No Choice

You have no choice about having a viva or not. No real choice about who your examiners will be. No choice about how they feel or what questions they ask. No choice about how much time you’ll have after submission to prepare. You probably have no choice about how a question will feel when it’s asked.

But you can choose to submit your thesis. You can choose to think about potential examiners and give suggestions to your supervisor. You can choose to prepare, you can decide how you’ll spend your time. You can choose your mindset. However a question feels you can choose to answer as best as you possibly can.

You can choose to go to your viva as ready as you can be.

Make your choice.

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?

Worrying About Imperfections

Fear and worry about the viva is common. I think some of the biggest worries come from very simple things. A concern that some aspect won’t be quite right in the viva. Concern about an imperfection creates a worry that the viva will become a terrible place, somewhere to be afraid.

It’s not silly to worry, it’s not easy to dismiss fears, but they can be overcome.

Reflect, maybe write down: what’s the worst that could happen? Be reasonable about the situation, real or imagined, and be thoughtful about the outcome. What would it mean? What would it really mean for the viva? What’s the worst that could happen…

  • …if you don’t know something?
  • …if your external wasn’t your personal favourite?
  • …if you forget an idea?
  • …if you find a really clunky paragraph during your prep?
  • …if you forget a reference?
  • …if your examiner is not sure of something they read?

In many cases, if you really unpick concerns, you’ll see “the worst” is not so bad. Worries could be uncomfortable, but not disqualifying.

Imperfections are not always within your control. You can’t be the perfect candidate, have a perfect thesis or have a perfect viva. You’re not expected to be. You can always think, you can always act, you can always try.

What’s the worst that could happen? What can you do about it?

(probably a lot)


It’s not nice to feel stressed or anxious. Trying to unpick why you feel that way can sometimes feel like a difficult task too. What if, by paying attention to it, you end up feeling even more stressed? I know that’s been the case for me in the past. I’ll find something stressful, focus on it, and then find myself unable to take that focus away. What happens? More stress!

I think, though, part of the problem for me has always been to focus on thinking it through. Reflection is good, but it only becomes useful if it leads to action.

There are lots of reasons you could feel stressed about the viva, and it is good to unpick why you might feel that way. But then you have to do something about it.

Worried you’ll forget something? Why? I feel I have a poor memory! OK, what could you do about it? Read my thesis, make some summaries.

Nervous about getting questions about your contribution? Why? What if my examiners are critical?! OK, what could you do about it? Explore the value of what I’ve found through my research.

Concerned about explaining your results? Why? They’re tricky! OK, what could you do about it? Have a mock viva and prompt supervisor to ask questions about that chapter.

It’s not nice to feel stressed or nervous, but those feelings don’t tend to just go away by themselves. Ask yourself why you feel that way, then think about what you could do to improve things. Then do it. Keep doing it. You might not be able to get rid of every stressful thought, but you’ll do something to build your confidence and talent for the viva.