Viva - anyone else with a similar experience?


So I had my viva yesterday, and even though I passed with minor corrections, my examiners made me feel like I didn't deserve to pass at all.

They even said something like, 'once you make these corrections, you will have a thesis you can be proud of'. I honestly couldn't believe it. Did they really think I wasn't proud of it already? Or at least I was until that moment.

Three of my supervisors had read my thesis, commented on it, made improvements, there were barely any typos, it was well researched, well written, well structured... Yes, some of the early experiments I did weren't very well designed and some of the later ones were unfinished, but I tried to make the best of the data I had. I recognized these limitations and I discussed them in the thesis and I explained the reasons for them in the viva. They didn't care about that, it was just the fact that the limitations were there in the first place.

They didn't compliment my work at all. When they got to the final chapter one of them said, 'I don't have a problem with this one'. That was the nicest thing they said all the way through.

Passing with minor corrections should be something to be celebrated, but all I felt like doing was going home and not talking to anyone, but obviously all my lab were there to 'congratulate' me afterwards and that was very difficult. I've passed with minors so how can I be sad about that?

It's like four years of work was meaningless. I would like to think that the examiner is like that with everyone, but I don't know anyone who has been examined by him before so I don't know that.

What a way to end four years of a PhD I really enjoyed doing.


I had a similar experience and found it very upsetting/confusing. Over a year later I still feel a bit sad that I didn't have that affirmative moment that all my friends had, and am resigned to having permanent imposter syndrome! In time though you'll be able to put your examiner's comments in the context of other, more positive feedback you've had.. And the most important thing is YOU PASSED! Congratulations!

Some positives I've taken away are that I'm now unlikely to become one of those arrogant academics I'm sure we've all met. It's also a first-hand lesson in the subjectivity of academia. And this will sound cheesy but it has made me realise that I need to be confident in my own strengths and weaknesses and not rely on others for validation - so a couple of life lessons in there!


It sounds like your examiners put all the focus on the critical elements of the conversation, rather than talking about the stuff they liked - and let's be honest, there was plenty of stuff that they liked, since they only managed to find minor corrections! I hope that in time, you'll manage to put this rather selective discussion of your work behind you and remember all the positive feedback you've had along the way, as kelpie said. In the mean time, congratulations, Dr. TreeofLife - a fabulous achievement!


Hi TreeofLife,

I had a very similar viva experience and I also got minor corrections. I have experienced the micro-aggressions in the viva. I went to the viva knowing that I will not fail, as I had a two-digit number of publications (journals, conferences, book chapters, technical reports etc).

My 4-year PhD was overall a positive experience (apart from the financial exploitation side of things). But the viva stays in my memory as a stain. They were late. The nicest thing they said was " there is enough for a PhD". They were unpleasant throughout. The external was talking to me slowly (because I am foreigner I assume, despite living in England for a decade). It did not shake my confidence but it reminded me of how important it is that we are gentle and kind to each other.

In any case just finish the corrections and forget about it. Maybe some day there is a PhD by publication (where people contribute to something) and there is no need for vivas.

To all of you out there, choose examiners wisely. They should be nice people and good scientists.

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Congratulations ToL. Others here can give you better advice; all I will say is, **** 'em. "You didn't get where you are today", etc, by going under to a couple of Arthur Daleys. Well done!


Thanks everyone, I'm glad I wasn't the only one that went through this. Why are some academics such idiots!

You're right chickpea, I guess they were just picking on the issues and didn't mention the good things about my work, but to me it's a strange way to conduct a viva. All they would have had to say is 'this is good, so we won't discuss that too much' and if at the end they said 'well done, we really liked this or that', i would have been fine.

Onwards and upwards I guess, I will just make the corrections and try not to dwell on it too much.


I don't know - what did you want them to do? Give you a pat on the head? They are academics and the key word in academics is criticism. All academics are perfectionists. Well done by the way, a great achievement.

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"LOL" !


It's not about being criticised - I have no problem with that, I just think there's a way to do it that still makes people feel like they have achieved something. And yes, at the end of the viva, a 'well done' would have been nice, instead of just 'you've passed'. A smile wouldn't have gone amiss either.


Congratulations ToL! I don't have similar experiences to share - I only submitted yesterday so I'm still in the post-submission euphoria. My supervisors are all confident that my thesis is well written and a good read but I'm really worried about the length! It is 325 pages long and double-spaced although most of the pages are pictures. A colleague of mine who had her viva in June had a horrible experience. Her external examiners were very very critical of her work - to the point of asking her if her supervisors (one of who is also my supervisor) looked at her work!! She still passed with minor corrections but the experience really shook her confidence. She's taken it all on board and is nearly done with her corrections as well. All I can say is best of luck with your corrections and try to put the criticism to the back of your mind. It's all done now and it won't do you much good to be dwelling too much on it. Good luck with the corrections!


I got that as well Cherub - it's like they were criticising my supervisors as well, asking me what they thought of my thesis and whether I had the appropriate support! They asked who helped me with a certain experiment and I said I did it alone and one of them just sort of smirked.

My corrections are so minor though - there's barely anything I can 'take on board' or learn from, except to try to warn others that no matter how good they think their thesis is, or how good their supervisors think it is, the examiners may well disagree and probably not in a nice way!


Like reviewers for journals, I suspect examiners feel the need to "add" something! Minor corrections is excellent, and I wouldn't worry for a minute. Well done.


Quote From pd1598:
I don't know - what did you want them to do? Give you a pat on the head? They are academics and the key word in academics is criticism. All academics are perfectionists. Well done by the way, a great achievement.

I agree with pd1598. There are tons of people who achieve that goal and as an examiner this is probably routine. So i wouldn't be surprised. For them, it is probably an average PhD thesis. Nothing major to complain about, but also nothing to be excited about. For the individual it is of course a huge achievement but not necessarily for an examiner. However, I think you should at least congratulate at the end (I hope they did).

Anyway, good job ! Congratulations.


It really does just sound like these are academics which have never had any kind of management or people skills training! Anyone who has had training gets taught to give praise along with the criticism to make sure the person getting feedback isn't scarred! But a lot of academics are not trained and were probably given the same treatment in their viva so want to pass on the terrible experience to others believing it's the way it should be. They can't have thought too badly of your thesis or you would have had a lot more corrections to do. My second supervisor is like that, he actually sent me drafts back with things like 'needs a lot of work to go into a thesis' or 'too many mistakes so gave up reading after the results' and then when you read the comments on the drafts they were usually tiny things but he made out like it was the end of the world!


Nothing major to complain about, but also nothing to be excited about. For the individual it is of course a huge achievement but not necessarily for an examiner.

The opposite holds true with more senior academics being far more involved and supportive and "excited about". I find it hard to believe that one spent 4 years and resources that mount up to thousands of pounds, that would not even stimulate an interesting conversation for a couple of hours. At the end of the day, if being an examiner is such a drag, refuse politely and let someone else do it. Yes, some academics actually enjoy it ! Crazy, I know

pd1598 criticism on someone's work is essential when submitting to a journal, or there are problems with the PhD. It is pointless when a candidate had at least two supervisors involved, has presented in conferences and has journals accepted. That means that this work has been criticised by at least ten people before. It is pointless when they don't have something substantial and they go through the pages trying to find something to say that may not even have a scientific basis. It's not a "pat in the head" you expect but you walk into a viva hoping that the other academics share your enthusiasm and love for the subject, and they really want to discuss about it, not fill in some forms, ask the standard questions, and go home.