Your Recipe For Success

“I want some of Daddy’s bread!”

The bread I bake is a real winner in our house.

It’s been refined over a hundred loaves and several years working at it. It’s a combination of ingredients and technique: from the ratios of flour to oil and water, how I prepare the baking sheet I use, the setting on my oven and the time I set on the timer (now 42 minutes rather than 40 to help get the crust just right).

I could give you the recipe and you would scratch your head a lot.

  • You set your oven to Gas Mark 5-and-a-half?!
  • What do you mean, leave it for “about” two hours to prove?!
  • Wait wait, a mix of 400g of “whatever bread flours” you happen to have???

There are elements of what I could share that would make sense. There are others that with a little thought you would be able to work around. And there are some which are only applicable to my kitchen, my house, my equipment.

I read books, watched YouTube videos, looked at what I had, looked at what I could get and with time, patience, practice, repetition, iteration and a smile on my face I found something that worked really well for me and my family. I could tell you all about it, but if you wanted to do something similar, you could only use what I shared as a starting point. You would have to take what I offered and build on it, although hopefully, I would save you some time in your quest to get your own recipe for success.


This train of thought is really about you, your research, your thesis, your viva prep, and about people giving advice.

Let’s assume it’s good advice! Even then, you have to make it work for you. You have to take ideas on writing, on reading, on working well, on finishing a thesis, on preparing for the viva and on being in it – all of that has to get mixed with you, your talents, your skills, your passions, your preferences. The work you’ve done, the worries you have and your situation. It takes time and work to make it truly useful for you. It might not be easy, but hopefully it won’t be as hard as starting with a blank page.

With a little time, a little practice, a little refinement – whatever stage you’re at – you can find your recipe for success. It might require tinkering, but so long as you persist, you can get it just right.

And once you have found your recipe for success – research success, thesis success, viva success – consider sharing it to help others in their work. Find a good way to tell your colleagues what’s helped you.

A loaf of bread
I’m keeping my bread a family recipe for now though! 🙂


I really like the following lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Whenever I’m trying to analyse a problem and get stuck, I think about these six starters and search for questions that will help.

They are valuable when unpicking the contribution you’ve made in your research. As your viva approaches, consider taking the following six questions as a starting point for reflecting on what you’ve done.

  • What was the result of your research?
  • Why was it worth doing?
  • When did you arrive at your main ideas?
  • How did your approach change during your PhD?
  • Where did you learn the most during your PhD?
  • Who do you think would be interested in your work?

There are many other questions you could use to reflect on your work. Start with these, see what thoughts and ideas they lead you to.

And Then A Decade Passed

I passed my viva ten years ago today. It sparked an interest for me that I didn’t know would become a passion and a vocation…

…but a lot of my viva is gone from my memory now. I remember bits and pieces; that’s to be expected I guess.

I remember not sleeping very much the night before.

I remember feeling nervous but not too nervous.

I remember feeling surprised that my examiners asked questions during my presentation.

I remember my internal using the phrase “proof by gravity” and wished I had thought of it.

I remember wondering if everyone stood for their vivas (they don’t – I’ve never met anyone else who has).

I don’t remember 90% of the questions I got.

I don’t remember 95% of the corrections I got.

I don’t remember why I wore a sweater for my viva which was in one of the hottest rooms in the maths building.

I don’t remember who the first person was that I told the result to.

I don’t remember seeing my supervisor afterwards, but he must have been around.

It was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. My viva was important, but it’s not the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Your viva will be a milestone, but you have to put it in perspective. There’s a lot you’ve done and a lot you will do that will probably matter more.

I remember feeling happy afterwards. I hope you will too.