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.