Pre Viva fear/stress/anxiety


Dear fellow PhD students,

after almost 4 years I managed to submit my thesis a few months ago and the viva is set in a couple of weeks.
Since then I was basically happy that I managed to submit the thesis and confident that I made a valuable contribution to my field of research.

Yet, I recently received the (confirmed) info that one of my examiners sees some serious issues with my literature review chapter, in terms of length and depth.
I immediately started to compare the LR with other work, theses and his publications. I realised that even if I covered basically most of the important literature, he may has a point here. I now see that my LR discussion was of rather generic nature than explaining each and every bit in detail!!!

Sh**! Why didn’t I see this coming earlier? I’m totally scared now that they will award an R&R or even fail.
At the moment I cannot sleep, eat or do anything else except of reading Viva stories, watching viva prep videos or thinking of the worst.

This little piece of information brought me basically from the top of the world to very close to hell.
I know my strengths, I know that this was a unique research and I know that the methodology applied is solid. I know that if something can be updated quite “easily” it is the LR. However, I fear that they will grill me on the LR and don’t even consider that the rest was a very solid piece of work. There is this prevailing fear of failing I have to fight with.

Just wanted to write this down and see if there is/was somebody facing a similar situation? Every little helps.

Nevertheless, I call it a day today and try to relax a bit before thinking of an appropriate defence plan and continue preparation tomorrow.



Dear NoChoice

Firstly, congrats on submitting…but I completely understand your concerns so let’s get straight to the point in addressing them.

On the positive side, you have been given a heads up that this is going to be a sticking point in your viva. You are lucky in that sense. You have two things to do:

1.) know the literature so you can answer their tough questions eg. why didn’t you look at xxxx? Well, because xxxx does this which is beyond the remit of my thesis OR on reflection I would like to add in xxxx because I am extending their research in this way etc….

2.) redraft a better plan for the lit review chapter with themes and authors ready to take into the viva (not necessarily the whole thing – probably a one pager). Decisions can be changed in the viva (not very often but some people articulate in person better than they write or if a candidate realises a major error between submission and viva they can demonstrate how they will address this corrections – what you need to do).
Be prepared for corrections, but also be confident in how you will address these. On reflection, you see the issue yourself –well done. Concede this in the viva and outline how you would correct it. By all means explain why you did a generic lit review but be open to improvements.

You want to avoid a fail (this is likely to be avoided given the rest of your post) but you may get majors. This is purely because as it’s a chapter re-write it is difficult for them to give you 6 months revisions in case you don’t make it. However, with all the new additions sitting in front of you they may see you are on the ball and may go for it. Even with majors though, if you’ve done a lot of the prep work for the viva you can resubmit in a couple of months and the job is done.




You seem like a very mature, reflective individual who has this in hand. Viva prep is key and watching videos etc is important. But it sounds like you are nearly ready apart from the new lit review design. So do it 
Some people will advise you against taking corrections into the viva/conceding BUT you have been given advanced warning of your risks, use this to your advantage and be smart.

All the best – I really mean it when I say you seem on top of this. Best of luck and knock their socks off in the viva. They will be impressed that you have taken their advanced feedback on board. Even if you get majors – feel calm that you have done a lot of the background work in how to correct them and treat them like minors by getting them done and submitting. If you have the work in front of you, you might be able to convince them that 6 month minors is do-able but have an open mind…..they often give longer in case something happens outside of PhD life.

Good luck!


Dear roer,

I highly appreciate that you took time for this really helpful post. It touches me in a way.
Indeed I started to prepare an overview over the literature and models captured and already think of a new structure which is more intensive and detailed. I think I need to wait and see how big the damage really is, but be prepare for the worst.

What hinders me in having a clear mind is that the more I read, the more I find it difficult to defend the thing as a whole. Suddenly, every page, statement or conclusion seems somehow weak which is definitely not the case. Yet, if I could do things differently, I definitely would.

I’m very angry on myself at this stage, realising that after all that hours in the library, discussions and money spent, the work could have been better…Usually I’m very confident but right now it feels all gone…

Nevertheless, I take your tips and do the best I can and keep it updated right here.
Thank you!


Remember the PhD is as much about a process as the final product. Some of your concerns will be valid and some will be nerves (lots of people think their thesis is weak before their viva but their viva is better than they then expect). Your reflection on the process will be valuable.

My own experience is that I was so conscientious that as I finished the work I went back to the literature just before submission and found a reference for each thing I’d found ( did an intuitive study). Even if it was obscure and remote (where the examiners would never have found it) I put in evidence to support each thing I’d found. I submitted and picked up the thesis a month before the viva and realised what I’d done – I has accidentally proved that there was nothing new about my research! Of course there was and the examiners didn’t even mention it but I prepared a big defence for that.

The viva will be here before you know it. Go in feeling you did everything you could xx


Hi Nochoice,

Don't worry. They will not fail you. Your supervisor wouldn't allow you that. Worse it can happen is giving you some boring corrections you will have to do in this chapter.

Also, you should not receive any feedback before your viva. The fact that you learned about "problems" is like a cold-war tactic.

Do you have any publications from the PhD?


Who is the info from? I think it makes a difference if it's internal or external. The other examiner may not see an issue. Remember, it takes both to make a decision. By all means prepare a defence but see what they mention on the day first. If they don't bring it up don't you bring it up. Be confident about your contribution. People are more easily assured by confidence so don't go in and knock your own research. It probably won't be the best work you will ever do and they should know that it really is developmental. I remember being told I was probably going to fail the panel upgrade. I got through with no issues. Not the same gravity I know but just goes to show what can happen on the day. Good luck.