Get Corrections Done

Big or small, whether they feel fair or not, after the viva just get your thesis corrections done. Your examiners will be clear about what needs doing and why – if there’s any doubt in your mind, ask them.

Corrections are a part of the process; no-one wants to do them, but they’re required for a good reason. They help to make your thesis that little bit better, more valuable or easier to read.

Unless you have a very good reason to think that your examiners have made a mistake: say thank you, make a list, make time to do them and get them done.

On This Day

You probably have at least one account with a major internet entity that backs up your photos, or where you share what you’re up to in some way. It’s likely that you post or tweet or save a photo away in an archive.

If something good happens today or tomorrow – in fact, whenever something good happens for your PhD – take a picture. Write a post (keep it private if you like), but do something to mark a good thing in your research or PhD journey.


A year from now you’ll be minding your own business when your phone, tablet or app will remind you that you have memories: “On this day you did this…”

You’ll remember what you did and you’ll know you are making progress. You’ll see how far you’ve come. Maybe a year from now it will even be after your viva! But that’s OK. The need for recognising achievement and benefitting from confidence doesn’t stop with the viva.

Find a way to remind yourself of your work, your progress and your success. You’ll find confidence in your ability when you do – and help feel even more ready for the challenge of your viva.

The Story Of Your PhD

Remind yourself at every opportunity that you have not got this far by being lucky. The unfolding story of your PhD features you front and centre: doing the work, making progress and getting close to viva success.

Nothing “just happens”. Your research outcomes, your personal growth and thesis submission are driven by you. Yes, you may have allies and supporters, but you are the protagonist of this tale. You are not in the background and you are not drifting along.

The story of your PhD is one of success through your effort. Remind yourself that your actions have got you as far you’ve come, whatever stage that might be, and that those efforts will see you through to a successful conclusion too.

A Long Time

In the year before your viva you don’t need to do much to get ready. Your focus is on finishing research, finishing your thesis and thinking about life after the PhD.

In the month before your viva you can start your prep. Read your thesis, make notes, check details and take opportunities to rehearse.

In the week before your viva make a to-do list of anything that remains. What are your priorities? Who can help you? Remind yourself of what you’ve done to get his far.

In the day before your viva you might want to do some final prep, but equally it could just be time to rest and relax.

In the hour before your viva it’s a good idea to check one more time that you’ve got everything you need. Remember as well that you have a challenging couple of hours ahead – but you are ready for this challenge.

In the minute before your viva remember to breathe. Any nerves are about the importance of the day; they are not a negative reflection on your talent or contribution.

In the second before your viva you might blink-

-and then realise that it’s all done. Your viva flew by. You were there, but you were engaged and weren’t thinking about how long it was.

Success in the viva is a long time coming, but doesn’t take very long on the day.

The Ends

The end of your viva is not the end of your PhD.

The end of your bibliography doesn’t mean that there is nothing else to know.

The end of your thesis is not the end of the research that could be done.

The end of your PhD journey doesn’t mean that there isn’t more great work for you to do.

The end of your mock viva is not a finish to all the questions you could get in the real thing.

There are many endings around the conclusion of a PhD. Very few of them are final.

The end of your PhD is not the end of your story.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Every writer is asked this, at least from time to time. Postgraduate researchers are asked this too, particularly in the viva.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“Why did you want to follow this research topic?”

“How did you know to do this?”

In your viva you have to be willing to talk about what started your process, how you knew to do something, why you wanted to do it and so on.

Ideas could come from reading. They could come from your supervisor. There might be a highly personal story or a really mundane, practical reality to them. It may be that on the way to working on one project you spotted something interesting that you needed to explore. There are so many routes to inspiration.

You need to be able to talk about the origin of your ideas in the viva, but don’t forget that as interesting as those ideas are they are nothing without the work that has developed them. Your work might be inspired by 100 papers, a chance encounter or by a funding advertisement – but it’s your work that has created your success, not the idea itself.

Wherever your ideas came from, it’s your work that has taken you so far.

The Importance of Expectations

Expectations for the viva are not guarantees but they matter because they show the process at work. Expectations help because they give a platform for preparation. Vivas vary in length, but knowing roughly what to expect helps to prepare for the effort. It helps to know you can ask for breaks. Knowing how they unfold gives you a way forward.

Expectations show the big picture: candidates tend to pass, so you will too. Your viva is a test – the expectations show that too – but it’s a test that most people succeed in, and you’re unlikely to fail. Expectations are important for the viva. Ask friends, read stories and see what stands out to you. Don’t understand something? Look deeper or ask more.

Don’t expect your viva to follow an exact plan; do expect your viva to help you show the best of your work and yourself.

The Baby Viva

I was talking with someone recently about the first-year viva. Sometimes it’s called a transfer viva or an upgrade viva. The person I was talking to referred to it as “the baby viva” and in that second I smiled and could see exactly what they meant.

  • The baby viva because it’s smaller.
  • The baby viva because you’re still concerned: just because it’s small doesn’t meant that it’s not important to get it right!
  • The baby viva because there’s still a long way to go.
  • The baby viva because a lot of the fundamentals are still the same as the final viva – research, preparation and discussion.

I’m not sure that the term “baby viva” will catch on! But it helps to frame things.

Amazing & Spectacular

If you’re looking to build your confidence, consider the hero moments of your PhD journey.

When did you do something that was extraordinary?

A comic, show or movie featuring superheroes often shows them in day-to-day moments doing something that someone else couldn’t do. We might smile at someone doing a mundane task in a special way, but we cheer when they do something that no-one else could do.

That’s a hero moment. When have you had those during your PhD? You may have built your knowledge and capabilities as a researcher through day-to-day work – that’s essential for your success as a postgraduate researcher. You will also have had times where you did something amazing. Something spectacular. Something that no-one else could do.

When you made a connection.

When you solved an equation.

When you found the solution.

When you wrote something that was wonderful.

When you knew something your supervisor didn’t!

When you presented well in spite of your nervousness.

When you finished your first draft of a paper.

When you finished the first draft of your thesis.

When you looked back and realised how far you had come.

Unlike a superhero movie, sometimes the hero moments of a PhD journey can fade into the background against the day-to-day tasks that you have to complete. Take some time, as you get ready for the viva, to reflect on what you’ve done. Take some time to appreciate that you did the work that has got you this far, the everyday and the heroic, and that that is what will help you through the viva.

You are amazing. You are spectacular.

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