The viva is a discussion. Questions are asked to prompt and probe; responses are given to move the conversation along. Your examiners ask questions and make comments to explore your research and your capability.

If your examiners disagree with you in the viva: ask them questions if needed, then listen and figure out what – if anything – you have to say in response.

And if your examiners agree with you in the viva, then the process is the same: ask them questions if needed, then listen and figure out what – if anything – you have to say in response.

It’s understandable why any candidate might worry about examiners disagreeing with them. It’s helpful to remember that disagreement does not mean failure. It’s helpful to remember that you can engage with critical questions and comments; that’s what you’re supposed to do as part of the viva.

It’s also helpful to remember that the vast majority of vivas are successful.


You’re not Doctor Somebody until graduation. On the day of the viva you’ll pass, you’ll shake hands perhaps, and after that you’ll smile whenever someone uses the title.

It’s not official until the corrections are done, checked, passed and after that until the first opportunity for graduation. Universities have ways of doing things that stretch back through years of tradition, after all.

You’re not a doctor until you graduate…

…but there’s no great harm in telling anyone and everyone that you did it! You’ve done it! You’ve passed, succeeded and completed!

You have to wait for a piece of paper before it’s official. So be it. You know what you know and you’ve done what you’ve done.

Defining Viva Success

You have to define what it means for you.

Having a good conversation?


Passing with a certain outcome?

Feeling happy on the day?

Not feeling nervous?

Remember that your definition of viva success can be a motivation to you, so it’s helpful to have something in mind.

Remember also that not every aspect of the viva is within your control. If your definition of success is not something you can directly influence it might be worth rethinking how you frame it.

What does viva success mean to you? And how does that help you work towards a good outcome?

Enough Stuff

The simplest definition of what you need to pass the viva: enough stuff.

Enough of a thesis. Enough results or findings to write up. Enough data. Enough work.

Enough papers read. Enough knowledge in your brain. Enough talent built up through your work.

Enough confidence to stand up to any nerves. Enough self-belief to know you have enough.

There will always be more you could do, more you could learn, more you could write, more you could do to prepare. But you don’t need more. You just need enough.

If you have any doubts then ask others for help. Ask your supervisor what you need. Learn about viva expectations. Take time to get ready.

When the time comes you will realise that you have enough of everything you need to succeed.

You probably had it for a long time.


What will you do when you pass your viva?

Who will you tell first?

On that day, maybe that evening, after the first thrill has passed, what will you do to mark the occasion?

(it may be that you have to get a little creative of course, depending on when you have your viva…)

Once you have these images of celebration and success in mind, use them to motivate you. Use them to persuade yourself that you’re on track. Use them to boost your confidence or commitment to getting ready.

And use them to make your imagined celebrations real, when the time comes.


Picture two friends: the first has just passed their viva, the second is trying to unpick what happened…

…I was really lucky with the questions-

-lucky? Why, were they easy?

Well… No, they were pretty challenging in places. I was lucky because I knew how to answer them well.

Lucky? The answers just came to you?

…noooo, they were things I’d considered before. Or I could figure them out. They were tricky, but I could deal with them. I guess it’s lucky my examiners decided to ask those particular questions.

There’s that word again! Lucky? Did they just use a big list of random questions? Was it super-lucky that those were the ones they picked off the list?

OK, I see what you’re saying! My thesis will have guided them a bit-

-“a bit”?!

…I don’t know! What do you want me to say?!

Your thesis didn’t just happen! None of it’s “luck”! You did this!

I know, I know. I get what you’re saying… I still feel lucky!

…did you get corrections?


Do you accept responsibility for them?

Of course!

Then accept responsibility for the rest too!

It’s not luck that did your PhD or helped you through the viva.

Accept responsibility.

Fate Accomplished

“What determines your fate in the viva?” is one of the more unusual questions I’ve been asked in seminars.

  • Could it be your topic? Perhaps you need to choose something that resonates with your examiners and others.
  • In which case, could it be your examiners? Maybe you need the “right” ones to listen to you, read your work and ask the “right” questions.
  • So maybe the biggest element is your supervisors? Their mentoring helps develop you and your thesis over many years.
  • But then surely it has to be your thesis, right? A great thesis means you’ve shown yourself in a good light.

The common factor is you. You undertook the topic, you wrote your thesis, you worked with you supervisor and you’ll answer your examiners in the viva. It might be overreaching to claim you determine your fate in the viva, but you’re definitely the biggest factor of your own success.

(Apologies for the title! It just jumped out at me!)