The internal examiner dabbed the red away from his lips and paused before settling his stone-grey eyes on the shivering candidate.
“How,” he began, his voice like the echo of a whisper, “How… Hmm… How did you arrive at this choice of methodology?”
A look of pain passed the candidate’s face, a long-held fear finally realised! A moment of sheer terror, a buried tension risen to the surface like a zombie erupting from a grave. No choice, no alternative, but to state with quivering voice:
“I…! I did it… Because my supervisor told me to!”
And with that they fainted.
“Pity,” said the internal, taking another red sip from their chalice, “I had such high hopes for this one.”
A snarling from the external examiner’s secure crate reverberated around the seminar room.
“Well, quite,” said the internal, “A perfectly acceptable answer. And I really wanted to know why they had settled on Magnusson’s ‘Treatise on Ancient Awakenings’ as well…”
It’s possible you’ve heard of a real viva horror story. I know people have negative experiences, but it’s not the majority of experiences, not even close. And they don’t “just happen”. There are always reasons why: problems with the thesis, a research issue that was overlooked, a breakdown between supervisor and candidate.
Good horror stories, the really scary ones, have no reasons.
The Thing is just there in the ice, waiting.
The zombies march, and we don’t know how they came to be.
There are reasons why you did a PhD. Reasons why you’ve got this far. Reasons why your thesis is done. Reasons why you’ll pass your viva. You can be scared by viva horror stories, but you can always unpick why they happened that way. You can be nervous in advance of your own viva, but it’s possible to unpick where that fear comes from. What drives it, what makes it worse, and maybe what could make it better.