Suddenly September

Where does the time go?! Just like that autumn is around the corner, Christmas is really not that far away when you think about it and 2023 is within shouting distance!

Of course, there’s no suddenly about it. Day by day we move forward, the weeks pass, the months go by and then we’re at another mark on the calendar.

Little by little we “suddenly” find ourselves at September.


It’s helpful to keep this in mind for your viva too.

It doesn’t suddenly appear. You’re not going to suddenly be surprised by it.

It may feel like you’re all of a sudden at the viva – where did the last few years go?! – but it really is the case that you’ve worked your way to that place over a long period of time.

Day by day you work on your PhD. Week by week you find new things. Month by month you get better. Year by year you make something that sets you apart.

All Your Victories

Write down all of the things that you’ve achieved over the course of your PhD.

Write down as many things as you can think of where you’ve succeeded despite a setback.

List all the times you overcame your own doubts and worries.

Consider how much work you had to do to write your thesis.

Consider the background state of the world against which you’ve done all of this.

With all of your victories, you are in a great position to now succeed in your viva. Any nerves that you feel are not a sign that you are missing something; you’re just recognising that the viva is important.

With all your past victories you can work towards one more now.

It’s a Wonderful Viva

A few days ago I was inspired by A Christmas Carol. Today my mind turns to It’s a Wonderful Life, which is my favourite Christmas movie. I could write a lot about how this movie makes me feel, what I adore about it, why it makes me cry every time I watch it, but let me pull out a key moment and why it’s worth remembering for your viva.

Towards the end, the protagonist, George, who thinks his life has gotten so terrible that it would be better if he had never been born, is given the chance to see what that world would be like. He is shown a town which is cruel, where people are mean, where no-one knows him and where some of the people he knows are fundamentally different – all because he wasn’t there as part of their lives.

As his angel (second-class!) guide Clarence tells him, “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?

Now, I don’t imagine many PhD candidates consider stopping just before their viva, or truly wish they had never started. However stressed or worried, whatever fears are conjured, whatever doubts they may have about their ability, they probably don’t wish for it not to be taking place, or for them not to be PhD candidates.

Still, remember: by doing your PhD you have made a difference. You have made something that wasn’t there before. You have become better than you were. You know more and can do more. And along the way you will have helped others, directly and indirectly.

By doing your PhD you have made a difference. Remember that and it might make a difference for how you feel about your viva.

Make A Timeline

Go back through your calendars, diaries, lab books, log books and records for the last few years of your PhD. Your memory can trick you sometimes. Sometimes you can forget what you did when – or even what you did at all.

Map out the years of your research. When did you ask that question? When did you complete that project? When did you give that great presentation? When did you find yourself becoming talented at something?

Mark it all down. By doing it you’ll help yourself in two ways. First, you’ll have explored more detail that you can share with your examiners in the viva. This will help you answer questions and engage in discussion.

Second, and in my opinion, more importantly, you’ll see just how far you’ve come. You’ll see the story of your talent: this is you. This didn’t just happen. You did this. You made all of this happen. You’ve had success. And you can continue that success in your viva.