One Year Later

It’s a year since I started the daily blog. There’s times when it feels like I’m not doing all that much, but when I pause – like today – and look back I can see how much I’ve done. In one year I’ve written over 360 posts, released several free resources, produced several blog book compilations and delivered Viva Survivor workshops to over 500 PhD candidates around the UK. All in all, I’m quite proud of how far the blog has come in one year and what I’ve done to help people get ready for their vivas.

It’s important to pause whenever you can doing a PhD or any big project really: pause and think about what you’ve accomplished. Day-by-day it’s hard to see progress, but taking a pause every now and then can really help. Look back over your PhD. It’s no accident that you’re doing it. If your viva is coming up soon you’re in the best possible place you can be to meet the challenge. Day-by-day you might have your doubts but look back over a year and think about everything you’ve accomplished. Everything you didn’t have one year ago. Everything you’ve built up and created.

Draw on that motivation and don’t stop.


It’s good to catch as many typos as possible. It’s not always easy to see them, even with spellcheck running. And spellcheck can’t always see when you put words in the wrong order. Proofreading can be hard. Enlist some allies as early as possible to help read through and spot what you might look past.

If you’re reading through your thesis to prepare for your viva, don’t worry about miskates too much. If you find erors, you can always correkt them l8r.

Instead, focus on anything that seems vague. If you read something that you’ve written and think, “Hmm… What did I mean here?” then spend time unpacking what it’s all about. Typos aren’t vague: when you see a typo, you know what needs to be there. Passages that are vague are harder to crack: it may not be immediately obvious what needs to be there. But if you focus on the vague then you’ll be in a better position in the viva to talk about your research.

Talking Helps

Last year I chatted with a PhD graduate about their viva prep.

In her department they encouraged final year students to give a seminar about their PhD. As the viva approached they would deliver a talk summarising their research and then take questions. For the graduate I spoke to this was a hugely helpful practice: she got to spend time thinking about how to communicate her work, an opportunity to practice talking about what she had done, and lots of chances to answer unexpected questions from her audience. Three things that are perfect preparation for the viva.

A great idea. At the time I heard the story I thought, “I wish my department had suggested we do this.” A while later I realised, “If it had occurred to me, I could have just done it.”

And so could you. You don’t need permission, you just need a room. Find a space, invite some people, share your work, prepare for your viva.

The Worst

“Can you explain how to make a genus 2 handlebody?”


I was really confident on the results of Chapter 5, but the background was shaky at best in my mind. I had a great result, proved an open conjecture, but couldn’t explain the background with confidence.

And I knew it. I knew it as I was reading my thesis and making notes in prep for my viva. I knew what the worst question was just from reading my thesis. I could have spent more time trying to unpick it and prepare. Instead I hoped it wouldn’t come up.

In workshops I’m regularly asked, “What’s the worst question that your examiners could ask?” It varies for every person. I think each candidate knows what the worst question is, because they’ve already encountered it. In preparation for the viva it’s an area to definitely spend time on. Don’t just hope it won’t come up.