reasonably ready as possible.

  • What can you do in preparation?
  • What can you find out about your examiners to help you?
  • What can you do to start the day well?
  • What can you do to start the viva well?
  • What can you do to be at your best in the viva?
  • What can you do to find and bring confidence with you to the viva?

And, as your viva is not every day, what will you do to celebrate your achievement?

7 Things Not To Do During Viva Prep

There are lots of things you could do. Here are seven things I think it’s best to avoid.

  1. Don’t look for typos obsessively.
  2. Don’t read your thesis passively.
  3. Don’t read the entire publication history for your examiners.
  4. Don’t treat your preparation like a chore.
  5. Don’t avoid prep that makes you nervous.
  6. Don’t do something just because someone told you it worked for them.
  7. Don’t create model answers for every question you can think of.

Some people say “don’t worry.”

I won’t. I don’t think it helps to worry, but it doesn’t help to get directed to not worry.

However, it is possible to distract yourself from worry by working towards being ready. And if you reflect on the negatives expressed above, you can find the positive actions you can take towards getting prepared.

8 Things You Need To Know About The Viva

I ask people at the start of Viva Survivor sessions what they need to know about the viva. I ask if they have gaps of knowledge, worries about what might happen or vague hypotheticals.

I’m happy to answer anything and everything that candidates want to talk about. Recently, a participant in a session turned the question around on me: what did I think people needed to know?

It’s a good question. Here’s my answer:

  1. The vast majority of candidates pass the viva. This doesn’t “just happen”…
  2. …candidates pass the viva because of what they’ve done, what they know and what they can do. Perfection is not the goal or expectation. Candidates must necessarily be really good at what they do to get to submission and the viva.
  3. Examiners will be prepared, and that’s a good thing. They’ve read your thesis, made notes and thought a lot about questions; that’s far better than the alternative!
  4. Examiners may have challenging questions, but they ask them with respect for you and your work. They’re not there to interrogate or tear work apart. Questions can be challenging, but that’s due to the nature and standard of the research involved.
  5. There are broad expectations for what the viva is like. These aren’t secret.
  6. Most candidates get some form of corrections. You probably will too. Examiners recommend them to help make the best possible thesis submission.
  7. The viva can be prepared for. You can’t anticipate and have model answers for every question, but by preparing well you can be ready and confident to answer any question that comes up.
  8. The viva might be the final test, but it’s not the only test. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy into your PhD: the viva is not the only milestone you’ve passed. You’ve consistently applied yourself and achieved. The viva is one more time you have to meet the standard.

And that’s what I think candidates need to know about the viva.

Ten New Top Fives

If you only have a few minutes spare, but want to do something to help your viva prep, you could start a list. I’ve shared a few ideas on this topic before. Here are ten more:

  1. Top Five Fascinating Things About Your Field!
  2. Top Five Developments In The Last Year!
  3. Top Five References In Your Thesis!
  4. Top Five Pages In Your Thesis!
  5. Top Five Confidence Boosts You Can Use!
  6. Top Five Questions You’d Like To Ask Your Examiners!
  7. Top Five Tricky Concepts You Need To Remember!
  8. Top Five Things You Might Do In The Week Before The Viva!
  9. Top Five Interesting Ideas For Continuing Your Research!
  10. Top Five Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva!

It’s really useful to have a starting point. You could spend an hour exploring any of these topics, but it will only take two minutes to begin.

Start now!