I wonder if the key common attribute for researchers is persistence. Not smarts or know-how, not project management skills or effective presentations. Persistence. If you don’t keep going when things are tough, if you don’t keep going when you reach a gap and need to learn (or jump!) then you’re stuck.

I’ve not met a researcher or graduate in the last decade who hasn’t had a problem of one sort or another during their PhD. Some of them severe. Yet they persisted. Kept going until the answer was found. Kept going until they saw a way forward. Kept going until they knew more or could do more.

The viva is the final bit of persistence. Continue to know you’ve done good work. Continue to remember you must be talented. Continue to believe you have all the skills and talents you need to meet the challenges of the viva.

Don’t stop now.

Paper Armour

Your thesis is armour to protect your ideas. Well-conceived, long-considered and oft-checked.

But it’s still just paper. Flaws can make it on to the page. It’ll be good, but it won’t be perfect. There’ll be nothing terribly wrong probably, but your research needs something else to protect it in the viva. Your thesis needs someone to help it shine.

A champion. Skilled, trained, clever, capable, someone who can make ideas move.

Sound like anyone you know?


I have that phrase about “a particular set of skills” from the movie Taken in my mind a lot when I start workshops. Not for the attitude, because I don’t want PhD candidates to see the viva as a fight to the death. The phrase resonates because candidates come equipped with a skill set, knowledge and experience to match what their examiners bring to the table. When it comes to examiners’ questions, candidates know a lot and can work out a lot because of the talent they’ve built up during their research.

Don’t forget: you can’t do a PhD without developing your particular set of skills.