Upcoming viva and lost confidence in my thesis


The title says it all really,

I submitted my PhD (social sciences) a couple of months ago. I worked incredibly hard on my thesis, felt it was a strong piece of research, my supervisor felt, and still feels, it is of a high standard.

I was confident until I started preparing for my viva. Upon re-reading the thesis and reading more around it, I feel as though the paradigm I chose does not really work, the analysis is patchy and inconsistent in places, I have noticed issues in the structure of the work and areas where the argument is quite weak, found literature that I have missed that could really strengthen the work, also typos and things (the typos don't really bother me though)

I have added masses of notes to my thesis (so many post-its throughout) including quotes and ideas from additional reading to help defend the weaknesses, to help me explain why I did what I did, and what I would add/change if writing it again. All in all, reading the thesis with fresh eyes has led me to see it as a very weak piece of work - if I was the examiner, I would probably fail me.

I have lost all confidence in my work in such a short space of time. I am very very surprised at myself for not picking up on these things before (I proof read it loads, checked it, edited loads etc. before submission). I have become very depressed thinking that I will definitely fail and I feel sick and anxious 24/7. It truly is like I am reading the thesis with a new pair of eyes and seeing every fault in it.

Any words of wisdom, encouragement or the like would be much appreciated. Writing this all down has certainly helped a little, so thank you for reading.


Hi Zutterfly,
Talking from experience what you are feeling is completely normal! If your supervisor has said its a strong piece of work then that is the case! PhD isn't expected to be a perfect piece of work and a bit of self-critiscm is the norm. Sounds like you are preparing well for you viva. Wishing you the best of luck! Try to relax (tho' I know that is hard!)

Mus x


Could this be a late-in-the-day bout of impostor syndrome?

From your posts here, I have the impression that you have worked on this so diligently that I would be very surprised if it's as much of a disaster as you're thinking. It's probably a sign of your diligence that you're going on thinking about it and finding new literature and new angles for the analysis. I think there's always something new we can add, and this contributes to feelings that we haven't done enough.

It might also be worth remembering that you have a much more in-depth knowledge of your work than your examiners, and that folk say the thesis is far from being the best research you'll ever do - I get the impression that quite a few people end up not liking their thesis very much!

I really would be amazed if you didn't pass this. I hope you can give yourself a bit of a break and do some stuff to help with your anxious feelings.


Oh, it sounds as though you've got very stressed about this and you're focusing on all the negatives. Firstly, that's great that you know what they are - you know where the bodies are buried (so to speak) and you'll be well prepared for any questions the examiners have. But don't forget to have a realistic sense of your achievements too- and if your supervisors are confident you can be sure there is something of value there too.

Secondly, as others have said, your PhD needs to be good enough, not perfect. It's not your life's work, it's not the last word on the matter, it just needs to be a coherent piece of research that makes a modest contribution to knowledge. From what you say, I suspect you're well over that hurdle.

And finally, I was on a writing retreat recently and they shared an article about how examiners approach the task of reading a thesis, and in general they come to it expecting you to pass. They aren't the arch enemy looking for every tiny crack or possible reason to fail you. You are now the expert in your topic, you can have a conversation with them as equals.

Well done for submitting and good luck! Let Us know how it goes. And in the meantime don't forget to look after yourself and try to relax a bit too.


Thank you all for your reassurance.

It is not too long now, and I think it is fear of the unknown and I have often experienced feelings of self doubt.

Chickpea- I have always had the imposter syndrome, but I think reading my thesis with a critical eye just made it much worse. Also, yes you are right - I hear 'it needs to pass not be perfect' quite often, but I keep thinking how gutting it will be if it isn't even 'passable' or if it needs major reworking. There are things I do want to add to strengthen it and develop some of the points further though. I have made a list of literature I want to incorporate, and have inserted post its in the thesis to show where I would like to insert this.

Effin- I think part of my anxiety stems from the fact I do not feel like an expert in some things in my thesis, particularly the underpinning philosophical approach of my work and I have recently discovered one of my examiners is and I just feel like I have approached things in the wrong way. I also have a lot of interesting data that is not in the thesis to keep it as concise as possible, and I just felt that some of my arguments could be better. Your point about the examiners approaching it with the expectation that it will pass is comforting too, so thank you :) I think I have created them in my mind as these monsters that are going to attempt to trip me up.

Avatar for Pjlu

Good luck Zutterfly, I am sure you will do well. You sound very prepared and organised. Wishing you all the best and hope the anxiety doesn't get you down too much beforehand.