Thesis & Viva

A few loosely connected thoughts…

The viva is bigger in some ways than the thesis, but takes much less time (to read or write!).

A lot of focus is given to the viva, but without a good thesis you won’t pass your PhD.

Your thesis has to be good. Your viva has to go well. The former helps the latter.

Your thesis prompts the discussion for the viva, but doesn’t hold all the questions (or answers).

You don’t have a viva without a thesis first, and you don’t need to prepare for your viva until your thesis is finished.


It might be a surprise to know exactly what your examiners think of your work, but it doesn’t have to be a surprise to know what other people more generally think of it. Share your work, get feedback and keep building on what you’ve done.

There may be a surprising question you’ve not considered before, but your general talent at answering questions shouldn’t be a surprise to you. Find opportunities to receive and respond to unexpected questions.

You might be surprised by a particular correction that you get, but you should know that most people are asked to complete some level of corrections. After the viva you’ll be given an opportunity to make your thesis even better.

There could be surprises in the viva, but there’s a lot that you can do to meet any challenges that come up.

Do the work, prepare well and the surprises won’t matter so much.

Putting The PhD Together

The process of doing a PhD is like doing a really hard jigsaw when you don’t have the picture to start with.

It takes time to get going. You have to find the corners, establish your boundaries, and make sure that everything fits in place.

Progress can be slow for a long time, but you start to see patterns, and slowly the gaps are filled.

When you’re done you might have ideas about what you could have done differently – but you don’t need to do them. You have what you need, and it works or you wouldn’t have the picture that you do.

The viva is telling someone about the jigsaw; they don’t have to go through the same process, but they want to know what yours was like, and what the picture was that you got at the end. Take time to think back over how you did it and what you got, so you can be clear with your examiners.

Whatever you ultimately feel about your picture, remember that your PhD jigsaw wouldn’t be finished if it wasn’t for your efforts.


When postgraduate researchers imagine the viva they often dial it up to 11…

The viva is not just tough, it’s very tough. The questions aren’t just tricky, they’re very tricky. It’s not just long, it’s very long, and so on…

It’s more than challenging, it’s a nightmare! Examiners aren’t critical, they’re harsh! I ask someone, “Are you nervous?” and they reply “I’m terrified!


If this is where your head is at, it’s possible to turn the dial back. For a start, just how talented are you as a researcher?


You did the work to get this far. That means something.

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out!

"The Viva: Who? What? How?"

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out now!

What is this?

An ebook. Twenty-seven chapters, nearly 20,000 words, and answers to the most frequently asked questions about the PhD viva in the UK. I deliver viva preparation workshops, and over the last five years I’ve got a great understanding about the questions that distract PhD candidates. This book helps eliminate those distractions.

There are more details below, but if all you want are the purchase links, here they are!

  • In the UK, The Viva: Who? What? How? is in the Kindle Store here.
  • In the UK and around the world, The Viva: Who? What? How? is available from Payhip here.