Common Qs About The Viva: What If I Find Mistakes?

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!

What if I find mistakes in my thesis after submission?

I think that this question comes up a lot for lots of possible reasons. Most common, I think, is a fear that mistakes will somehow lessen the impact of academic work – examiners might find a typo and instantly think “This candidate was doing so well… Such a shame!”

In preparing for your viva you are going to read your thesis; you are bound to find things that you would want to be different. Sometimes this will just be phrasing, but sometimes you might find things that need to be different: spelling mistakes, awkward phrasing or even errors in your work. What can you do?

Don’t panic!

You want your submitted thesis to be great, both in content and presentation: it won’t be perfect. It can’t be. There are sentences that are compromises, there are research choices made which are compromises. These might not be mistakes, but they will still exist as one possibility that was chosen, and which you might wish to change later.

Mistakes are unseen possibilities: you want them to be different, but until you find them you don’t know that they are there. It might seem philosophical of me to write this – my viva was over six years ago, and I found mistakes and my examiners found mistakes and it was all fine and not an issue. If you’re thinking about this topic, it’s likely that it is something that you are concerned about for your future.

Mistakes do not have to be a big issue though.

Let me say it again: don’t panic!

Mistakes fall into two general categories. The first are placed under the heading of “little things”. A spelling error, a grammar mistake, something small that you notice about a diagram or table that you want to amend. These are some of the things that are typically categorised as “minor corrections” (and I’ll say more about those tomorrow!). If you find them: make a note of them, make a note of the correction that you think needs to be made, and then move on with your reading and preparation.

The second category is when you find something wrong with your research. Either you find that you have made an error in describing something or you have made an error in the research as you performed it. In both cases – join in with me now – don’t panic! If it is an error in writing, then you can think about what the correction needs to be and then move on with your preparation.

If you find an error in your research, then you have an opportunity to think about how it can be corrected. Perhaps it is something that you can resolve before the viva. If your examiners bring it up then you know what to say. If you spot things ahead of time you can talk to your supervisor and discuss the best course of action.

Remember that finding mistakes is not the examiners’ goal: they are looking at your research to examine how capable you are and to see whether the research has reached an appropriate standard. Mistakes might be found, but they’re not actively trying to catch you out!

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!

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