Common Qs About The Viva: Does Publishing Before The Viva Help?

I’ve been talking to PhD candidates about viva prep for over four years, and there are some questions that regularly come up at workshops. I’ve started answering some of these on this blog, but thought it might be useful to answer some of the most frequently asked questions all of this week. Let me know what you think in the comments, and please give me some questions for future posts!

Does publishing before the viva help?

I think that this question comes up a lot because some postgraduate researchers have been told that that is what academia is all about. It’s true that peer review of journal articles is a backbone of academic research, but PhDs are assessed on material presented in the thesis. The award of PhD is based on the merits of the research in the thesis, and by extension the talents and competence of the person who did it (the PhD candidate).

Given all of that, does publishing before the viva help?

It can’t hurt! There are a couple of big benefits that I can think of. First, the candidate, if they have had papers accepted by journals, can have some confidence that their work has already passed a peer review; it doesn’t mean that there are no questions to be asked by examiners, but clearly they can take some confidence from their previous success. Alongside this, it’s likely that they have presented the material in the past either in seminars or at conferences (great ways to get early feedback on paper ideas). This means that they have significant experience of talking about their research, i.e., what will be required of them in the viva.

For the thesis itself, the added bonus is that they have had practice in academic writing: a thesis is not identical to a paper, but everything helps. If they have received corrections via peer review then they will have an idea of what to expect from corrections from their examiners too (minor corrections are likely).

All in all, producing papers can only help: but notice, each of the ways that this helps is in improving the candidate’s confidence or their competence. It is not specifically about the thesis or the research, rather it is an aide to the candidate’s ability to do the research.

But… I haven’t produced any papers!

That’s OK! Unless you have just been sat twiddling your thumbs, you have been engaged in doing research. Have you written your thesis, writing over a significant period of time? Yes. Have you read papers relevant to your field, and seen how there are conventions to writing and research in your field? Yes. Have you talked about your research, formally and informally? Yes! Of course you have: that’s what postgraduate researchers do. They learn how to and engage with academia. Not everyone doing that will produce papers as they do their PhD, some will plan to produce them afterwards, some not at all.

Every day through your PhD you are doing things that build up your competence. Take stock of what you have done, and you will realise that you have come a long way on the journey.

Thanks for reading! Either tweet questions at me, leave them in the comments or drop me an email!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – check out my Patreon campaign for the Viva Survivors Podcast!