You have submitted your thesis at last – what a relief!

The end is in sight, but there is a Viva to get through first.

To support you in your preparation for the oral examination, we spoke to some friends of SA to share some keys tips that helped them through the process.

Please note: the Viva process in the UK might differ from other parts of the world, but these principles should still apply.

#1 Take a break – Stop reading your thesis

Don’t spend all the time between submission and the viva preparing – it’s good to have a break away from the thesis and come back to it afresh.

Take a day off in the week before the viva and do something to clear your mind a little (e.g. read something that is not your thesis or watch and inspiring movie or whatever else helps you calming your mind).

It is important to get enough rest before the Viva.

#2 Read your thesis, but don’t hung up on typos

Start your preparation by reading your thesis through at least once, ideally twice. Make notes and/or mark up with post-it notes anything that you notice – particularly areas you would like to say more about, questions you may get asked. You can also note minor errors to correct but don’t worry so much about these!

#3 Think broadly and creatively about your work

It’s also helpful to think more broadly and conceptually about your work, and in creative ways: for e.g., can you draw or visualise particular aspects, such as mapping out the theoretical framework?

#4 Summarise your thesis

Focus on the most important points! Even if you should know every section you wrote, place emphasis on the really important stuff for the viva (e.g. whatever new stuff you brought to the discourse like a new method, theory/ or findings).

Give a 10 min speech/summary about your thesis to yourself/friends.

#5 Certain key viva questions are sure to arise – prepare for them in advance

Be prepared to answer key questions: where did the thesis originate from and develop? What do you think is the key contribution to knowledge? How did you choose your theoretical framework/methodologies? What secondary literature informed you most?

#6 Practice with a friend/colleague

Talk through a few practice questions with a friend or colleague; it can help to get your ideas going and think about responses to difficult questions.

#7 Create a list of questions you don’t want to answer

My supervisor also told me to create a list of all the questions you would not want to answer. This allows you to think up responses ahead of time so you are not stumped during the viva.

#8 Be your own friend and “enemy”

I think on the one hand you should be your best friend: tell yourself to stay cool, you’ve written a PhD thesis!

Be proud and believe in your skills.

Approach it as an expert discussion, not an oral exam.

On the other hand, be your worst enemy: find everything that you think is criticisable and prepare for those questions.

#9 No work is perfect – so be aware of the limitations

Write down the harshest questions you can think off on your own work and prepare responses! No work is perfect but you need to show that your aware of certain limitations – this helps to leave a professional impression.

#10 Read viva articles like these and …

Ask former colleagues for their tips on how to prepare. It might simply be about how to use sticky notes to organise your thesis. Every little tip helps bring you a step closer to a less stressful Viva.

Bonus Attitude tip: be confident, but humble about your work!

Thank you to friends of SA who contributed the tips for this article.


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