You’re not Doctor Somebody until graduation. On the day of the viva you’ll pass, you’ll shake hands perhaps, and after that you’ll smile whenever someone uses the title.

It’s not official until the corrections are done, checked, passed and after that until the first opportunity for graduation. Universities have ways of doing things that stretch back through years of tradition, after all.

You’re not a doctor until you graduate…

…but there’s no great harm in telling anyone and everyone that you did it! You’ve done it! You’ve passed, succeeded and completed!

You have to wait for a piece of paper before it’s official. So be it. You know what you know and you’ve done what you’ve done.

Winning The Viva

When your viva is all done there’s no gold medal for no corrections. You don’t get a little asterisk on your certificate for minor corrections.

No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections. Different outcomes that mean the same thing: you’ve passed.

Different outcomes mean different amounts of work involved. It’s worth knowing what the different outcomes mean in terms of deadlines for completion or the scale of work involved. It’s worth getting a sense of what your supervisors think about how likely different outcomes are (and for what reasons).

No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections: you’ve passed.


What will you do when you pass your viva?

Who will you tell first?

On that day, maybe that evening, after the first thrill has passed, what will you do to mark the occasion?

(it may be that you have to get a little creative of course, depending on when you have your viva…)

Once you have these images of celebration and success in mind, use them to motivate you. Use them to persuade yourself that you’re on track. Use them to boost your confidence or commitment to getting ready.

And use them to make your imagined celebrations real, when the time comes.


The probability of failure in the viva is not 0. We know this because despite the many thousands of candidates who pass their viva every year, a handful of people don’t. A couple of universities have told me the odds are less than one in a thousand.

So, statistically, the probability is non-zero.

It could happen, but why should it happen to you? For any candidate thinking, “It could be me!” let me ask, “Why?! Why would it be you?”

The chances of succeeding are far, far, far greater than the probability of failing.

Your success isn’t “chance” of course. Your success in the viva is another victory, the latest, the greatest since you started on the path to being a PhD.

The Quantum Viva

I meet a lot of PhD candidates who walk around with a strange indeterminate state attached to their future viva. They think of their viva as pass/fail, not two possible outcomes but a strange quantum state. Until they come out of the other side and know the result, this puts them in a strange too, prone to stress and anxiety.

The outcome of the viva might feel uncertain as it gets closer. You have to have the viva to confirm what your examiners think of your work and of you – but if you’ve got this far, why would the outcome be in doubt? What problems still exist that make the outcome pass/fail? Why do you have doubts?

Explore what’s keeping you in that state. Try to build a good new story for your viva. It’s almost certainly a pass: not because of tradition or statistics or some theory, but because you can’t get this far without doing something good and without being good yourself.

Put pass/fail to one side, and think about what you need to do to change your state.

A Foregone Conclusion?

Is passing your viva guaranteed?

No, but let’s say that it is the most likely outcome. Statistics, stories and the structure of the PhD journey say it clearly: how else could a candidate get to submission if they and the work weren’t good and ready?

Passing is the most likely outcome – many, many times more likely than failing. You should not expect to fail. If you feel really worried, dig into that. Why do you feel that way? What’s the problem? What’s getting in the way?

Now, what can you do about it?


A Lot To Celebrate

Celebration is a human fundamental. We’re wired to mark the important things, and finishing a PhD is a big one. There are lots of points where you can stop and say, “Woohoo!” and it’s useful to mark your progress.

Celebrate your first draft being done, then celebrate when you submit.

Do something to celebrate getting your viva date, because you’re one step closer to the finish line.

When you pass have as many celebrations as you like, one for each group you belong to – family, friends, colleagues, and so on – and then celebrate again when your corrections are complete.

There is a lot to celebrate. Celebrations don’t have to be big, but finishing your PhD is a big deal. Don’t play it down. Don’t focus solely on it being done and move on to the next thing.

Why does getting your PhD mean something to you? Celebrate it.