How to prepare for your PhD viva

It’s almost been a year since I had my viva but I still get asked regularly how I prepared for my viva. This is a difficult question to answer and one that I asked many of my friends and colleagues as my viva approached!

For those who are unfamiliar with the term viva (I was when I first heard about it!) the word viva comes from the Latin phrase “viva voce” which means “by live voice”. Once you’ve written your thesis, it is read by two examiners who then meet with you for your viva, where they then ask you questions about your work to prove it was your own and to explore your thoughts about your work.

Thinking about sitting your viva is a weird one. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. It’s usually a fair few weeks after you hand in your thesis (to give your examiners a chance to read your thesis!) so the time in between can feel a bit empty.

So now that I’m on the other side and with the added benefit of hindsight, I thought I would share some of the things that helped me through and some of the tips that others gave me in case they’re useful.

1. Label your thesis – I used post it notes to highlight where each chapter began so that I could easily turn to the correct place without getting flustered.

2. As you read each chapter make a summary note and stick it at the start of the chapter. Then when you discuss the chapter. you can then quickly read over the key points of the chapter in your viva to refresh your memory.

3. As you read through make a note of any mistakes that you find so that if your examiner points any out you are already aware.

4. About a week before, do a quick literature search to see if any new papers have been published that may be relevant to your thesis.

5. Remind yourself of your examiners work. Understanding their perspective can help you to prepare for the kinds of questions they are likely to ask.

6. Schedule a mock viva if you can. Before my viva I went through viva questions with my supervisors but it can also be useful to ask someone in your field but not directly involved in your work to think of some questions.

7. Search online for typical viva questions and prepare answers. Of course every viva is unique, but you are likely to be asked some general open questions to start with and feeling prepared for these can help you to settle into the viva. Other questions such as what would you do differently or which of your recommendations would you prioritise first can also be good to think about.

8. Before you go in make a list of everything you’ve achieved since starting your PhD to help build confidence. The viva is your chance to speak in detail about all of the wonderful work you have done – instead of feeling nervous, try feeling excited to finally be able to get to speak at length about all of the work you have done with two interested and experienced people.

9. Remember you can not know everything. If your examiner brings up a perspective you have not thought of, don’t panic! This is a chance for you to discuss your work with an expert in your field and to learn from them too. So long as you can justify the decisions that you did make, this is a chance to explore another point of view and not necessarily a criticism.

10. Plan your outfit! Personally I feel good if I look good. I had my outfit planned out way ahead of time and even invested in some designer shoes to give me an extra boost (and as a treat for getting to the viva!). I walked into my viva feeling confident and put together. It sounds shallow, but don’t underestimate the confidence the right outfit can bring you 🙂

I hope these tips help and if you’re reading this and your viva is coming up – GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY IT!

The hard work is done, enjoy the opportunity to share how brilliant you are and to reflect on your journey to becoming a Dr!

If you have already sat your viva and have any other tips that helped you to prepare, please share them below!

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Chrissy x


2 responses to “How to prepare for your PhD viva

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