Just because some properties of the PhD and the viva are difficult to count, that doesn’t mean they’re infinite.

There’s only so many papers you could have read.

Only so many ideas you’ve had time to consider.

Only so many experiments you could have tried.

Only a few months at most for you to prepare.

Only so many questions that you’ll be asked.

Only so many words you could use to answer a question.

Only a short time really that you’ll be in the viva.

There are real boundaries. You might not be able to see them but they are there.

You can’t do everything, so think about the finite steps you can take to get yourself from where you are to where you want to be.


There’s a mindset of exploration in viva preparation.

  • Exploring what you did: not simply reading your thesis, but digging into it.
  • Exploring what it means: reflecting on what you think now.
  • Exploring recent literature: updating what you know and what might matter.
  • Exploring your examiners: what they know and do.
  • Exploring the possibilities for the viva: what might or might not happen.

If you’ve done the work for a PhD, being an explorer is probably second nature to you. You’re good at exploring; to prepare well for the viva you just need to continue using skills you already have.

Prep Scores

There’s several strands running through how prepared a candidate could feel for the viva. You might know your thesis back-to-front, but be worried about answering questions. You could feel shaky on what vivas are actually like, but feel certain that you know about your examiners’ research interests.

Building on this post from last year, here’s a quick exercise to help you get a grip on how you’re doing and what you could do to boost your confidence. Give yourself a mark out of ten for each of the following:

  • Awareness of your field;
  • Knowledge of your research;
  • Confidence in your abilities as a researcher;
  • Confidence in what you’ve written in your thesis;
  • Ability to answer questions and discuss your research;
  • Awareness of your examiners’ research;
  • Certainty about viva expectations.

Which is highest? Why? Can you be even better or have greater confidence?

Which is lowest? Why? What’s your plan for that particular aspect?

For all of these, how could you increase your mark by one point? What steps could you take? Who could you ask for help?

Now, what will you actually do?

(if you’re looking for help, there’s a lot of it on this blog, on the Resources and Elsewhere pages, and of course in the Podcast Archive!)

Forewarned Is Forearmed

I got a striking question at a workshop last month:

What are the skills or tools to arm myself with for a successful viva?

I like this question a lot. There’s a built-in assumption that the viva is achievable. You can prepare for it, it’s not about luck. Like the PhD, it’s about talent and work.

My answer?

Arm yourself with your thesis. Annotate it in a useful way.

Arm yourself with knowledge about the viva. Ask around for the regulations and expectations.

Arm yourself with opportunities to discuss your research with others. This will hone your ability to think and talk for the viva.

For most candidates, these aren’t any new skills or tools to acquire. It’s simply a continuation of practice. Preparing for the viva isn’t difficult if you’ve done the work to produce a thesis. You have all of the skills you need to meet the challenge ahead.


An idea for Saturday: six minute viva prep workout! It’s playful, but there’s serious prep at work here too.

Got a voice recording app on your phone, tablet or computer? That’s all you need. Make sure you can keep an eye on a clock or timer.

There are four items on the following list for you to talk about. Focus on one at a time. Don’t worry if you say um or pause to think. Don’t worry if you say less or more than the indicated time. Just try.

Start recording.

  • Talk for one minute about why you got interested in your research area.
  • Talk for two minutes about the general thrust of your thesis.
  • Talk for two minutes about how you did your research.
  • Talk for one minute about the importance of your results.

All done? Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to come and listen back to the recording in two days.

When you listen back, what do you notice? What would you say more or? Less of? What did you forget?

Practice is key, but without reflection you don’t get all the benefits.

The Viva Prep Handbook


Last week I delivered my independent Viva Survivor workshop. I’ve been excited about the possibility for a long time, and to finally do something in this way was great. I’ll try to write something about it soon, but wanted instead today to share something that I made for the workshop: The Viva Prep Handbook.

The Viva Prep Handbook_AIt started life as wanting to do a nice two-page handout for participants. It grew into a small zine, a 12-page booklet dense with practical viva preparation. It’s concise, around 3000 words, and I really like how it turned out. Here’s how it begins:

It may be that you have a luxury of time available to you between submission and the viva. It is more likely that you may have no choice but to prepare in your spare time because of work or life circumstances. This is not a problem. Why? Because this is how many PhD graduates have prepared for the viva. You can do it too.

Through the rest of this concise book I will be presenting tools and processes that you can break down into small, manageable tasks and activities. Viva preparation is not a full time job: follow these tips, tools and processes to manage your time and energy well.

You can see more about it over on the Books page, along with the print edition of my first book Fail Your Viva. It costs £3.49 to have one delivered to your door (and there are options if you want to buy it in bulk too, or buy it with Fail Your Viva). Sales help to support the podcast’s overheads and my business. I like the short but useful format of the zine, and I think I will make a few more guides like this before the end of the year.

If The Viva Prep Handbook sounds useful to you, go ahead and order a copy from the Books page – or via the Paypal button at the bottom of this post – I’ll get it in the post to you as soon as possible! And if you want to know more, just drop me an email.

Thanks for reading.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

The Viva Prep Handbook

Viva Survivor Workshop Update 1!

A week ago I announced my viva preparation workshop, Viva Survivor, which is taking place on June 29th in Manchester. I’ve been delivering these workshops in universities for six years, but this is the first time that I’ll be offering it directly to PhD candidates – and I want to make it extra special for people who are coming. Over the next four weeks I’ll be blogging here and over on my work blog about the behind the scenes things as I prepare for this workshop; this is my first update over here, so let’s recap:

I’m writing a blog post soon for my main work blog about books, but here is a sneak peek: I’ve created a paperback print run for my first book Fail Your Viva!


Participants at the workshop will receive a copy as part of their participant pack, and I made a print run of 100 copies to be able to offer the book directly. I’ve created a books page where you can order them from me, and have a stack of padded envelopes ready and waiting to send them on their way. I love reading books on my Kindle, but there’s something awesome about a print book. If print is more your thing, then maybe this is what you’ve been looking for! Check here for more details.

I have some more great things to share about the workshop over the coming weeks – and plus next week the podcast is four years old, so I’ll do something fun over the week to celebrate that 🙂

Thanks for reading – check out the Eventbrite page for more details, and if you know someone who might be interested then feel free to share this with them!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

New Viva Preparation Workshop!

Two posts in one week! 🙂

Eagle-eyed visitors to the site might have spotted a new addition to the pages; that’s a link to a description of the Viva Survivor workshop that I’ve been delivering at universities since 2010. I thought it would be useful to make that connection on here – some people know me for the podcast, some people know me for the workshop, now everyone will connect me to both.

I love doing Viva Survivor, and I’ve delivered it to almost 2000 PGRs around the UK. For the longest time I’ve wanted to deliver an independent workshop to PGRs. I plan to keep delivering the session in universities for a long time to come, but I’ve been thinking about new challenges for a while. An independent viva prep workshop that was open to PGRs from any university seemed impossible for a long time until I visited Ziferblat, a really great meeting space in Manchester.

As a result of finding that venue, I present Viva Survivor, a three hour viva preparation workshop in Manchester on the afternoon of June 29th 2016. Full details are at the Eventbrite booking page, but here’s the short version: Viva Survivor is a workshop designed to help PGRs effectively prepare for the viva. If you come then by the end of the session you will have

  • identified what examiners are looking for when they examine your thesis;
  • discussed the many ways that others can support your preparation;
  • explored valuable viva preparation methods;
  • established realistic expectations for your viva;
  • discussed common questions about the PhD viva.

I want to make this an amazing experience: I want people to leave knowing that they are set for the viva, that they know what to expect and what to do. I’m going to be providing excellent supporting materials, including ebooks, print books, handouts and more, maybe a few surprises to make people smile! And Ziferblat is going to be providing an excellent venue and refreshments for the day.

Sound good? I hope so. Please come! More details and booking is on the Eventbrite page; places are limited and while I want to run more of these in the future I have no dates or plans at the moment. Please share this with others, let them know that there is an independent workshop happening to help PhD students prepare for the viva. Come along and meet PGRs from other institutions, find out how to prepare and what to expect.

If you want to know more, then get in touch: drop me an email, tweet at me or leave a comment here! I’ll be posting details about the workshop over the coming weeks, announcing things that I’m excited about. If you want to know more now then please contact me.

Thanks for reading, and if you can, please help me share this exciting new opportunity with others.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


Shout-Out: The PhD Vlog Video

Today seems like a good day to do a shout-out for the video that I made with Emma Cole earlier this year. Emma produces the PhD Vlog YouTube channel and has made lots of great videos to highlight what the PhD is like. I think that it’s particularly valuable for candidates approaching the final year; it gives good ideas of the kinds of pressure and work that can affect postgraduate researchers.

We chatted over Twitter when Emma was doing a series on the final 30 days of her PhD, and thought that it might be fun to do a video on preparing for the viva for her channel. As I prepare this post it’s had almost a thousand views, which is amazing. If you’ve not seen the video check it out (below). It’s just under 9 minutes, and we talk through common viva topics, as well as ideas for preparing for the viva.

Oh, and why is today a good day to re-share the video? Because today, unless something technical goes wrong, I’ll be interviewing Emma – now Dr Emma Cole – about her viva for a forthcoming episode of the podcast! Stay tuned to Twitter or subscribe to the blog for alerts.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out!

"The Viva: Who? What? How?"

The Viva: Who? What? How? is out now!

What is this?

An ebook. Twenty-seven chapters, nearly 20,000 words, and answers to the most frequently asked questions about the PhD viva in the UK. I deliver viva preparation workshops, and over the last five years I’ve got a great understanding about the questions that distract PhD candidates. This book helps eliminate those distractions.

There are more details below, but if all you want are the purchase links, here they are!

  • In the UK, The Viva: Who? What? How? is in the Kindle Store here.
  • In the UK and around the world, The Viva: Who? What? How? is available from Payhip here.

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