calling all post viva people!


I wanted to ask those of you who are now successfully on the other side of your viva for any top viva prep tips.

Time is slipping away for me and while I pulled all the stops out to submit, my motivation for thesis associated work has plummeted :-( I am preparing, sort of, kind of, a bit ... Any tips???


I read through my thesis over one week. As I read them, I wrote down a short sentence (around 5 words) on what each paragraph said (so that I could find things easier).

I highlighted the findings and implications of each chapter, and put a post it not so they were easy to find. Also post it note on other key pages like list of research questions, list of findings, limitations.

Put post it notes for the start of each chapter (just so that it's easier to find).

list strength and weaknesses of each chapter. what would you do differently if you had another go at it?

I read all those 'viva questions' available online and on this forum and THOUGHT about what I would say. However, none of these questions ever came up in my viva so I am glad I didn't spend too much time on this. It just helped to settle my nerves knowing that should they ask these hard questions, then had a rough idea of how to answer them.

Think of what other directions you could take your work in the future (other than the ones you have already listed in your thesis). Have a look at your examiners' background and see if there's any new angle that they would like you to see from.

Biggest tip of all is to not stress, get enough sleep, don't do any work the day before and relax! Good luck!!

Avatar for DrCorinne

======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 09:47:07 =======
Hello Ady,

First of all you should think that your thesis is going to speak for you. Unless you are going to make a complete fool of yourself at the viva - which is unlikely - you will be fine.

The suggestion about using post-its is excellent.

I summarised the main points of each chapters and thought about possible issues that might have been picked by the examiners, but none of these came up. I couldn't have thought about their questions even if I had spent night and day thinking about them, but the point is: you are able to handle them, because you know your research.

The only slightly awkward (but perhaps this is not the right word) thing was that the examiners didn't really leave much time to think about the answers. They were clearly keen to go through as many points as possible in the two hours.

So, be prepared to think quickly. Practice with your supervisor, if he is available, otherwise friends/ colleagues etc. will do.

You will do a great job, but I know that waiting for it is nerve-wrecking. Anyway, good luck (but you won't need it!)



My top tip would just be to know your thesis and know how it fits into the wider research context - past, present and future. I think that it's also a good idea to summarise your thesis and its individual chapters - but just a brief summary. I had made up a list of about 50 possible viva questions but I didn't prepare any answers to them at all - I just looked them over and thought that if any of these questions came up then I know that I could've answered them - I didn't prepare answers because I wanted my answers to be fresh if you know what I mean.

I was really worried when I went into my viva but I forgot that the questions were going to be about my work and that's what made it okay. I was challenged about a few decisions I made with regard to the methodology and the sources but because it was my work I knew about them.

I am sure that you will be fine and I'm looking forward to hearing about it!



Thanks guys, I really appreciate and value your input. Interestingly you are all really saying a version of the same thing, ie it's my research, I know it and it's up to me. I DO know my own research but get really nervous thinking about all the things I don't know. I was a bit ambitious in my head with what I wanted to do with the prep. I think the advice to go through it and summarise the various paragraphs and sections into short bite-size chunks is great. Methodology wise, yes there are counter-arguments but (fingers crossed) I think I can defend what I did. It's the theory and abstraction of what I found to a higher level is what has me quivering.

thanks again Pink_Numbers, Dr Corinne and Alexandrak - hopefully I can join your club in the new year!


======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 13:36:16 =======
I reviewed my thesis the day before the viva. On reflection, this was not ideal because the lack of preparation made me nervous but interestingly no amount of preparation could have prepared me for my experience. I am being very honest about that. It's often said and I now honestly believe it that the decision is made prior to viva (at least in most cases). I did expect an easy entry to the viva but apart from the first question which was straightforward the questions were tough, designed to pick up on all the perceived weaknesses of the work, and it was a very unpleasant experience. Looking back, I now believe they intended to pass me and didn't want to waste time going through the thesis but picked the parts they wanted clarification on. Expect the unexpected but with your work ethic and thorough supervisor do expect to pass.

Do as much preparation as you need in order to reassure yourself but I feel you know your thesis. If you know of anyone who has had your internal and external ask about their approach to questioning (softly, hard, direct). What threw me was I was told my external had a reassuring manner and would do all to put me at my ease. The reality was the external was professional, fair but took a very direct approach to questioning and wanted no fluff or padding.


======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 15:05:54 =======
======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 15:03:47 =======
Trying to find my thread on mine....
here you go....PART ONE

To start with, I WAS a nervous wreck in the final week leading up to the viva. I felt ill through the anxiety of it all but learnt that the more I prepared for it, the more the anxiety eased off a bit. In hindsight I'd rather have spent more time in the preparation, but as it was, due to commitments, I spent a solid week organising my thoughts and I mean SOLID (like 10am through to 10pm or later some nights). I hadn't really been briefed what to expect by my supervisor other than "A presentation would be helpful, no more than 30 minutes", and "It's ok to disagree with them. Defend your work. Be confident.".........well, a presentation of almost four years work (in my case) condensed into 20 slides and being "confident" were no small task. I took it apon myself to check out my external examiner's latest publications AND my internal examiner's. After going through a huge list I found one or two publications which had topics of relevance to my own thesis. I read them. I am VERY glad I did this as I was able to then appreciate the thoughts of both examiners in regard to some of the subject areas that cropped up in my thesis. I was then able to prepare my presentation with some forethought and bring out my defence in areas where I could see there may be some questions, preemptively! I disarmed the questions before they could be asked. I also took in journal publications to back up my defence (more on this later). I didn't summarise my thesis into one page per chapter (as is suggested on some websites) as I understood that in preparing my presentation, I was essentially doing the same thing. I read a great deal online about viva preparation and experience whilst preparing my presentation which I think in hindsight DID help. The best sites for me were the ones that explained it from an examiners point of view and those where the emphasis is on boosting your confidence, NOT the ones with all the horror stories! "


======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 15:06:29 =======

The Day.
Mine was brought forward by an hour earlier than I had been previously informed. GULP. This meant a very rushed light lunch for me (which I forced down my throat because I really didn't want to eat anything). EAT breakfast. EAT lunch if yours is in the afternoon. Take in water (I actually got through almost a litre in mine and I'm not a big water drinker, but at least I was well hydrated, which we all know helps the brain). Take in biscuits. (Mine were untouched). I was nervous but attempted to be assertive and courteous at the same time. I DID take time to think things through before answering and I didn't worry about making the examiners wait for my answers. I couldn't answer everything but didn't bluster about it, I simply said so. I defended HONESTLY and was congratulated for this.

My examiners had what looked like an awful amount of sticky notes all over my thesis and I was terrified that I was going to be ripped to shreds, but as it turned out I think I managed to disarm some of the questions in my presentation anyway and others came out as I was talking generally. In my case I found my external examiner, though he asked more thought provoking questions, easier to deal with than my internal examiner, who it seemed was there just to make my life a bit difficult (I might feel a bit different about this once I've had some time to reflect). I'd say DON'T let the number of sticky notes you can see on the dissetation put you off or make you more nervous. I don't think any examiner gets through all the questions they might like to pose.

As for journal publications which might help you defend contentious points, I DID use mine and it did give my internal examiner no room for manouvre when he asked me questions about how I'd gone about using a certain technique. His paper was a conference publication which had said what I'd actually done in my thesis wasn't possible. I had a journal publication which showed why it was, and I'd implemented it. If I hadn't had this with me (through doing some background reading on my internal examiner) I would have had a much harder time defending it. Do try to find things that are relevant to your research that your internal and external examiners have published. It will show their train of thought when reading your thesis and give you a little bit more of an advantage.

I was asked all manner of questions. Do remember that some of these questions ARE a matter of opinion of the examiners and not gospel. Don't roll over if you disagree. But at all times, be polite and courteous about it. It ISNT personal, and you do have to keep reminding yourself of this.

My viva took roughly three hours and I was asked to leave the room. I wasn't left waiting long at all which did surprise me. I know it was less than ten minutes, and I have a feeling it was much shorter than that. Essentially I didn't really have time to worry about the final conclusion, I was only ust starting to think about the relief of no more questions. It was quite an intense experience but it did go quicker than I realised and at NO point did I feel as rough as I had done in the lead up to it. In hindsight I'd have sat there alot longer if needed and didn't feel I needed to call time on it. The examiners just suddenly seemed to stop.

When I was called back in, I was given time to get myself seated again and I was immediately told that I had done enough to warrant passing my PhD. I was GENUINELY shocked. I was told I would have some corrections to do (minor). To be perfectly honest it hasn't really sunk in yet.

I hope this helps someone, I had two proper panic attacks before mine.


Hey Ady! I can really only echo what the others have said. I only had 5 days to prepare for my viva, but in hindsight I could not have done any more than I did in those 5 days. I didn't get many of the expected questions (which I had prepared answers to!) but did have 2 hours of questions that I'd never have dreamt up even if I'd had months to prepare. But there was nothing I could answer- I had to pause a couple of times to think about what I was going to say, and there were some really tough questions, but you will manage them just fine. The best thing to do is just to know your thesis inside out and just question even the most obvious things, such as 'why did I choose this measure over an alternative one?' etc etc.
Loads of luck with it, you'll do grand :) xx


======= Date Modified 13 Dec 2011 15:54:11 =======
Again, thanks for the replies. C++girl, I remember you writing so honestly about your viva. I don't think I could eat a thing either and would be afraid that I would slurp the water - not an impressive start! I know a fair bit about my external examiner and even downloaded his own thesis from the early 1990s from ethos! Don't know if it helped as he used mixed methods whereas mine is qualitative all the way. Still his acknowledgments made for interesting reading and gave me an insight into him! My internal I also know and as you say, she is all about the 'big picture'. She is also very much a 'less is more' type person so I can see a few areas where she might take issue with me. I actually wouldn't mind doing a presentation but don't think it's normal in my discipline unless the thesis is very quantitative.

@Delta, thanks for your honest account; a bit scary but no point sugar-coating things. I think I agree with you that it's all but decided before the candidate enters the room. A pity for me as I think I can argue my case better orally than I have in my thesis. I sent you a pm, btw.

Thanks all (up)

Edit: just see your post now KB - thanks for taking time to reassure me - I'm never happy unless I'm stressing about something! Hope your postdoc is going well :-)


Ady, try to remember the odds are firmly stacked in your favour. Your supervisor would not have let you submit if your work was less than PhD standard (and your supervisor read your thesis carefully). You've worked very, very hard and know your work best. Your examiners would rather pass you than fail you. However, you are lacking something...confidence. Throughout your three years you'll have had to make decisions about how and why you did things, you just need to defend those decisions if questioned about them. You can and will do it - I know it!!! I just feel sorry for all of you that have to wait until the new year.


Write a 1-page summary of each of your chapters and revise the key points.

Write a summary of every conceivable way that your thesis contributes to knowledge - and compartmentalise this (in my case, it was opening a dialogue between branches of political thoery that had never been attempted, plus bringing pyshcoanalytiocal theory in to the study of contemporary global politics, plus basing my research around case studies that did not exist in the current literature and which shed a new light on the phenomena in question, which in my case was protest movements associated with the spectre of global civil society).

Understand that your viva is not going to be a horrific, Kafka-esque trial. No one wants you to fail, and neither examiner wants to trip you up. The external should lead 75%-ish of the viva, with the internal tending to ask follow-on questions, and once you get through the initial questions (one of which will absoltuely be about how your work contributes to knowledge in an original fashion) then it should become more like a conversation than an exam.


Quote From wj_gibson:

Write a 1-page summary of each of your chapters and revise the key points.

Thank you W J Gibson - really useful advice. Your contribution sounds brill. I have it broken down in the thesis into contributions in five different ways so I need to be able to articlulate that.

Right, I get it, I hear you all!! - a summary of paragraphs/chapters is the way to go. I am on that from now til viva (up)


Hi Ady,

I have not read all the postings on this thread, so perhaps it has been mentioned already, yet "Bilbo" has put quite a lot of useful advice as viva preparation on here. May be you can find his / her remarks in previous threads.

One of the issues was to summarise each page of your thesis in a few sentences only. I think Bilbo also mentioned the importance of what does your thesis contribute to science, awareness of problem areas of the thesis, what you have learned during the PHD process, what would you do differently if you would do it again and to bring in a list of typos you have found. Bilbo mentioned the book from Tinkler and Jackson.

Good luck


Yes I've posted my viva tips here a lot. Quoting from my viva experience blog post:

"I couldn't have anticipated most of the questions that came up. In my viva preparation it was more important that I was confident enough to deal with anything the examiners asked on the day, and that comes from knowing your thesis well. I read mine before the viva, and summarised it so I engaged with it more actively. I also thought about 5 key areas: originality of my thesis, contribution to knowledge, methodology, weaknesses/gaps/mistakes, and what would I do differently if starting again. I didn't have (or want) a mock viva, but found reading the book by Tinkler & Jackson useful for demystifying the viva process, and preparing me for the experience."