Top tips for Viva success

The purpose of the PhD viva is to check that you wrote and understand your thesis and to ensure that you have made an original contribution to knowledge. Other than this, no two vivas are the same. Though, there are some general tips that can help you to prepare.

1. Think of it as a debate

The viva should be a discussion between you and your examiners. It therefore helps to think of the exam as a debate concerning the key arguments in your thesis.

2. Don’t try to second-guess the outcome

It is highly likely that your examiners will act formally in the viva. It is also likely that they will have many notes or annotations of your thesis in front of them. Don’t panic! The viva is a formal event and your examiners notes are likely to be prompts for discussion, as opposed to heaps of corrections.

3. Expect the expected

 You are likely to be asked an icebreaker question, which usually involves introducing your research and key findings in an allotted time. It would be daft not to have an answer prepared for this!

4. Go for a short walk beforehand

Taking a quick breather and getting some fresh air should help you to relax.


 5. Revise! Revise! Revise!

Make sure that you know your thesis inside out. You might find it helpful to write a thesis roadmap, chapter summaries, and to prepare answers for 40 questions you would dread coming up. It would also be useful to be familiar with the wider literature in addition to the references you cited.

6.Make a good impression

Dress smartly and take in an annotated copy of your thesis along with copies of key articles, recent literature, and a list of typos (though, only show this list if necessary). Be polite, thank the examiners for their advice, and take notes of their key points.


7. Choose your examiners carefully

Check the reputation of your examiners beforehand and follow the guidance of your supervisors.

8. Don’t expect to know the outcome straight away

Expect to be asked to leave the room after the examiners have asked all their questions. They will then discuss your result, leaving you in the dark as to whether you have passed. Don’t worry, this is normal.

9. Enjoy it

The viva is a great opportunity for you to discuss your work with leading experts, try to relax and enjoy it. It may help to draw a symbol (such as a smiley face) on the inside of your wrist to remind you.

10. If you’re unsure about an answer…

Have faith that you know enough about your research to handle any unexpected questions. However, if you are faced with a difficult question then try opening it up to a discussion. For example, you could say something like “this is exactly what has been puzzling me, I wonder what X would say about it” and refer to a related point that another person in the literature has made.


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