Freaking out about viva!


I have my viva in a few days and am really freaking out about it. In going back over things I see holes in the thesis, typos, I have trouble recalling what I did for some parts of the analysis (but managing to check over it to refresh my memory again). I'm very nervous about what questions i might get, and worried that i won't be able to answer them adequately under pressure (e.g., particularly technical aspects). The topic is complex and I find the thesis a little messy and worry that things won't be clear to the reader/markers, and then the same trouble will translate to the presentation. My supervisor says it's fine (both thesis and presentation) but i can see there are problems and am concerned that my supervisor just doesn't realise them, but the markers will. In fact I fear at times that I will need major rewrite of the thesis.

Also am having trouble talking to the presentation - it's far too wordy but I fear by not putting as many words I will forget to make the points.

Why are things still so unclear in my head, after 4 years of work on this topic???! I feel inadequate, and I just want it to be over with.

Any advice, calming comments, shared experiences very much appreciated at this point. I am just dreading the presentation :(


Hi Sparkles,

I think that most people, just a few days before the viva, have similar feelings. I think it is only natural to have doubt and have feelings that the thesis may not be up to standard, that one has difficulties defending it etc.

Remember that you have spent several years researching your topic, even though it may not feel that way, you will know the thesis better than your examiners. You are the expert on it!

I think it may be best to think of the big picture and to try and focus on this. Be aware of potential weaknesses. Every thesis has weaknesses, that is not a problem. At the viva when asked about these, one can discuss and indicate that you are aware of them.

Remember, the vast majority of people on this forum have dreaded their viva, yet have done well and passed it. You will do fine!:-) Good luck!:-)


I'm preparing for mine too which takes place this week. It's natural to fret given that your getting the PhD stands or falls with your examiners' verdict. This said, I'll suggest the following:
1) Take courage in the strength of your work (This should help you overcome your worries).
2) Understand its weakness and be ready to explain how you intend to deal with it.
3) If you have the time, make a list of all typos and factual errors e.g. calculations, etc. (Be prepared to hand these over to the examiners just before the viva takes off --except they ask you not to bother. It shows your awareness, rather than ignorance, of these errors and that you're not waiting for them to point them out to you).
4) For this waiting period, I'll go over and over the thesis. Familiarising yourself with your methodology chapter (and if you have the time going through sections of raw data --I'm assuming your in the social sciences) should juggle your memory concerning how you went about the analysis of your data.
5) Finally, eat well, relax well (i.e. generally look after your health) and when you've put in your very best, take it that 'what will be will be'.


You've had some great advice, but I'd add another snippet. I always tell my students that any kind of exam is not trying to catch you out. It's trying to allow you to show off a little about the things you know, and gives you an opportunity to look at stuff from an interesting angle. So listen, and think, and take your time. Ask for clarification if you need to - after all, this is an inter-view (that hyphen is important!), not an interrogation. These may be your examiners on the day, but they'll be your colleagues in the future. My viva got a bit hairy at one point, but actually, what the guy was saying was perfectly correct. So I put my hands up and said, 'You know what, you're right, I'm wrong on that!' They were stunned. I'd fought hard for what I knew, but they really had me bang to rights on one point. So I had to revise. But the revision, and in fact, the criticism, was so valuable. It shifted my perspective. It helped me see the weak link in what I'd done. On my revision report they remarked how remarkably honest and reflexive I'd been in admitting the weakness, thinking deeply about it, and changing it. And they and I both knew that it was a much better thesis, ultimately. I was so proud of the finished product. So LISTEN. That's my best advice.


sparkles, I have to say that I am relieved to read your post! I have just posted a similar viva related melodrama :-)
Like you, I see typos (thankfully just basic stuff for the most part), omissions of fairly important info (might make me look a bit lazy or incompentent taht I couldn't find info?), errors in one calculation (very worried about this), error in another result, various holes etc etc. One of my supervisors doesn't seem to think anything is a problem, the other seems to worry about the smallest typo!
I'm doing my presentation at the mo and I honestly can't remember alot of the work as when I was writing my records I obviously thought I'd remember details that I didn't write down soI'm trying to refresh my memory by looking at standard methods and talking to fellow phds (moral of story- keep good records!).
I'm terrified that the examiners will think that the holes are major ones and not minor like super thinks and I'm also worried that I won't be able to answer the most basic questions. I'm not great at presentations and if I'm interupted I'll lose my train of thought.

So you see, we all have similar worries..and it couldn't possibly be the horror-fest that I think.
Don't worry, I think major re-write is everyone's fear when they go to viva.

I found a list of possible viva questions online (c. 40 of them) and I've adapted them to my own thesis. I've read through it and I've highlighted anything I'm a bit doubtful about to a revision list. I read a book on the viva which suggested that if there are areas that you are unsure of (such as the technical aspects in your case), decide what you did, and practice saying it. If you are not sure why you did something then think of a possible answer and run it by your super. They're bound to correct you if you're wrong anyway! Better yet find a reference, doesn't matter how obscure and use that to back up your reason. YOu can always say "well 2007 Sparkles did it X way, but 2011 Sparkles realises this is not ideal, and I'd probably do it Y way like Jones et al did".
In short, if there is an aspect you are very concerned about then practice answering a "why did you do it that way" question using the define, defend strategy (Rowena Murray's viva book)- define (In this thesis I looked at X using Y method. I used Y method as JOnes et al used it in their similar study. HOwever, in hindsight, JOnes et al worked with the field mouse and if I was repeating the study I would use Wisdom et al's method as they worked with the housemouse and this is probably more applicable to my study) Or a similar meandering train of thought :-) Just don't get defensive as they are probably just asking and not having a go at you :-) They want you to pass, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered turning up for your viva! In these recessionary times, uni's don't fund external examiners trips for failures ;-)
best of luck!


Hey Sparkles! I'm not sure I have much advice but I am 6-7 weeks away from my viva and am feeling the same even this far ahead (and I haven't even submitted yet!). I think you just have to focus on the fact that it's almost over, and in a few days you will be able to celebrate. It's natural to think the worst even when everyone around you is assuring you that your thesis is strong enough- I too am dreading a verdict of really major revisions even though everyone says that won't happen. I think you need to be kind to yourself and accept that probably nothing will change the way you feel right now or ease the doubts that are there until you have had the viva and know that you've got through it okay. I don't have to do a presentation, but in a way it might help ease you into things, rather than having questions thrown at you right away without a 'warm up'. Humour me, I'm trying to see the positives! Your examiners will expect you to be nervous, and if you stumble a little then it isn't going to matter. If you forget to make a point then they will ask you about it anyway- so try not to stress about that. So easy to give advice to someone else isn't it- I am so nervous even this far ahead that I had a crying fit so bad that I threw up my dinner a few hours ago! Perhaps that was too much info- apologies! It would be great if we could all take our own advice :) Wishing you loads of luck and I look forward to hearing your success story on here in a few days time. Best, KB