5 Random Posts

Last year, with the help of a plugin, I made a little link that diverts to a random post every time it is used: www.viva-survivors.com/randpost/

I use it to find old posts to read. I look for little thoughts I might want to explore more. Occasionally I remind myself, “Oh wow, I wrote that! That’s pretty bad/good/silly/weird…”

Here are five random posts and five thoughts from them that seemed worth sharing:

  1. You Can’t Do Everything: “You can’t do everything [to get ready], but everything you do will help you.”
  2. Riddles: “…if a question in the viva might feel like a riddle or a challenge, remember it might not have a single right answer. In some cases it will have only the best response you can give.”
  3. Blinkered: “Don’t expect your examiners to know more than you, but don’t expect that you know every possible question or idea either.”
  4. “How Can I Help?”: “You don’t need to have had your viva to help someone else with theirs.”
  5. No Rush: “There’s no rush necessary in your viva preparations or in the viva UNLESS you make it that way.”

Each of those posts is more than a one-liner. And there’s 1600 more to find by using the random post link: www.viva-survivors.com/randpost/

Maybe you’ll find just what you’re looking for.

The S-word

I try to be as careful as possible using the s-word.


You should get ready for your viva this way…

You should be prepared for your examiners to ask…

You should start your viva prep…

Lots of well-meant advice is hard to hear, hard to act on or hard to follow because the person speaking throws the s-word in the mix. It can raise tensions or muddy expectations. It can increase pressure on someone struggling if they hear that they should do something, in a specific way or at a specific time, that conflicts with what they feel able to do.

Don’t ask for people to tell you what you should do to get ready for your viva.

Don’t tell people what they should do for their viva.

Share ideas. Say why something helped you. Tell them what could work. Say why something could be valuable.

Leave the s-word out of it.

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 🙂

New Webinar Dates!

The short version: I have five upcoming webinar times for my 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva session!

7 Reasons has been a super-popular session in the last year since I started it during the first UK lockdown. I’ve developed as part of my offering to UK universities, but also continued to offer it independently with booking via Eventbrite. I’m thrilled that it has been so well-received in the past, and in the last twelve months I’ve shared it with over 650 participants.

I’m next running it on Monday 17th May 2021, 11am UK time, and registration is open now. If you’re looking for support, if you’re looking to find out more about the viva, if you’re looking for a confidence boost and some encouragement, this 1-hour session is for you. Places are limited for each session, and there’s a little earlybird booking discount if you book soon.

I’m so glad that people have found my webinars helpful in the last year – and very excited that I can continue to offer them now. If May 17th doesn’t work for you, but you’re still looking for help, check out this page for dates of all of my upcoming independent webinars – including sessions running on three consecutive days in June at different times. You can ask for reminders there too, as registration opens two weeks before each session.

But if you are free on Monday 17th May, do take a look at 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva – I hope to see you there! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

“How Can I Help?”

If you’ve had your viva, and a friend or colleague has theirs coming soon, ask these four words first, before you start to offer your story, your opinion or your advice. See what support someone needs. Get a sense of how they’re feeling.

If you’ve not had your viva yet, and a friend or colleague has theirs coming soon, still ask how you can help. Your friend might need a sympathetic ear, a sounding board, someone to listen or someone to ask more questions to help them reflect.

You don’t need to have had your viva to help someone else with theirs.

Number Posts

I try not to be clickbait-y in the titles that I choose for posts. Numbers are sometimes really useful to help me round up ideas, and they also help to draw attention too. It dawned on me that in and amongst the many posts I’d published that I had probably done posts “counting down” from ten to one.

I checked – I have!

Another thing about “number” posts: they’re usually pretty clear. While it won’t be enough for you to try to memorise “eight cool things” about your thesis or “ten top references” in your bibliography, giving yourself a nudge with a number could help you to look at your research differently. It might help you to summarise or capture things neatly too.

Used appropriately, numbers can stick in the mind quite well!

Unhelpful Things…

…to say to friends who have their viva coming up:

  • “Good luck!”
  • “Don’t worry!”
  • “You’ll be fine, nearly no-one fails!”

Better things to say include:

  • “You’re talented, don’t forget!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “How are you doing?”

And if you’ve had a viva and it was fine, don’t just tell your friend that they’ll be fine. Tell them why you were fine. Tell them your story, short and simple, but with enough to help them see what the viva can be like – and what helped you be ready for yours.

The Pillow Fort Principle

How can you make a sanctuary for yourself before your viva? How can you make a nice space for preparing, or create an environment that is going to help you feel good as well as get ready? It probably won’t involve setting up cushions and a blanket, but the same idea applies: how can you make a safe, sheltered, secluded space that’s comfortable, quiet and just for you?

What do you need to help make this real?

How do you need your friends and family to support you?

How can you take a little pressure out of your situation to help you get ready for your viva?

I could make suggestions, but they wouldn’t be as good as your responses to these questions.

What kind of a viva prep space are you going to make for yourself?

Hitting A Wall

In your final burst to get to submission, or in your prep for the viva, it’s likely you’ll get tired.

Or you’ll get stuck.

Or you’ll not know what to do.

Or you will know what to do, but you just won’t want to.

Hitting a wall is hard, because it’s often painful. It can come with shame as well. Compared to some PhD stories I’ve heard, I know that I had quite a charmed PhD; nothing too bad happened. I was able to plot and plan my last six months and work to it and that helped. But I still hit the wall a few times on the run-up to my submission. I felt like I should be better, that I shouldn’t be making mistakes.

A lovely and well-intentioned friend in my office told me, Whatever it is Nathan, just get over it.

They were lovely and well-intentioned, but just get over it is, I think, very rarely the answer.

The answer always has to be quite specific, because the question isn’t simply “What do I do?” but “What do I do with this very particular situation of work and feelings and physical circumstances that has lead me to this wall?”

It could be that you’re tired from reading, or can’t make a connection, or you’re fed up with your PhD, or you’re concerned about something you’ve found – and these are the simple descriptions. The answer is going to be specific; you’ll have to find it probably.

The answer could start with:

  • Asking for practical help;
  • Taking a break;
  • Thinking about other situations you’ve overcome;
  • Remembering that you are awesome;
  • Walking away for a while to get perspective.

These are general solutions; they don’t fit every wall. You won’t just get over it, but there are lots of first steps you could take.

Help Is Everywhere

I didn’t have a Viva Survivor course or webinar to help me get ready for my viva. I didn’t know of any books on the topic, or think to look for them. I didn’t search for lists of questions, or blog posts on experiences or how to get ready. The academic community on Twitter hadn’t quite grown into the super-helpful space that it is now.

And there was no podcast with interviews of PhD graduates or blog with 1200+ posts to help candidates!

My point is not, Oh woe is me, I had it so much harder than you do today!

My point is not, I didn’t need anybody and you don’t!!

The point is, There is a wealth of help out there if you need it. Some of it is right here on this site. Some of it might be found in a friend of yours, and you just need to ask. Some of it could be a simple search away.

If you need help getting ready for your viva, it’s out there.

Go get it.