Common Qs About The Viva: How Do They Start?

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!

How do vivas start?

I think this question comes up a lot because sometimes starting things is hard. I think there’s often a fear of the unknown associated with the viva: the start of the viva is the start of the fear! I think that’s a shame, because from my experience of talking to PhD graduates, vivas tend to start with examiners asking the candidate to talk in general terms about their thesis and research.

After any introductions and pleasantries – checking I suppose that the candidate is not too nervous – examiners start with questions designed to get the candidate talking, engaged in the process.

  • “Can you start by telling us about your research?”
  • “Can you begin by saying what you think the biggest results are in your thesis?”
  • “How would you describe the contribution you’ve made?”

There are lots of ways that this could be phrased; all are aiming at getting the candidate talking about their research in their own words, with a bit of self-reflection maybe. Some examiners will have asked the candidate to prepare a short presentation in advance, which is serving the same functions: getting the candidate talking, and getting them to talk about their research.

What can you do?

There are lots of lists of PhD viva questions on the internet (remember, Google is your friend) and I think these can be useful to get an idea of what might come up. I don’t think it is a good idea to prepare any kind of scripted response in general: there are many, many questions on these list resources, and there are many more questions that you and/or your supervisor could think of too. Preparing for all of these is just not practical. I think that they are best used as practice talking about your research.

Possibly the only exception to this scripted response though, is an answer to the sorts of question I mentioned above, which often start the viva. I wouldn’t suggest having a rehearsed answer per se, but having some really good ideas, things that you are comfortable and confident saying, can only be of benefit to you at the start of the viva.

Let me share five tips:

  • Think through in advance what you might say in response to the questions above…
  • …and practice saying it out loud!
  • Listen to the Viva Survivors Podcast for over two dozen descriptions of the start of the viva!
  • A tip I’ve shared before: strike a power pose just before the viva to boost your confidence.
  • Remember that your examiners want things to get off to a great start too.

Take your time, there’s no need to rush the start. You will be fine.

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!