Profiteroles & Preparation

A good hour of viva preparation is like a short stack of profiteroles.

What? What are you talking about?

Consider a profiterole.

A little globe of choux pastry, a delicious cream centre and a set chocolate top.

Take a few for a dessert. Separate parts that combine into something more.

But eat too many and you’ll be sick.

……..O-kay, and viva preparation?

Consider preparation for the viva.

All you need is a little structure: targeted tasks aimed at reflection, checking ideas and annotating your thesis.

Do several small pieces of prep – annotate a chapter, reflect on a question, check on a paper – and the benefit you get builds up.

Do too much and you’ll get tired and confused. You can undo your good efforts by doing too much.


See, profiteroles and preparation!

…….OK, you just about saved this blog post……..

Two or three profiteroles of viva preparation is enough for any sitting. When you’ve done a few small tasks, take a break before you do more.

(from the mind that tried to make something of salmon swimming as an analogy for the PhD!)

Making A Cup Of Tea

How do you make a cuppa?

I prefer it from a teapot, served in a cup with a saucer. I add milk after I’m sure it’s strong enough.

Most of the time though I make it in a mug, a couple of minutes steeping, quick stir, splash of milk, stir and take the teabag out.

I used to take two sugars! (can’t quite believe it)

And my mum often makes her tea in a cup but puts the milk in first, then the teabag and hot water. A great-aunt insisted you have to do it that way, to “scald the milk”.

The end result of these and so many other similar processes? A cup of tea. This one’s stronger, that one’s milkier, and some might not be to your taste at all, but they’re all undeniably cups of tea.

The most important question though is what does this have to do with vivas?

Some vivas are long, some are short. Some start with a presentation, while others are a long conversation from the start. Some will have an independent chair, some might have a supervisor present. Some people will relish the thought of their viva, some will tie themselves in knots for months in advance. Most will get minor corrections, some will get none.

And at the end of all of these variations you simply have a viva. Many possible differences, all producing something recognisable as the exam for the end of a PhD.


In Jenga, whatever your intentions, you might knock the tower down at any moment. Your actions or a misplacement by the last player might make things so unstable that the tower can only fall.

It’s tempting to think of the viva is a precarious situation, but your thesis is not a Jenga tower, and the viva is not a game.

Questions from examiners aren’t like pulling bricks out. Your answers aren’t going to make your work fall apart. Discussion can bring in some wobbles, but your work is more than a tower of bricks. You designed this structure, it didn’t just come together out of a box.

Cosmic Viva Prep

Think of your thesis as a star. It shines, it’s powerful. It’s there because you’ve set it out in the cosmos of your research field.

Somewhere in that vast space are the works of your examiners. They’ve done more; their contributions might make constellations. Patterns of lights in your discipline.

Don’t think negatively of yourself by comparison. Instead, just look at the constellations. What do they look like? What does a constellation tell you about what an examiner thinks?

And what might your thesis-star look like from their constellation?

The Viva Train

The viva is, in some ways, a bit like a train journey…

You have your ticket (thesis), you know your destination (graduation) but it’s right that the conductors (examiners) check you’re supposed to be there.

There’s clear norms about what’s involved. It takes time. It’s rare for something to go seriously wrong. If sometimes it might take a little longer than expected it can be coped with. Even if it was cancelled, there would be another at some point.

Thankfully, unlike a lot of trains, the viva is not too crowded and you have space to stretch out a little and think.

You should probably still keep your feet off the seat.