Help me please!


Hello everyone.
I have my PhD viva in 6 days.
And I've just spotted a BIG error in a chapter of my thesis (I basically contricted myself in the silliest way). I'm horrified that I didn't spot it earlier- it makes me look like a total idiot.
I think the rest of the thesis is okay. Will I fail my viva because of this one mistake?
What should I do?


Relax. It doesn't sound that big an error. They always seem bigger than they really are at this stage. At the worst you will have to correct it post-viva in your corrections. You should be prepared to acknowledge the error in your viva, but simply say how you will easily correct it, along with any other typos that you and your examiners have spotted.

But don't worry. You won't fail because of this one thing.


Thank-you Mr Baggins.
The thing is, it wasn't a typo- just a stupid contradiction. I stated that anything less than 0.1 would be considered significant in my anlaysis. Then in the very next sentence I write that my result of 0.07 wasn't considered significant.
I really feel like I've just been punched hard in the chest. What a stupid, stupid oversight! I'm so terrified my examinors will take one look at that and write me off.


I know it's not a typo. You were clear about that. But it honestly isn't as bad a thing as you think. Errors spotted in theses always seem vastly worse at the stage you are at. Your examiners won't be majorly fussed. And you will not fail because of it. So take deep breaths and think calm thoughts. Be ready to acknowledge it in the discussion on the day, but don't blow it out of proportion.

And I'm a Mrs Baggins :) Well Dr Baggins. But Mrs will do.


And please don't go to pieces over this. Try to keep it in proportion. You need to be in as good a prepared state as possible for the viva. And that means staying calm. It's even possible your examiners haven't spotted it :p Trust me, they don't always read theses as closely as you might think.

I've been through a successful viva myself by the way, so I'm talking from some experience.


Oooh Sorry.
Was Bilbo Baggins a male character though? Or have I got that wrong too? :p
Thanks so much for your replies - I'm trying to calm myself down now. This time next week it'll all be over.


Yes Bilbo Baggins was a male hobbit. I'm not. I like the name though. I used to have a much-loved pet cat called Bilbo.


Congratulations on passing your viva! I want to be you.


hi Melifluous
I hope you have taken Bilbos advise, really an error like that is nothing to worry about ... i haven't done my viva yet, but in my upgrade document .. I discovered and error that I thought would mean they would just write me off..... and I know exactly how you feel I was sick to my stomach... On the day I went to my superv. and he advised that it was a superfluous mistake and I didnt need to worry ... all i had to do was own up to it at the start of the discussion in a very matter of fact way because it was correctable... I  did.. and guess what the examiners hadnt even really noticed it... PHEW so long story short I was upgraded... I wish you all the very best in your viva ..


Thanks for your encouragement Naturalme.
I hope you and Mrs Bilbo Baggins are right. My mistake seems so big and stupid to me though. It's really knocked my confidence....I'm wondering if the examinors really can pass me when I've made this kind of error (an error which led to misinterpretation of results).
I'm trying not to freak out too much....


Hello Melifluous, I will agree with most replies you have had. This is going to be counted as a "Minor Correction", should the examiners spot it. If it helps for your viva preparation, just run the potential question in your mind relating to your contradictory sentence and prepare your answer. Please do not worry about it. The main purpose of the viva is to establish that the main logical arguments you have presented are strong (in my supervisor's words: "Is the science good?"). Generally, the errors that you are concerned about are classed as minor not major corrections. Good luck with your viva and enjoy it!!


Thanks Scatter
But.... my 'error' caused a misinterpretation of results...
I think I might be driving myself insane. I can't seem to eat, sleep or think straight right now. I'm going to search my cupboards for cans of coke and coconut macaroons.


Hello Melifluous,
If this is still bothering you, would you consider discussing it with your PhD supervisor? I am certain that there is a way around it. You could discuss some strategies with your supervisor. I took a list of my corrections and improvements into the viva, the examiners were fine, in fact, they told me that I was very critical of my own work (which they liked). You have some preparation time available, and you want to use the time you have effectively. If you can't see your PhD supervisor in person, sending them an email would be a suggestion. Sometimes, writing it down and the suggestions to fix the problem (and even the implications) throughout the thesis would be a good start. But you also want to prepare and read all of your thesis couple of times, before you go to the viva. Some suggestions to prepare for a viva (which you probably know and there are loads of books and advice on preparing for your viva), but these may help:

1. Read your thesis and underline all the terminologies, principles etc. in your thesis.
2. Write the definitions in your thesis (opposite blank page).
3. If there are any analytical techniques that you have mentioned, know the principle and what are the merits/limitations. (You can adapt this to suit your field).
4. Re-read your thesis again, and as you are going through write out the questions that an examiner may raise.
5. As you are going along, make a list of corrections in another document (so if these are raise in your viva, you could say that you are aware of this and have fixed it/present solutions). Its not a good idea to show your corrections list to your examiner, this is for your records.
6. On a blank piece of paper, write out a list of questions that are likely to come up. Most examiners begin the viva by asking what your thesis is about. The scope of the project and how this research contributes to the field. For most scientific PhD vivas the examiners tend to go through your thesis page by page (this could vary, they might go straight into your results-it depends on the examiner).
8. Check your references in your thesis, and re-read some key publications.
7. Research your examiner. You must know their research interests and if you have discussed anything relevant to their expertise, plan your comments. It is a good idea to read some of their publications (relevant ones), before the viva.

The thesis is presenting your research that you have undertaken for a number of years, so all you have to do is to relax and be confident about your work. A good examiner will try to ease you in the viva, by asking friendly questions. It is a discussion about science/research. My PhD viva lasted for just under one hour. In the first 5 minutes, the examiners hinted that they really enjoyed reading my thesis and I had presented some interesting ideas. I knew instantly that I was going to be ok. I was very calm and I just remember talking about some ideas and it was over. (Before my viva, I was told that my external examiner was known to be rather harsh.)

I would strongly recommend that you discuss the mistake with your supervisor and get some advice. Remember that you can leave a very good impression on your examiner and they will give you a reasonable time for corrections. Most people get minor corrections. Please don't put yourself down, everyone makes mistakes. At least you know about it now, and not in your viva!! (Here's a thought). Look at your mistake objectively and make strategies (draw a flow diagram of your research in your thesis).

Could you ask your supervisor/anybody else to run a mock viva?

I hope that all goes well with you. Good luck


Hello Melifluous,

Just writing to wish you the very best for your viva, I'm sure it will go very well! I would like to say that I agree with everything 'Scatter' has written a few moments ago (but then, she is in the other room). I had my viva in October 2010, and she worked out a lot of that advice in the first place as guidance for me based on what she had done to get through her viva. And she's further refined it from my viva experience. All I can really say is "trust her - she knows what she's talking about"! I will add another very-likely-to-be-asked question, that my viva began with: "where do you see your research progressing over the next ten years?" I had expected a question along those lines, but beginning with it was a bit of a shock for me! It along with, "if you were to re-write your thesis what would you do differently?" are quite common stock questions for vivas, although I did not get the latter, for which I was a little disappointed as I had a long list of ideas...

I think I can add a couple of small anecdotes from my own experience. Maybe they'll help or be informative. Some might just let you chuckle at my expense and relax a bit!

1. errors. I know you aren't talking about a typo, but as I averaged just under three typos per page throughout my thesis (~790 over 300 pages. oops) I went in a bit nervous and feel I should probably talk about it here. I produced a list of the typos beforehand, but my supervisor advised me to keep it hidden unless called on the subject. My supervisor told me of a candidate a few years previous who got given pass with no corrections, and promptly pulled out her list of minor errors and sad 'but what about these'? they revised her pass to include a month to go and fix them! However, you also want to be willing and ready to admit any problems if asked.

2. I found out in my viva that the copy of my thesis that had been sent to my external examiner was missing ten pages from chapter 2. (it turned out they were bound into the copy that was given to my internal examiner). I think no mistake could be more mortifying than that one was! But do feel free to laugh at me here :D

3. At one point in my viva I got asked if I had applied (and not included) the methodology of a very famous professor in my field to my research, as my examiner said she would have been interested to see the results. I had not, and (especially) at the time could not have even outlined the basics of what that methodology involved. My response was simply "yes, I would be interested too!" (incidentally, I just got that study accepted for publication and jolly interesting it was too... I just wish it had been part of my thesis!)

So, mistakes and holes (and worse!) can be worked around. Prepare for them before, admit them with self-honesty and an impartial but constructive attitude and you will be fine. I ended up getting 3 months corrections for my PhD, but knocked them out in four weeks and graduated in December. In the period since finishing my PhD I have learnt more about my subject matter than I did throughout it, simply because when you are doing the PhD the goal is to get the doctorate not to produce the definitive piece. Its for this reason that theses count as unpublished works, everybody's has bits that they would change in them, word differently add or omit.

Most of all though, relax as best you can, be self-aware, confidant in your strengths and constructive about your weaknesses. Its all grist for the mill :D

Best of luck



Magpie and Scatter, Thank-you so much for your advice.
I'm feeling a bit calmer, although am still terrified. I've reading all these posts over and over - they have a calming effect on me! 4 days to go...