Shortest & Longest PhD Vivas

Avatar for AndyP

We're after tales of peoples PhD viva experiences. In particular we'd like to know about any that were so long you needed to stop for lunch.


Hey Andy. The longest I know of in our department was 4 hours, but that ended up as a revise and resubmit, so there were obviously problems with it. I believe our department now has a time limit of 2 hours for a PhD viva. On the short side of things, my chairperson said she had chaired a PhD viva which only lasted 20 minutes simply because everything was so perfect that the examiners ran out of questions at 20 minutes. Recently a friend of mine had a viva which was finished off outside because the fire alarm went off, but I don't know of anyone who had to stop for lunch! Best, KB

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my hubby's viva was about 2 hours, so not that long. It included a 20 min presentation. I waited nervously outside for him though and I knew it wouldn't take that long because his sup had scheduled it for 12, so I knew they'd get hungry and want to stop before lunch!


Mine was 3 hours and I passed :-)


Mine was very short. Just 1 hour and no more. Though that was partly for disability purposes: I'd have struggled with anything longer, due to brain damage from a progressive neurological disease. I'd have lost the ability to properly represent myself in a longer viva. So it was kept nice and short.


In our institute the norm is 3 to 4 hours. I will have my viva in less than a week and officially booked for 4 hours but it can last longer.
The longest I saw lasted 6 hours + lunch break. But vivas of 5 hours are not so uncommon here. The length is not related with the quality of the thesis and the outcome of the viva.


Quote From blue:

The length is not related with the quality of the thesis and the outcome of the viva.

I completely agree with this- I think often the length of the viva is more to do with the examiners' interest in the project than their opinion of it and the overall outcome. Personally, I think if you can only come up with 20 minutes worth of questions (as in the case my chairperson was telling me about) then surely you could at least engage in some relevant discussion for a while longer?! From what I've heard from others in the department, much of the viva consists of discussion about next career steps and potential future projects etc, once the 'official' questions are over.

Best, KB


Quote From keenbean:

From what I've heard from others in the department, much of the viva consists of discussion about next career steps and potential future projects etc, once the 'official' questions are over.

That's what happened in my viva. Remember it was cut down to an hour for disability reasons. But out of that hour, about 40 minutes was for the initial discussion/questioning, even though they told me at the start that they were minded to pass me subject to minor corrections. Then the last 20 minutes was a discussion where I took the chance to ask them for advice on areas most worth publishing etc.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 07 Jul 2011 08:27:52 =======

Anyway, back to supervisor’s secretary and she’s first to know and congratulate me. I’ve now one thing on my mind, I’ve got to get to Sunderland by 7 pm for a 7.45 pm kick-off. I’m into the loo, out of suit and into normal gear and Sunderland strip within three minutes. I return to the main office to tell a few other people to find my supervisor and external heading into his office. “That was quick, what’s with the clothes?”

“I’ve got to get my priorities right, I’ve a football match to go to.”

Supervisor says “He’s a Sunderland supporter.”

“Oh!!!” she says. I suspect she's not as immune to football as many women, but I refrain from pushing the issue.

So off I go. I join up with my mum (also a supporter) and we go to the match. She asks how things went and I respond “I passed, now can we get to the footy? Besides I rang you earlier”

(Truthfully, I couldn't remember if I had!!! As it happens, I had remembered, phew!!!)

I need not have bothered going. Sunderland were the better team, but thanks to a certain referee from the dorty Leeds (second hate team after Newcastle) called Mark Prosser we were down to ten men and had to settle for a 3 – 3 blasted draw against Preston North End (we were Championship back then)!!! It says something about my passions when I say that man completely spoilt my day. The football phone in on local radio was subjected to a huge moan about the game (just the game).

Back to the corrections, done the following day. Printing out is a different matter (as was the case with the pre-viva submission), another couple of days, internal examiner verifies corrections, following day up to bindery in neighbouring University, paid extra to get the binding of the hard copies done quickly and finally after ten days, hard copies submitted and paperwork signed off. So March 10th , it was all over (I actually had in my head it was 10 days it took me rather than 7, however, the dates check out differently)!!!

It need not be a dour day and a few elements of unexpected humour can go a long way!!!

Also, a serious remark is having the football to go to after was actually a big help as I had something else to think (or worry) about.


Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 06 Jul 2011 22:16:37 =======

After 20 minutes, the nature of the questioning makes it clear there don’t appear to be any major issues. That said, I’m still tense. As the via proceeds, minor movements in the room only sort of half register, my supervisor stooping, the apparent silence of my external who seems only to nod his head and agree with my external at best, my external crossing her legs (huh?), my supervisor fiddling with his glasses, a rustle of paper here and there as various aspects of the thesis are discussed. I guess you become hypersensitive to movements and other things when tense, however, nothing registers as you're so absolutely focussed on the job in hand until possibly after it's finished.

It’s clear this is evolving into a discussion rather than an exam and I find myself thinking “Do nothing stupid and you might just get through this!!!” I privately expected to be told to reproof read the document and resubmit in six months, from the errors I picked up and this eventuality I’m ready for.

Then bag, 2 hours in, the external hits with my opinion on a question on a key piece of literature and I think “Oh hec, now the exam begins!!!”. My supervisor moves in to counter and kill the question dead with a bit of general discussion of his own, however, amazingly I renavigate the discussion back to the question. Have I just committed suicide?

Nope, I was better prepared than I thought and I expressed my opinion (I’ve since written papers on the subject), however, supervisor and examiners wanted to move on. So I think leave be, I’ve just got away with what could have been a tactical error and I am still a bit stressed.

The discussions go on for another 2 hours and 20 minutes, the length of the exam clearly due to the external’s interest in the subject. Finally, at 1.15 pm, a halt is called. I’m asked to leave the room and before the door is closed, all I hear is the external examiner saying “A lot of data.” The door is closed and the registrar appears to keep me company. We exchange a few words and then he is called in. I privately think “So another six months then!!!”

Then the door opens and I’m asked back in. A comment is made to fetch lunch into the room. “Congratulation Dr. Beefy, would you like to take a seat!!!” Streuth, I’ve done it!!!

“We would like a few amendments, so how long do you think it will take to do them.” I think “Oh no” and say “Three months?” Another tactical error?

Smiles all round, I am still stressed!!! “These are the corrections we would like you to make.” Three typographical errors are listed, one a repeat error but still only 20 minutes work as it's a 'Find and Replace' in Word. Whey hey, I’m through!!! “Oh” said the external examiner “I’ll be hoping for lots of papers from your data.”

“Okay” I said. I have since honoured that promise (partially a way I might add of establishing intellectual ownership). The last (ever?) paper I'm awaiting referee's remarks at the moment.

I stay for lunch when asked, simply because I’m too stressed to think straight, but after hardly touching the food finally leave. I’m still shaking, but I’m recovering my thoughts. Then my thoughts drift back over the viva. Suddenly my thoughts go back to those little movements in the room and the external crossing her legs. Streuth, my external was wearing stockings!!!

(As for my external’s attire, I’ve only told a few close mates about that. My best mate said “Stockings? How did you concentrate?” I replied, “You’ll never understand how stressful Ph.D.’s are and that was furthest from my mind whilst I was still in the exam, the penny dropped only afterwards.” Anyway, a very minor point.)

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 06 Jul 2011 10:27:09 =======
NOTE: Actual years deleted, but it was a few years back (though not that long ago!!!)


My viva started at 9.00 am on March 3rd and finished at 1.20 pm. Lunch was brought in straight after. Exact timings show how stressed I was!!! Nothing in my life works out in a straight forward way and a few elements of humour and a few odd happenings certainly helped what was a tense day. I'm one of these people strange things happen to, simple as!!!

I knew who my external examiner was 4 months before I submitted and 7 months before the actual viva. She was a leader in the field and friendly with my primary supervisor. Unusually for a scientist, she was (is still) quite attractive and well known clothes shopaholic. Three changes of outfit a day at a conference in Italy in 2000 says it all!!! But I'll come to that later as she committed a little fashion faux pas.

It was a matter of getting the thesis written up and submitted, as expected a fraught process. My primary supervisor was not going to let me submit until he was 99% sure I would pass with at worst minor corrections. The whole writing up process took a total of 18 months whilst I was also trying to carry out post-doc duties. Draft rejected, draft rejected, draft reject, finally draft accepted with a few bits of red pen to correct. There was even the threat of primary and secondary supervisors swapping roles as my primary was in the process of retiring (this didn't happen). But finally, December 17th at 3.30 pm I submitted.

I got home after submission and my mum's first actions were to grab my books and say "You get to look at these after Boxing Day, it's Christmas!!!"

Anyway, it's the day after Boxing Day and I crack on. I was given a list of subjects (including experimental techniques and anything I might be expected to know) as well as the thesis material itself to swat on. I was told to keep a log of errors I found in the thesis, which I would amend in the thesis before viva to minimise corrections after viva.

Still stressed, but write up out the way (I could take the odd day off), I prepared as thoroughly as I could for the viva. But lo and behold, a knock-back, no date. What had happened? My primary supervisor had requested a delay to allow him to concentrate on a major seminar being hosted by my University. I understood, but still "$#!+!!!" But finally a date is set - Wednesday March 3rd at 9.00 am. Okay, I'm going to miss a Sunderland home game on the Tuesday night for last minute swatting. Er, no I'm not as I find out the game has been switched to the Wednesday after my viva. So plan is viva then to match regardless of outcome (that said, I know me and would have still gone on the Tuesday, as there's only so much swatting you can do).

The day comes and I arrive suited, with back pack containing notes, list of corrections, initial submission version of viva and tucked in very bottom, top, jeans, trainers, Sunderland season ticket and Sunderland top. I leave my match gear with my primary supervisor's secretary (and also friend of mine) and take PhD material along to viva room. Primary supervisor, internal examiner and external examiner are all waiting, despite me being exactly on time. Registrar makes a few comments about procedure should there be more than minor corrections and disappears. This is where the stress levels are really rising and I am like a wound up spring!!!

So we sit down and start. Presentation needed? I have one prepared? No. I reach for the list of corrections. Supervisor frantically signals for me to lose them so I do. So off we go. My external’s latest outfit (from her extensive shopaholic wardrobe)? An unremarkable skirt suit (unusually sober for her), boots, dark hosiery – that becomes important later (a moment of humour let’s say).


I have heard it happen at my uni where the examiners went off to lunch before telling the person whether they had passed or not - not sure if the viva was continued afterwards or not or just the decision was given. I have also heard that food was brought into another one. You may get a break in the middle or yours if it's going to be long and you can request one if you think need one (but resist the temptation to run away!)

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Quote From Doodles:

I have heard it happen at my uni where the examiners went off to lunch before telling the person whether they had passed or not - not sure if the viva was continued afterwards or not or just the decision was given. I have also heard that food was brought into another one. You may get a break in the middle or yours if it's going to be long and you can request one if you think need one (but resist the temptation to run away!)

Unless there were issues they wish to discuss about the viva, that seems cruel beyond believe. It sounds a little like 'Who wants to be a millionaire' where Chris Tarrant tells the contestant 'I'll tell you after the break!!!'


haha how to keep the suspense going! Can you phone a friend, ask the audience though not a wise idea as that'd your examiners or go 50:50? I think there was some drama with it but I didn't find out until a good while later and not the full details either. It's part of the urban myth! Though it was pretty harsh leaving the poor person hanging around!


I'm way off my own viva but while waiting to go in for my research plan approval meeting (I was terrified) my supervisor told me that her viva was only 20 minutes with no corrections, and that it was good psychologically because they were running late and she was early so they kept her waiting for about 10 minutes - a really small thing but she said that it puts you into a better position; they were running late for my meeting as well.

Hopefully I'll have something a bit more interesting to add to a thread like this in the future, and I'm enjoying reading about others' viva experiences.

Beefy: I wonder if she tactically thought about wearing stockings or whether she does all the time?!