Preparing for a PhD Viva


I have never had one before so I don't know what to expect. Any one any tips or reading literature they can reccomend?

It is 10 days away and I haven't started yet. Plus I work full time.

I don't actually know my subject area really well so I am really worried.


Yikes!!! Can you take some leave from work to give you more study time? If you only do one thing to prepare, have a mock viva (with supervisors or other suitably qualified people (they know your thesis and what's expected of a PhD candidate)). This will expose the weak areas that you can work on in the time available to you. Search for vivas on this forum and you'll find other tips. Good luck!!


There is nothing to worry about at all. I was terrified when I did mine as I could see all sorts of things that the examiners could pick up on about my thesis to grill me on. They did nothing of the sort and it was more of a chat really. I know this is no help to you, though.

My advice is to go through your thesis critically and make a list of all the faults and weaknesses that someone hostile to your argument may pick up on. Then think of ways to defend each weakness. It is unlikely the examiners will pick up on more than one or two (if even that) of these weaknesses.

One thing I did do at my viva, that I think you should do also, is to concede to any reasonable criticisms the examiners may find with your thesis. Don't argue over these points. Try not to be too defensive in your attitude, also. It may be seen as arrogance.


Flatter your examiners by complimenting them on any criticisms they find with your thesis. For example if they say something such as, “Don’t you think you could have mentioned such and such a thing more?” Reply with, “That’s a good point I wish I had been as observant as that” (or something like that).

It is important that you leave your ego outside the exam room. The examiners must always be made to feel that any suggestions they make are the result of their being extremely perceptive and intelligent. Never show the examiners that you think you are more intelligent than they are.


orian, don't you think that would be a bit patronising? I don't think examiners would appreciate brownnosing (apologies if the word is not appropriate for the forum).

Unless you are joking of course, and I didn't get the joke... Then sorry for criticising your answer.


I agree with Orian that it's not worth making a fuss about very tiny changes...however, a friend of mine was led into the 'trap' of being very agreeable to a series of changes which started small and became increasingly more significant. Unfortunately, she had got into a bit of a 'compliance mind-set' and when she finally started thinking 'well, actually, no I don't agree because...' and actually started to defend her thesis (whole point of viva) it was a little too late. She ended up with quite a bit of re-writing and it took her another year. So my advice is, don't sweat the small stuff and of course, it's always worth being polite and respectful in your responses but don't be so compliant that you end up not defending properly!


I believe that you should think of your viva as a 'meeting of peers'. The point of the viva is to see if you have made the grade, so show them that you have by thinking of yourself as 'one of them' and demonstrating through your answers that you know your thesis and know how it relates to the wider field. Of course, this doesn't mean that you are not respectful as 1) they are senior academics whilst you are more junior and 2) it's an exam and if there was ever a time to be polite, it's now!


404, I think that it is always safer to err on the side of caution at a viva and being fawning can do no harm whereas being too defensive can. Once the issue of pride is out of the way I see no reason why a candidate should not be as accommodating as possible. Having said that though, Ann is right by saying that you have to get the balance right.


Having just done my transfer viva (And passed, woo-hoo!) which was in the style of the real thing, I was asked at the beginning to spend 5 minutes outlining the main results I had and how my approach differed from and improved on what people had done before. I would recommend being very sure of those points.


Passed with minor modifications.

Hardest thing I have ever done. Chuffed I stuck at it and got to the end.


congrats! drink, drink, drink, drinkkkkkkkkkk.




well done. Hope the celebrations have now begun! Must feel very strange (in a good, happy and positive way ). A question for after the celebrations - "the hardest thing I've ever done' - do you mean the viva itself or the whole PhD process??




I meant the whole thing sorry! Very hard to keep yourself motivated for so long.