Viva fear :(


Hello all,

Just venting really- so apologies in advance.

I have my viva in early/mid March and I feel physically sick.

I'm trying to think of the strengths of my thesis in order to counteract my despair. I think there are some positives about my thesis including the following:
1) mixed methods research- other studies in this field have used one method
2) Original-no other study has gone into this much depth on this topic before (at least in terms of published work). For example, my thesis includes 4 large result chapters- 1)needs and psychopathology- differences between groups, 2) Quantitative experiences of services, 3) Qualitative experiences of services, 4) Findings from my observational tool- assessment of service competency
3) My work partly reports on data collected from the largest study into this particular service. My PhD therefore reports on data collected from all over the UK- majority of studies report on a specific region.
4) No one has reported on the viewpoints as reported in my qualitative chapter. My thesis therefore has given a voice to an unknown sample
5) My thesis includes variety of perspectives on my topic- service users, relatives and staff. I've tried to integrate a variety of perspectives- most studies have focused on 1 perspective.
6) I've included a content analysis of key journals in order to highlight how under researched this field is- most researchers have commented on the lack of research into this area. My external examiner also published a content analysis, but I've used more UK journals, updated his out dated findings by using the last few years and I've included journals reflecting two population groups- he only focused on one population group
7) I've produced new tools which services could use to improve their awareness of my thesis area.
8) I've received lots of interest from various leading organisations on the findings from my thesis.
9)My thesis includes UK directories which highlights specialist services. The UK does not have any statistics on these services. Also, researchers could use my directories for future research.

However, despite the potential benefits of my work, I'm fully expecting a hellish viva. I've put so much work into thesis I'm feeling very unhappy and depressed that they will fail me outright :( My sups feel that there is no chance of minor corrections and the best I can hope for is major corrections with a possibility of an MPhil if I'm not clear on my research aims or otherwise crumble within the viva. But, my sups also said that my thesis is extensive for a PhD and taps into an unknown area.

I can't stand this waiting. I can't sleep, I keep crying and I'm very unhappy. I want this over and done with NOW!! I dont want to be humiliated by failing with an MPhil. All I want is the chance to resubmit it as I know the submitted version is full of errors. I keep reading about failed PhDs and I'm terrified this will happen to me!

Apologies for my rant


"I think there are some positives about my thesis"

Some positives, to me that list of 9 positives is very impressive. I know you have found the wait for your viva agonising but I wish you the best of luck with it. Why not bring your list of 9 positives with you to the viva? People are often asked about their contribution to knowledge. Maybe though amend No. 6 to flatter your external examiner more.

Best of luck with your viva, you're nearly there(up)


I agree with Ady. You have so many positive and impressive things in your thesis, and is on these that you must focus. With all respect for your supervisor, his attitude is completely pointless. Did he give you clear directions on how to structure your thesis? Carry out your research? Improve your chapters? I think that saying that you are going to get major correction at this point is not a very professional statement.
My supervisor has a similar approach: I may pass the viva or I may not. What does this mean?! The reality is that he is not an expert in my field, and he wants to cover himself from possible problems. I would suggest you to focus on your strengths, list things that may be object of criticism and try to find solutions. The game is still open and is down to you how to play it. If you go there feeling defeated, you will be. It is very difficult, I know, I am close to submission and I feel very much like you, but you put a lot of work and energy into this and you cannot afford to be conditioned by your supervisor's negative comments.


======= Date Modified 12 Feb 2011 10:07:15 =======
I agree with the others - look at your list of positives - focus on them - that's one impressive list. I actually find the attitude of your supervisors quite astonishing - why let you submit if they think you will fail? It seems that they are extremely unprofessional in their attitude and very unhelpful.

Keep that list of positives in mind - as suggested take them with you - read them, absorb them and then fight your corner and don't let them humiliate you. I don't know your field, I obviously don't know your examiners, but the academics I know have examined, and they would never dream of humiliating anyone and would let you speak and listen to what you had to say. It seems to me that you have had a rubbish experience with your supervisors, it may well be that your examiners can see the promise in you. Keep your mind focused on those positives - maybe you will get the chance to revise your thesis, there is every chance of that. If not... well, lets not go there, but there is no shame whatsoever in an MPhil. Of course we all understand 100% what you're saying - horror of horrors time - but its not humiliation, its an achievement - but thinking positively, with that list of yours there's no reason why you can't be Dr Pineapple


permission to rant back ?

Firstly, can add no more to others below..  what a fantastic list of achievements if i had achieved that much this thread would be entitled "Chuff is fab" ... please focus on the positives,  recognise the limitations yes but have your answers ready to address the questions that may come up on the limitations - every PhD will have one.

Secondly, what is wrong with your supervisor ?  If he didn't think it was up to submission it shouldn't have got to that stage ! you really do wonder about these people and their motivations. I could just scream.

Set yourself goals for each day, as other threads on here.. summarise thesis,  think about questions you may get asked and get answers for them. this will give you confidence that you will be able to defend your thesis.. it is all about your defence.. they don't have to agree with you, you just have to be able to defend what you did and why and from your note above.. you have that no problem.

I wish you all the best.  Take action... you deserve this.. and rant away get it out of your system.. and we can ditto.



Not sleeping and being so upset sounds very serious to me, and, to be honest, I think you need to look at getting professional help. Whether that be a GP or a counsellor I can't advise which would be best (or even both?), but you need to speak to someone who can help you cope better with the current situation. And that's a professional trained in this area. We can offer advice, but we're all anonymous people on the forum. You need to see someone face to face. It sounds as though you have a very severe form of anxiety at the moment. Counselling can help with that, as can medication. But it's not getting better on its own, so you need to get proper help now.

Yes it is scary that you may fail. I thought I might fail as well (even with confident supervisors someone in my department - a brilliant student - had recently failed outright, filling the department with terror), but I took a very "que sera sera" attitude after submission. Getting so upset is not going to help you prepare properly for your viva, and isn't going to improve the result at all, in fact it might make it worse. You need to cope better. And to do that you might need professional help to help you do so.


Should have said that most universities (in the UK anyway) have a free counselling service for staff and students. So that would be there for you to use. Counselling is in confidence, so anything you say stays in the room, so you can have a good moan 8-)

But I do think you may need to see your GP as well. I developed anxiety issues part-way through my part-time PhD. My GP blames the neurological disease. I think one of the chemo drugs I'm on might be to blame. Doesn't matter what the cause is, there was the problem, and it was impacting on my PhD. We decided to try anti-anxiety medication. That has worked very well for me.


Fear generates from unknown. Once you get familiarised to the unknown, the fear tends to dissipates. Hence, try to get rid the negative thoughts of that you are going to face a hard viva-voce. Preparation reduces your viva fears. Make summary of each page of your thesis. Spend more time reading and making question of facts that you have written in your thesis. Please read section on preparing for viva in book entitled “How to Get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors by Estelle Phillips and D.S. Pugh”. Glance through “How to Survive Your Viva: Defending a Thesis in an Oral Examination” by Rowena Murray. Remember show your confidence and know when to back off.
There is no such thing as a perfectly good thesis. It all depends from what perspective a thesis is viewed from. So take it easy on yourself. You have done the best you could with all the restriction that you had. Perhaps you should take a day off to lighten the thoughts etc. Good luck. Cheers.


For starters, your supervisors DO NOT decide about the outcome of the viva. And yes, it does sound like you might benefit from seeing your GP/a counsellor - it does sound like anxiety is taking over your life and developing better coping strategies will only be of benefit in the long run - as somebody who is over a year out of her own PhD (and yes, I did panic a lot before the viva but kept it all together thanks to exercise, counselling and supportive friends) the pressure does not get easier, except now I worry about jobs, publications and things like that. So I would encourage you go and talk to a counsellor, I am really happy t hat I did - and the help you can get will be much more personalised than you will ever be able to get from an online forum.


I just have to agree with what the others are saying. It sounds like you have a lot of positives in your thesis!!

Also remember that your thesis isn't supposed to be perfect. You want it to be, but the more you work on it, the more you can see flaws, things you wish you'd done differently or things you should have included but didn't think of at the time. It really got me down and by the time I submitted I thought my thesis was awful. I think you can be your own worst critic. However, this is part of the whole learning process. The examiners aren't expecting to see a thesis with no flaws, but in my case I had found mistakes which they didn't spot at all, while there were things I hadn't thought of that they spotted. It is all about being able to say why you did something the way you did at the time. The fact you might have thought of a better way later just shows you are improving your skills and knowledge.

Try to focus on the positive aspects, but also have an explanation for things you might not be so happy with. That way it shows you have looked at your own work critically. They usually ask what would you have done differently and this is your chance to show them what you have learned.

I think your sups sounds awful, but try to focus on the fact they mention that your thesis taps into an unknown area. To me that sounds like they are confirming that it is contributing to knowledge!

I would also highly recommend the counselling service, even if it is just to moan to someone without feeling guilty. I think I would have quit my PhD without it!

You have come this far, so don't give up now. You can do this!!


Its understandable you feel under so much pressure---the run up to the viva after submission is scary. But do not pre-judge the outcome---you truly have no idea. Your sups in fact might be wrong, and you will get minor corrections! If your examiners sit on the fence about minor/major, your own presentations and defence in the viva may convince them to minor!

In a sense your fears become a self-fulfilling get upset, you get in that awful spiral, and you do not perform so well as a result... worrying and being upset serve no productive purpose--find a way ( lots of good suggestions here) to break that awful spiral and literally get back to a positive feeling. some point they might quit being they too have something riding on the outcome, and its very possible what is being said is in part self-defensive on their part so they feel shielded from blame if it does not go well. You haven't said why your sups think the best you will do is major corrections...from everything you list as a positive about the thesis, its hard to see why they think you would "only" do that well!!! It might be hard but take what they say with a pinch of salt. Do not let it turn into a forecast of the day...they might be wrong!!!

After my own viva, waiting for the examiners to make their decision, my sup was wiping his brow, dripping with sweat, saying, "Oh, God, I hope you did not fail." What? I looked at him with utter surprise. I was feeling chuffed and pleased with how the viva went--you can get a feel for the way its going, I think...and his idea did not match mine. "Well, it did not feel like a fail," I told him, somewhat annoyed. The examiners in fact said it was one of the best oral defences they had ever seen ( if I might say so...:$) and yet here was my sup thinking I had failed??!!! So take what they say with a pinch of salt. I tuned my sup out during the wait after that, thinking, oh for heavens sake...

When you list the strengths of the thesis, you are doing the right thing. Keep thinking that way--anyway you can find to do that. (up)


======= Date Modified 16 Feb 2011 16:54:31 =======
Hello everyone.

I just wanted to say thank you for all of your replies.

I finally have my viva date planned for Friday 1st of April, so hopefully I have left myself plenty of time for some serious preparations (I HOPE so anyway, otherwise I'm screwed!). I was seriously trembling and shaking when I found out the viva date!

Thank you for all of your suggestions. All this stress and waiting round for a viva date has just left me feeing drained and tired!

I'm still DREADING this viva, but at least I know that it will take place on X date at X time which has really helped me focus on the end point- or at least deferred end point. I'm desperately trying to block out all this negativity by thinking about the positives. I have the vision of my supervisors saying 'possibility of an MPhil' permanently in my head (which isn't helping), but I'm trying my best to block out such images and replacing with something more positive!

My sups feel my thesis is far too long (around 120,000 words) contains a weak discussion chapter and contains errors (typos)throughout. I've also missed references of the reference list and some sections within some chapters require rewriting. All in all, my thesis requires extensive major corrections, rather than minor corrections. Their definition of minor corrections is very few errors and rewrites.

I'm very very aware of all of my thesis limitations, how I could improve my thesis, how my thesis fits in with the wider literature and possible additions to my thesis. I'll have a look at viva prep tips on this website and from the recommended books. I guess my task is to stay positive about my thesis, know my work inside and out and be prepared to defend any questions that come my way.

Time to get cracking with some serious prep (from Sunday as I have another exam on Saturday), no matter how painful it is revisit my thesis. All I want is the opportunity to revise and resubmit rather than a fail/MPhil. If my sups are right, it's up to me to convince them to swing the balance from an MPhil to a revise and resubmit.

Thanks for the support everyone :) I will seriously think about professional help if my anxiety gets the better of me again! :)