Lots Of Help

Did you know that there is a link on the Viva Survivors site that takes you to a random post?

You can click here and the magic of the internet will, today, whisk you away to one of almost 2000 posts.

(there’s a very small chance that it will bring you back here!)

I just used the link three times and it gave me these posts:

  • Show Your Working – exploring the idea of demonstrating what you have done.
  • And So On – thoughts on engaging with questions in the viva.
  • Unscripted – a short post about the value of rehearsal.

If you’re looking for help with the viva there is a lot of it on this site now. A lot. And there is even more out there in the world. Your institution, your supervisors, your friends, other great blogs and resources.

Whatever you need for the viva, whatever’s missing, you can find help if you look for it or if you ask.

And if you’re not sure what you need then you can’t go too wrong by clicking to get a random post of viva help.

Out Now: Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology

I’m thrilled to announce that Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is out today! I celebrated with my book launch party yesterday and am now very happy that the book is available to buy. What is it? Here’s a little snippet from the book blurb:

Keep Going collects posts about viva expectations, viva prep and examiners, as well as:

  • reflections on the PhD journey and confidence;
  • practical steps for getting ready for the viva;
  • thoughts on what it really means to survive the viva.

Over 150 posts from five years of writing, carefully curated and edited to be a valuable guide for every postgraduate researcher with a viva in their future.

I’ve been working on Keep Going for the last six months: curating the very best from nearly 1800 blog posts and five years of writing. The book is available now in three places, as an ebook and in print. Here are the links if you’re interested:

It’s been a great project to make this book for the last six months and a thrill to present it to you today.

I define the work I do as “helping PGRs become PhDs”. Keep Going – A Viva Survivors Anthology is made for that purpose. If you have a viva in your future this book will help you know how to be ready for it. If you know someone with their viva coming up then please pass on news of the book.

Thanks for reading!


7 Reasons, 3 Times

I’m happy that over the last year I’ve been able to continue sharing viva help to universities, as well as opening up my 1-hour webinars to PGRs directly. It’s been great to take the opportunity of delivering short sessions over Zoom and to share my work with so many people.

I’ve tried to offer my 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva sessions as regularly as I can, but have been aware that my mostly-Monday morning slots were not always the most accessible time.

So! I’m delivering 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva three times in the coming weeks:

Despite delivering the same webinar for three days in a row there are no video recordings involved – I will be delivering the session live each time. An hour of viva help, key information, top tips, practical pointers, a chance to ask questions and get answers – plus a follow-up email summarising the session and sharing even more.

Registration for all of these sessions is open now: places are limited and until midnight this Wednesday there is a special earlybird ticket. If your viva is some time this year, if you’re looking for help or advice, if you need to know what you need to know about the viva process then this session is for you.

You can find links and details for all of the dates here, plus the date for another session in July (which is likely to be my final date until September). If you have questions about 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva just email or tweet and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading! I hope to share this session with you soon 🙂


It’s useful to get recommendations from others on lots of things connected with the viva.

  • Suggestions on what makes for good and bad examiners.
  • Ideas on what a good thesis looks like.
  • Tips for viva preparation.
  • Tools to help you get ready.
  • Advice on whether or not to have a mock viva.
  • Help with feeling confident before the big day.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for any of these though. Ask for help, listen to recommendations, then sift with the ideas you get from others to see how you might apply them to your circumstances.

And after your viva be prepared to offer your own recommendations. Couch them as best you can in terms of ideas only. Leave space for people to make their own decisions, rather than give them room to doubt themselves.

Considering Examiners

I’ve frequently been asked, “What should I consider when selecting an examiner?” – a question which usually produces a very long response from me, but I’ll try to be brief and keep it simple!

First, candidates don’t get to select – they can be part of the discussion with supervisors, but supervisors choose.

Second, there’s no should. Good examiner qualities come from candidate preferences. Some will want an examiner they’ve cited; others won’t. Some want an expert, others will want a generalist.

Think about your preferences. What criteria does that give you? Who might meet those criteria? Talk it over with your supervisor.

I think the most useful criteria – for a candidate – are having met the examiners and knowing what other people say about them. If you’ve met your examiner at a conference or around your department then you know this is a real person. It’s not just a name at the top of a paper. And if you know what others say about them, you can build up a picture from their reputation about the kind of person who is going to be examining you.

Start with your preferences. Discuss with your supervisor. Be certain of who is coming.

3 Kinds Of Viva Clickbait

You won’t see these articles on the internet, but you will see them in what people say and how they tend to talk about the viva…

This person had their viva and OMG you’ll never guess what happened next!!!!!

Viva Coming Up?! Do these 4 Things academics don’t want YOU to know and you’ll get ZERO CORRECTIONS!!!!!!!!!!

Eliminate viva nerves with this one weird trick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There is lots of clickbait around the viva. Because it is as seen as mysterious, uncertain – maybe even unwelcome – discussion and advice can be dominated by headlines, short thoughts and a desire to move past it quickly.

We need to take time with the viva. It might sometimes be uncomfortable, but go past the clickbait for a deep dive; reflection rather than quick tips. That’s what will help.

Vague Wishes & Specific Asks

I’ve been a huge fan of Tim Ferriss for the best part of a decade. His books and podcast have been a great inspiration to me (as they are to many people). Recently, I put aside the time to annotate his two most recent books Tools Of Titans and Tribe Of Mentors, both of which are about asking others for their advice. In Tribe Of Mentors he asked hundreds of peak performers in many fields the same eleven questions, and gave them the freedom to answer in whatever form they wanted. As a result, the book is fascinating: full of really interesting ideas, patterns of behaviour and thought among successful people.

Tim outlines why he embarked on the project in this LinkedIn post, which is a copy of the main introduction to Tribe Of Mentors. There’s a lot of really useful ideas here too – just generally, never mind for the viva! – but one line stood out to me in particular:

Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.

This resonated with me in thinking about viva preparation. Viva preparation does not have to be a solo project. I imagine most people will spend most of their time getting ready alone, but there are really valuable things you can get from others – your supervisor, your colleagues, your friends and family.

All you have to do is ask, but you will get more if you are specific and clear.

Don’t just ask for a mock viva: be clear about when you might need it, if there is someone you’d like for a second mock examiner and if there are topics you really want questions on for specific practice.

Don’t just ask friends for advice: tell them what you want to know, ask them specific questions about their vivas or ask them to read a chapter and then ask questions over coffee.

Don’t just ask for support from loved ones: tell them how they could best help you, then ask them to do it!

Don’t be vague, be specific. There is a lot of help and support available before the viva, but you need to ask clearly for what you need.

Who Helped?

And how did they help?

You did the work for your PhD, but no-one does it completely alone. You have a supervisor or two, helpers, supporters, confidantes, sounding boards, friends, family and folk who want you to succeed. All of them would probably say good luck before the viva, but most of them have done more before then.

Most could do more still to help you prepare.

Who has helped you? How did they help? And what more could you ask for?

Everyone gets help from somewhere. That’s good.

Think about how you’ll be able to help others after you’re done too.

Ask Your Community

It’s your responsibility to do your research; your responsibility to prepare for the viva; your responsibility to engage with your examiners and pass the viva.

But look around: there are lots and lots of people who can support you. They can’t do the work, they can’t do your prep, they can’t answer the questions on the day. They can do a lot to help you through it.

Ask your community for help. Ask colleagues for advice and their time. Ask family for help to give you the space you need. Ask your supervisor for feedback and insight. Ask your institution for help with understanding the regulations and expectations for your viva.

You have to do a lot to get through a PhD, but you don’t have to do it all alone.

“Do It My Way”

Be cautious when someone tells you there’s only one way to get ready for the viva.

I think there are some really good principles in effective preparation. Read your thesis, annotate it, find opportunities to practise, and so on – but there are many ways you could do all of those things.

Some people will want a mock viva (and some candidates will feel they need one), while others will prefer simply talking with friends. I think it’s better for candidates to take their time to read their thesis, but because of preferences or other priorities that won’t be an option for some people.

Ask others about their experiences, ask for advice, but think twice when someone says, “Do it my way.” It will probably be well-intentioned, but it might not work for you. Think about how it fits your thesis, your preferences and the options you have at that time.

And be generous with your advice when sharing it, but understanding to know that what worked for you might not be appropriate for your friend.