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!


Interesting Times Forever

It’s two years since my world changed, just before the first pandemic lockdown in the UK. Two years ago today I shared Interesting Times, thoughts on where I was and where I might be going in the weeks that would follow. A year ago, things had changed and were continuing to change, in ways that a year earlier I couldn’t have predicted. I wrote and shared Still Interesting Times.

And now it is 2022.

In the last year I’ve continued to work from home. I’ve been jabbed three times. I’ve seen my work and life continue to be impacted. I’ve avoided COVID but cared for my wife and daughter while they were poorly with it a few months ago. I’ve been fortunate to keep serving PhD candidates via their universities and sometimes through webinars I’ve set up myself. I’ve been fortunate to keep writing, keep helping and keep responding whenever anyone gets in touch.


What stands out to me when I think about the last two years?

Everyone needs help. Helping others helps us to grow too. So when you can: help. When I think about the viva it reminds me that there are lots of people who need help and lots of people who could help.

  • Candidates should reflect on their needs. What do you need to feel confident? What do you need to know to have a good picture of the viva?
  • Candidates should know they are not alone. Who can you turn to for support? Ask early and be honest. Work to get what you need from supervisors, colleagues, friends and family.
  • PhD graduates can help friends who are finishing. Can you tell your friends how much time you have for them and what you can offer to help? Can you tell your story to help set good expectations?
  • Supervisors should help set expectations with candidates about what is expected in the viva now. Supervisors can guide candidates past doubts and help them to focus on what really matters.
  • Graduate schools, doctoral colleges and doctoral training programmes can support PGRs by offering resources of all kinds that help to emphasise personal development. Share things and do things that help candidates feel stronger as a result.

I’m here too! This blog is updated every day, but you can email me or tweet me if you have questions. There’s almost five years of posts on the blog. There are over sixty viva stories in the podcast archive.


We live in “interesting” times. We always did, of course, but they’ve become even more interesting. More challenging. More surprising. Sometimes, more upsetting.

If you’re reading this though then, like me, you’re still here. Still learning. Still growing. Still making mistakes and persevering. So far, you have managed to keep going in difficult circumstances – and difficult might be an understatement in the last two years.

Get help if you need it, offer it to others if you can, but keep going.

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?