viva panic - can any kind souls offer words of comfort?!


OK, now that Chrisrolinski has gone through the mill and come out the other side with great results (congrats!), I'll throw my hat into the ring.

My viva is a fortnight on Tuesday, and I'm barely continent with worry.

My problem is that it all means just that bit /too/ much to me.

I'm sure there are others out there in a similar situation - gone through life being bullied for being 'stupid', and then getting to Uni, decent lecturers noticing there's something 'different', and finding out (after grilling assessments, by the way, for those that doubt this difficulty) that dyslexia accounts for many of the problems in reading, writing and organisation

For me, doing a PhD has been challenging, but research drives me, and having ideas that others can use and develop, and that can challenge the way we think about the world (for the better), is so exciting (much of my work is social science based) - I can't bear to think of not having this in my life!

But it's difficult to throw off the taunts (as a mature student, these have become somewhat ingrained) - so I have a lot at stake in this. I can't /help/ feeling that doing a PhD can help me prove to myself that I'm not stupid after all.

Consequently, it's almost like 'fail' the viva (and I'm anticipating major corrections) and, well, maybe the loud-mouth bullies are right - bearing in mind the regs. that essentially say 'not good enough for a PhD' for this outcome? (Even though I'm expecting this outcome - my thesis is way too long - I know I'll be devastated and heartbroken)

I have also invested a 1/4 of my life in this darned PhD. I have in the past posted on this forum and received some quite unkind and impolite responses when I've mentioned that I've been doing my PhD for so long (now nearly 11 years - PT - which has included about 2 1/2 yrs. sick leave / LoA). But I've had more than enough problems to work around - some rather unpleasant child and family issues, PTSD (basically 'shell-shock', for those who don't know) and chronic (constant) pain (atypical neuralgia) - and all the accompanying mind-bending meds., which on top of (for a long time undiagnosed) dyslexia has slowed things down a deal. (I'm not on a sympathy trip here - just explaining why it's taken so long.).

Basically, I'm frightened almost out of my wits - not just that I'm going to fail, but over how I'll respond if & when I'm told at the viva that I've not passed (making a fool of myself won't help my job prospects, I'm sure). And this anxiety isn't going to provide me with the most clear mind for defending my (rather controversial) thesis.

So if someone out there can wish me well (not necessarily through the forum, but in their hearts), this would be nice, and if anyone can find it in their hearts to offer kind words towards someone whose cr***ing themselves over their up and coming vivas, I'd appreciate it.

If there are any tips for coping with a viva when overly nerved-up, I'd be glad of these!


I was expecting a page by page "picking at bones" viva and it was far from it. If you are aware of drawbacks in your thesis (percieved or actual) make sure that you show in the viva that you acknowledge them and know how to improve on them - defend those you can - and concede to others. Best of luck

Also, as somebody who had trigeminal neuralgia in the past for an extended period of time during my BA and MA I really sympathise and hope your symptoms are controlled or that surgery has/will take place.


I just want to say that I understand why the phd means so much to you. I am also a mature student doing a phd, and although the reasons are different, it also means a great deal to me personally to be able to acheive it, and to do it well.

I guess the main thing for you to remember is that you have put so many years into it, and worked hard, and produced a large amount of work under what sounds like very difficult circumstances. No matter the outcome, you should be proud of that, and don't underestimate how much you've acheived. and if you think that anyone could do the same, you're wrong. I have friends who crumble and give up if they so much as have to deal with one small personal thing going on at the same time as their work - never mind anything that's a real issue. so regardless of what else is going on, you're clearly a strong person.

as far as the viva is concerned, at my uni, they have a graduate research school which runs various seminars and training things, and one of those is 'surviving the viva'. And one of the key points they make is that anxiety can definatly be your friend at the viva! basically, the viva is designed to push you, and the panel will push you as much as they have to until you start to struggle. so if you are clearly anxious from the beginning, it just means that they won't push you as hard or for as long, which is definatly to your advantage! I guess another key thing to remember is that the panel have essentially made their decision before the viva even starts, and you would have to do something pretty extreme to make them change their minds! so try not to be too stressed over the actual viva itself.

and if the outcome is revisions, then that's ok, it's pretty rare that anyone has no revisions to do. and even if it's major revisions, in the context of how long you've spent on you're phd so far, it's definatly only going to be just a little more time until those revisions are done, and your phd will be finally done. it doesn't take anything away from the achievement of getting your phd, just because you had revisions to do.

anyway, i wish you the very best of luck, and do let us know how you get on.


Thank you very much for your sensible advice - I'm going in with my list of areas of my thesis that I /know/ I can improve (I'm re-reading it now, with post-its and pencil in hand), and am just hoping that I'm not too way off in my thinking (I've sort of ended up with a 'big theory' - this wasn't the intention. Would rather have made a nice /little/ contribution - definitely easier to defend).

My supervisor tells me to relax, and that it'll be fine, but I've not had a great deal of input from him with regards discussion of my ideas (and their validity). (Though he's very nice & supportive, I think he came to think that I'd never submit - and I can't blame the poor man.) He's a very busy man (took 3 1/2 months to go over my penultimate draft) - and won't have time to give me a mock viva (there's also no one else in the dept. with time to read my thesis and do this).  I perhaps wouldn't feel so worried if the last student of his that did research in my field, failed outright (and he was / is brilliant - and I'm certainly not!)

Cheers for the support!


My viva preparation involved reading a viva preparation book (Tinkler and Jackson) to demystify the process, rereading and summarising my thesis to familiarise myself with it and spot typos (I took a list into the viva on the day and handed it out - all examiners/convenor were very grateful), and thinking about and memorising my answers to 5 key questions: originality of my thesis, contribution to knowledge, methodology, weaknesses/gaps/mistakes, and what would I do differently if starting again.

I had huge challenges throughout my PhD too - a severely disabling progressive neurological disease, which meant I could typically only study for 5 hours a week total, in 1 hour chunks. And I was very scared about failing the viva, because I'd already had to leave a full-time science PhD over a decade before due to the illness developing, so had gone through a terrible grieving experience for one PhD already. But I hoped for the best with my part-time humanities PhD, and I got through :) Good luck to you with your viva.


Thanks bilbobaggins.

I am sorry to hear about your own disability, but very gratified that it can be done, despite such difficulties - congratulations for getting through it

I've heard about the book that you mentioned - wish I'd have had time to read it, but only submitted quite recently, and have been ill since

I did wonder about taking in a typo list, so hope to do this (as it sounds useful)

To concentrate on the key areas that you outlined seems sensible - I'll also write myself (and try to memorise) a summary

I think half of the battle for confidence is in at least feeling prepared, and so long as I'm working on revision, I'm not too freaked out (it's when I stop at night that I start getting really scared, as I have time to dwell on it!)

Thanks for the good wishes!


I haven't been there yet, I'm approaching the end of my 2nd year, but as a fellow mature student who's also been through the 'you're too thick to do anything decent with your life' mill I can completely hear what you're saying. The thing is, you aren't are you... you've worked so hard, been through so much, you've proved yourself and the chances are that even if you do have corrections to do then you've achieved something amazing that the bullies could never have done! I also understand the drug thing - I have TMJ, its under control to a certain extent now but in my BA it was terrible - pain from that kind of condition is incredible and the drugs make you more zoned out that a class A hippy ;-) In my mind anyone who can keep going through all you've been through for 11 years without saying sod this and dropping out is one special person and I'm in awe of you.
Keep going, not long now and I'm sure it won't be as bad as you think :-)


Thanks, Stressed

(I too have TMJ - I'm going, yet again, to have my teeth ground down a week before the viva, to try to correct this particular problem - even though this is a horrible process that just doesn't work for me. Unfortunately, I'm my dentist's pet project, and he keeps experimenting on me! I hope I recover in time. Humph!!)

I do feel a sense of achievement in getting this far - but I realise that 11 years looks a bit c**p! (My CV's quite rubbish)

The encouragement is much appreciated!


Quote From purplecat:

I just want to say that I understand why the phd means so much to you. I am also a mature student doing a phd, and although the reasons are different, it also means a great deal to me personally to be able to acheive it, and to do it well...

...anyway, i wish you the very best of luck, and do let us know how you get on.

Recommendation of pass with minor corrections!

Thanks for everyone's good wishes, and good luck to everyone who has yet to go through this (it really wasn't as bad as all that)!


OMG Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (up)(up)(gift)

I'm so pleased for you, that is just the best news :-)


Ooh well done you! Welcome to the post-doc world :)


Thank you so much for your good wishes!

And for the advice that I received - which really helped. I was able to anticipate and prepare for over half the questions I received, thanks to the forum, which really helped the confidence

But my examiners were not the scary monsters that I anticipated - they actually wanted to know about my research, and found some of it informative with regard to their own work (which was a great buzz!)

Cheers, all!