How Many Questions?

I was recently asked how many questions a candidate might get in the viva. What is the range like? wondered the nervous PhD. Was there a minimum or maximum number?

I tried to apply some logic to come up with some numbers, but gave up – the question is a red herring. Examiners will have a lot of questions in mind, some driven by your field, some by their interests, some by your thesis. They’ll have questions that you can expect, and some that you can’t. They’ll ask questions that they didn’t know to ask until you said something interesting in the viva too.

I don’t know how many questions will come up in advance of your viva: we could only know that after the fact.

If you’ve read this blog before then you’ll know I have ideas about how you can prepare for questions though. Do a good piece of research, write a good thesis and spend some practising answering unexpected questions to build your confidence.

Unknowable

How long will your viva be?

What will your examiners think about your thesis?

What questions will they ask?

What award will you get?

How will you feel afterwards?

How long will it take to complete corrections?

You might have expectations, but some questions about your viva have answers that are unknowable at this point.

So focus on what you do know.

Your viva comes at the end of several years of hard work. You did the work. You are talented. You’re more than up to the challenge.

Special

How big a deal is your viva?

There are tens of thousands of them every year in the UK.

Maybe over a thousand in your university.

Even at a department level there could be dozens.

And your examiners may do four or five per year.

And despite all of the work that leads up to it by everyone involved, it will probably be over in a few hours, and will probably be similar to a lot of other vivas that have happened before.

Not that special.

Except…

…your research is unique. Your thesis is one-of-a-kind. You’re the only person who has gone on the research journey you’ve completed. To do it all, you have to be amazing.

Special is relative. From the perspective that matters – yours – the viva is special.

And so are you.