The viva at the end of the PhD is a unique set of circumstances in your doctoral journey – but there are other events like the viva.

Most candidates will have had to pass a transfer or upgrade viva at some point (for full time candidates this is often around the end of the first year). In some institutions and departments this might be like a mini-viva, testing everything that you’ve done to that point in a similar style to the end of the PhD viva. In some places, the transfer viva is more like a simple conversation.

(I remember two defining questions from mine: “What have you done?” and “Are you happy?”)

Your transfer viva might only have a superficial resemblance to the main viva, but you must have passed it to get to submission. That counts. You were upgraded.

And you must have answered difficult questions in meetings, after conference talks and while you were doing your research. You upgraded then too.

A lot of focus is given to your thesis and research, but it is worth remembering that a far greater output of your PhD journey is you.

A new you, a more talented, more knowledgeable, more capable you.


Transfer And Final

I didn’t have a transfer viva at the end of my first year. This was nearly fifteen years ago; I had a forty minute meeting with my second supervisor. He read my ten-page summary of what I’d done in my first year, asked a few questions and then said, “Well, that all seems fine.”

From listening to other researchers’ transfer viva stories I’m aware this isn’t always as simple. A real sense of “will I pass?” can be the case for some people. If that was your story, or if you just wonder how the two events might compare, remember that the transfer viva and the PhD viva are two different events with two different purposes. They might have some similarities, but those are structural. The why behind them really is different.

The PhD viva is likely to be longer than your transfer; you’ve done more by the end of the PhD, so there is naturally more to cover. How you felt about the transfer, positive or negative, can influence how you feel about the PhD viva. If you feel like the transfer was a terrible thing then I can understand how the PhD viva would seem intimidating.

Focus on the fact that you must have passed your transfer viva to have got to the final viva. You must have. It might have been hard, but you did it. You did it because you had whatever you needed to pass.

And you’ll have that for the final viva too.