What to expect in the PhD Viva: My Experience

So after all those experiments and months of writing you are finally facing the most daunting step in the PhD process, The Viva.

The idea of the viva can be pretty scary to a PhD student (it was to me). There are plenty urban legends about terrible vivas and horrible examiners to put you off and make you very nervous about you own.

And though there are plenty of articles out there saying what a great experience a viva can be, when you are preparing for a viva you can be very skeptical of these articles. In hindsight though they weren’t far off what happened for me.

My Experience (on 28th November 2016)

My own personal experience of the viva was very positive,  it still felt like a test but the time passed quickly (3hrs) and none of the questioning felt confrontational. At points when I didn’t know any more on a subject we just moved on. At some points it was a very fluid and flexible conversation between me and both examiners about some of the constraints that are currently in our area of research.

The Process 

  • First my examiners put me and ease by explaining how the next few hours would progress and which chapters we would spend more time on and which we would discuss briefly.
  • Then we had some more settling questions about why I picked this PhD, what did I do on my other PhD rotations, what did I do for my placement and what am I up to next.
  • After that we started on the introduction, there were questions on the two main aspects of my thesis, the bacteria I worked on and the signalling molecule I focused on. In my case there were no direct questions about identifying specific ideas from specific papers, just questions where you were summarizing or expanding on general things you had written in the intro.
  • We skipped the methods chapter complete (which appears quite common from talking to other students, but I had prepared to be quizzed about them) and methods were discussed when talking about particular results as we went through.
  • Then onto the results chapters…

Examples of questions I was asked

  • What value do you think is high enough to to be considered a significant interaction?
  • Did you think of doing X / why couldn’t you do X?
  • What other control could you have done/ what would have been a better control?
  • What was the aim of that mutation?
  • Talk me through these set of results (to clarify difficult or confusing results).
  • Explain how you set X up and what sort of error could you encounter?
  • Could you have done a scatter chart to show distribution of values, rather than relying on the average?
  • Talk me through your proposed hypothesis and explain why you have proposed it.
  • Could you have used software to do this?
  • How easy is X  to count or define?

And many other questions I can no longer remember!

Then closing question:

What would you focus on next?

I liked this question and felt it allowed the viva to end well as there were many potential experiments to investigate the work further.

The wait 

I was sent out of the room and about 10-15 minutes later go back in, have my hand shaken and am told ‘congratulations’.

We then sit down and briefly discuss:

  • My performance in the viva and the overall quality of the thesis. I was very happy that they said it was obvious it was my own work and that I had worked hard on it.
  • Then on to the 3 month corrections, my external examiner had prepared a list of 6 bullet points, this included some typos, some cross referencing, formatting the reference list, adding detail to some figure legends, making some figures larger, checking the scale bars on some images.

However am told my internal will send a full list later.

How I felt after the viva

I disagree with a lot of the stuff out there that says it’s an anticlimax. For me this had been the last hurdle of my PhD journey and I was so glad for it to be over it. I couldn’t stop smiling.


Holding my Thesis with pride after the Viva

It’s a difficult one to know how to celebrate, I was fairly low key on the day but it didn’t matter to me as I was just so happy.

And the first thought the next morning was that it was done, the viva was done, the PhD was done and that I had done enough! This was accompanied with such a sense of relief. I felt a sense of total freedom- even more so than when I handed in the thesis. As though handing in felt good there was still part of my brain holding back as I knew it wasn’t quite the end.

Some may argue it is still not the end as there are corrections and I agree. But for the following week after my viva I found it easy to block out the thought of corrections and enjoyed using the title of Dr.

Tips and Advice for Viva day 

  • Start re-reading thesis about 3 weeks before if you have a full time job.
  • Try and stop preparing at about 6pm the night before.
  • Get your outfit and materials  ready.
  • Spend the evening relaxing or do something active if you  are having trouble relaxing.
  • Make sure you eat breakfast.
  • Know where you have to wait.
  • Remember that the examiner is not their to trick you and they are not looking to fail you.

Good luck!







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s