Today’s not just any day. It’s my birthday!

It’s not just any birthday. It’s a big birthday!

People feel all sorts of things about big birthdays.

Some are happy, some are sad. Some want to party, or be left alone. Some want to make big changes, or feel happy just going on as they were.

And perhaps some people, today, don’t quite know what to think or do about their big birthday. There’s so much going on in the world. Parties are more or less impossible, for very good reasons, and celebrating doesn’t feel as important as it might otherwise. For some people, a big birthday might leave them really wondering what to do.


Vivas are a lot like big birthdays. People respond to them in many different ways too.

There are lots of things that impact how a candidate feels about their viva. There isn’t a default feeling or set response. Happy or sad. Excited or worried. One candidate needs help from others while another desperately wants to be left alone. There are just so many emotions and needs that can be floating around a PhD candidate as they get close to their viva.

Whatever those emotions and needs are though, they will need to do something. To build on their confidence, or do more to get ready. To unpick an uncertainty, or ask a friend for support. To take it easy or work that little bit harder. Every candidate, once they’ve figured out where they are, can map out where they need to be – then do something to get that little bit closer to being ready and being in their viva.


It’s my birthday, and I don’t quite know what to do with myself, but I can at least do something nice: if you’ve been thinking about whether or not to buy any of my viva-related ebooks – all available here at Payhip – then the next few days might be a good time to pick them up. Use the code NATHANISFORTY at the checkout before next Sunday (24th January 2021) and you’ll get 40% off. Simple as that.

Now I’m going to take the rest of the day off! That’s a start 🙂

Thanks for reading.

How You Feel

If you feel good about your viva, ask yourself, “Why?”

If you feel nervous about your viva, ask yourself “Why?”

If you feel forgetful, ask yourself “Why?”

If you feel excited, ask yourself “Why?”

Different emotions seem good or bad when you think about your viva. In all cases, unpick them a little. However you feel, think about what you need to do next. You may not be in total control of how you feel, but you can do something. You might not need to change anything, but maybe you can add to how you feel.

Good and ready.

Nervous, but confident.

Forgetful, but prepared.

Excited and grounded.

So how do you feel? Why? How could you add to that in a positive way?

Nervous Is Normal

I haven’t met many PhD graduates or future viva candidates who weren’t at least a little nervous. Nervous is very common; if you feel it before your viva then you’re in a pretty normal state.

But nervous doesn’t usually comfortable.

We can distinguish between good nerves and bad nerves, the former before a happy event, the latter before something unwanted. In both cases there’s probably a degree of importance with the event. Nervousness and importance are correlated, two factors braided together in life’s tapestry. What if… something unexpected happens? Or what will happen? What if something goes wrong?

So nervous is normal for the viva. Nervous is sort-of expected given the nature of the viva.

Nervous doesn’t have to be all you feel though. You can feel excited: the viva is one of the last big things to do before the end of your PhD. You can feel knowledgeable: you know your work and your thesis. You can feel talented: you must be capable to get this far.

You can feel confident you are in the right place, ready to act.

Nervous is normal for the viva. Many, many more emotions could be normal too.

Being Afraid

Someone asked me last year if it was good to be afraid before the viva: “Is it a good sign?”

There isn’t a straight yes or no answer. We need to unpick what’s going on when we talk about fear and the viva. Three main things come to mind for me.

First, we need to explore: what are you afraid of? Get specific with your fear, don’t let it be a nameless dread. Figure out what you are afraid of, then ask: what can you do about it?

Second, in some cases it’s a fear of the unknown. If it’s so, then work towards finding out more about the viva. Learn about regulations, expectations and experiences. Don’t just stop at feeling afraid.

Finally, we return to the original question: is it a good sign?

In itself I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s bad for fear to dominate. It’s bad if you can’t prepare for or enjoy the viva because you’re so afraid. The fear is a symptom of something else. You’re so nervous that now you’re afraid.

Nervousness correlates with importance. You’re afraid because you’re nervous, you’re nervous because the viva is important.

It’s good to recognise the viva as important, but bad if nerves stop you being prepared for it.