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Defending your doctoral thesis: the PhD viva

Format for defending a doctoral thesis.

Every institution will have specific regulations for the thesis defence. In some countries or institutions, the convention is for thesis defences to be public events where you will give a lecture explaining your research, followed by a discussion with a panel of examiners (opponents). Both your examiners and the audience are able to ask questions.

In other countries, including the UK, the oral examination is usually conducted behind closed doors by at least two examiners, usually with at least one being from another institution (external examiner) and an expert in your topic of research. In the UK the supervisor does not participate in the viva, but may be allowed to observe. Sometimes someone from your own institution is appointed as an independent chair. Although it is now becoming more common for the candidate to have an opportunity to give a public lecture in UK institutions, this does not form part of the examination and may or may not be attended by the examiners.

Viva preparation

Take the preparation for your viva seriously and devote a substantial amount of time to it. The viva preparation checklist may be useful to help you prepare.

Your institution may offer courses on viva preparation and there may be opportunities to organise a practice viva. Take advantage of these opportunities: they can be extremely valuable experiences.

Things you may wish to take with you

  • your thesis – mildly annotated if you wish
  • a list of questions that you might be asked and your planned responses
  • any questions that you want to ask your examiners
  • additional notes which you have made during your revision
  • list of minor corrections that you have come across during your revision.

During the viva

Your study will have strengths and weaknesses: it is essential that you are prepared to discuss both. You could think of any weaknesses as an opportunity to demonstrate your skill at critical appraisal. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. Do not interpret criticism as indication of a possible negative outcome.

Examiners have different personalities, styles and levels of experience. Sometimes a candidate may feel that a challenge is made in a confrontational way. Experienced, effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational, but some will. Do not take offence. A relaxed, thoughtful, and non-confrontational response from you will help re-balance the discussion. Having an independent chair can help maintain a constructive environment.

Useful tips for during your viva:

  • Ask for clarification of ambiguous questions or ask for the question to be repeated if necessary
  • Take time to think before answering
  • Be prepared to ask questions and enter into a dialogue with your examiners
  • Be prepared to discuss your research in context of other work done in your field
  • Be ready to admit if you don't know the answer to a question
  • Be prepared to express opinions of your own

You are not expected to have perfect recall of your thesis and everything that you have read and done. If you get flustered, or need to refer to notes your examiners will understand. They have been in your situation themselves!

After your viva

There are several possible outcomes   of a thesis defence. Most commonly, your examiners will recommend to your institution that you are awarded your degree subject to minor corrections, although in some instances they might ask for more substantial work.

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How to survive a PhD viva: 17 top tips

Just handed in your PhD thesis? Now it’s time to plan for the next hurdle: a viva. Academics offer their advice on how to best prepare

  • Finishing your PhD thesis: tips from those in the know
  • The key to a successful PhD thesis? Write in your own voice
  • PhD: so what does it really stand for?

H anding in your PhD thesis is a massive achievement – but it’s not the end of the journey for doctoral students. Once you’ve submitted, you’ll need to prepare for the next intellectually-gruelling hurdle: a viva.

This oral examination is a chance for students to discuss their work with experts. Its formal purpose is to ensure that there’s no plagiarism involved, and that the student understands and can explain their thesis. It involves lots of penetrating questions, conceptually complex debates and is infamously terrifying.

How can PhD students best prepare? We asked a number of academics and recent survivors for their tips.

Preparing for the viva

1) Check your institution’s policies and practices

Institutional policies and practices vary. Find out who will attend your viva (eg will a supervisor attend, will there be an independent chair?) and what their roles are. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

2) Re-read your thesis – and keep up-to-date with research

Don’t underestimate the amount of time the examiners will have spent reading and thinking about your thesis – however, you should remember that you are still likely to be the “expert in the room” on this particular topic. Check to see if any relevant recent papers have emerged since submitting the thesis and, if so, read these. Dianne Berry, dean of postgraduate research studies, University of Reading

3) As an examiner, you tend to stick to things you’re an expert in when driving the questioning

Your viva panel will consist of an external expertise in your subject area and an internal which may be in a subject field associated or directly related to yours. The external examiner is the one who mainly calls and fires all the shots and so it’s pretty important to have a knowledge of their published contributions, especially those that are related to your thesis in any way. Dr Bhavik Anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry

4) Think about what you will or won’t defend

Consider carefully what you will defend to the hilt in the viva, and what you are prepared to concede. It’s important to defend your claims about the originality of the thesis and its contribution to knowledge. However, no research is perfect, and showing that you have considered what could have been done differently, or even better, is not a bad thing. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

5) Draw up lists of possible questions – especially ones you dread

I collected questions from a bunch of different places ( listed here ) which I then tailored to my PhD. Somebody I worked with also recommended that I put together my 10 nightmare questions. I found this really useful, by writing down and thinking about my dreaded questions, they were no longer so bad – it was almost as if I’d faced the beast.

Generally speaking, I was able to predict the questions that I was asked. There were a couple that were unexpected but they were either conceptual points or based on literature that I just didn’t know. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience

6) It’s not like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as you go along

By the time you finish your PhD you’ll know your thesis inside out. One of the things you won’t be as practised at is talking about it. When I was preparing for my viva, I practised vocalising answers. It’s not a case of needing to learn to answers verbatim – this would only work as a technique if you could guarantee the exact way your examiner will ask a question – but it is about thinking about how you will articulate certain things. A viva isn’t like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as you go along. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience

7) Bring a printed copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners

Ensure you and your supervisor have a printed copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners (specifically the same pagination). Mark with tabs the key sections and highlight for reference important quotes and points you might want to refer to. If you have some key diagrams it may help to have these printed larger on A4 sheets that can be used in a discussion.

There is a chance, albeit slim, that an examiner will wish to see some piece of experimental data, software, or other supporting evidence. Have this all neatly archived and accessible. You can do this after submission. Anthony Finkelstein, dean of the UCL faculty of engineering sciences who has blogged about surviving vivas

During the viva

8) Get off to a good start

Give a few detailed answers in the opening 15 minutes, demonstrating knowledge, describing your thinking and working - then the examiners are likely to relax into the viva. If the first few answers are short and non-specific, not demonstrating knowledge, this can begin to raise concerns, and that can set the tone for the whole viva. This is avoidable. Rowena Murray, author of How to Survive Your Viva: Defending a Thesis in an Oral Examination

9) Prepare for the icebreaker

Every viva opens with that dreaded icebreaker that is supposed to break you in gently but often seems to be the thing that gets students into a pickle. It’s so basic, students almost forget about it. Most often this would be to give a five to 10 minute introduction to your work and your key findings. This is such a common question that not preparing for it would be silly. Dr Bhavik Anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry

10) Silence doesn’t mean bad news

Don’t assume that you will be given any indication of the outcome at the start of the viva. The examiners may or may not offer comments on the thesis at this stage and candidates should not interpret a lack of comments at this point as a negative sign. In some cases institutional policy prohibits it. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

11) Don’t point out your own weaknesses

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot by highlighting the weaknesses in the thesis by being overly humble (eg “I didn’t think this would be an acceptable piece of research given the way I handled x or y”) or by saying what you “failed to achieve” or “did not manage to carry out in a robust manner” etc. Leave that to the examiners to pick up in their reading, they don’t need help. Dr Mariana Bogdanova, lecturer in management, Queen’s University Belfast

12) Don’t talk like a politician There’s a danger of trying to over-prepare. Don’t learn answers off by heart – it removes the spontaneity and is obvious to examiners. If a student has pre-prepared answers they become a bit like politicians, answering questions they weren’t asked rather than the ones they were. I have come across mixed views on mock vivas. Some people really like them – and they can settle nerves – but other times it can remove spontaneity and steal your thunder. Jerry Wellington, head of research degrees at University of Sheffield and author of Succeeding with Your Doctorate

13) You may need to move from friendly questions to complex debates

Vivas can appear friendly and then suddenly go very conceptually complex. The language used is an alternation between accessible normal language and really specialised arguments. The student needs to be able to move orally between the two. Gina Wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University

14) If things get on top of you, use the excuse of having a look at the thesis

Make sure that before the viva you get plenty of sleep, eat properly and de-stress. If things get too much when you’re in there, use the excuse of having to look something up in your thesis. You could also pause and say “Can I write that down for a moment?” Stall for time until you get yourself back together again. Gina Wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University

15) Focus on your contribution

One of the most important things that the examiners will be looking for in your thesis, is the “contribution to knowledge”. It is the contribution which makes your work doctoral level. Be sure that you understand exactly what your contribution is, and that you are able to express and explain it clearly and concisely.

Write it down in a paragraph. Discuss it with you supervisor and fellow students. Make sure that you can relate your contribution to other work in your field and that you are able to explain how your work is different. Peter Smith, author of The PhD Viva

16) Expect your viva to last between one and three hours

Students frequently ask how long the viva is likely to be. Obviously they vary. Discipline differences are important. Our research suggests that most natural and applied sciences vivas were completed in one to three hours, whereas arts, humanities and social science vivas were typically less than two hours long. In the natural and applied sciences 43% of vivas lasted two hours or less, compared to 83% in arts, humanities and social sciences. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination Process: A Handbook for S tudents, Examiners and Supervisors

17) Enjoy it

The best advice I ever got was “Try to enjoy it”. It seemed ludicrous at the time, but I actually found myself really getting into the discussion as the viva went on. It’s one of the earliest chances you get to talk to someone who not only informed your research (ideally) but is also conversant with your own. It’s a great chance to explore the contours of your research – treat it as such, and it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Michael James Heron, school of computing science and digital media, Robert Gordon University

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Top 12 Potential PhD Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

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Breathed a sigh of relief after submitting the PhD thesis you’ve burnt the midnight oil for? Not so soon! While submitting your thesis is a massive achievement, defending it decides whether you will receive the doctoral degree or not. Although every PhD viva examination is different, there are similarities in the types of questions asked at each. In this article, we shall discuss the most common and potential PhD viva questions and how to answer them.

Types of PhD Viva Questions

Generally, examiners prepare a series of questions for you to answer at the PhD viva voce examination. These questions are primarily based on your thesis. However, the questions asked in PhD viva examinations can be broadly grouped under four basic headings:

  • General Questions
  • Research Context and Methods
  • Analysis and Findings
  • Discussions and Conclusion/Implications

Therefore, while preparing for your PhD viva and defending your thesis , you must consider the types of questions you’re likely to be asked. This helps in practicing your answers in advance and not being baffled during the viva. Practicing how you would answer questions based on these four basic categories will take you a long way in your preparations.

Commonly Asked PhD Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

While sticking to answering the most commonly asked questions might sound simple, it is equally important to be prepared for counter questions. Furthermore, it’s easy to go off on a tangent due to nervousness. This leads to opening up other lines of enquiry from the examiners in areas you hadn’t probably expected to be questioned about.

Ideally, you aren’t expected to dictate your thesis as it is. Examiners are interested in knowing your understanding of the research, its methods, analysis and findings, conclusion and implications, etc.

Despite the differences in every PhD viva, you must be prepared to answer these common questions logically. Below are some popular PhD viva questions to prepare:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Introduce yourself and talk about your areas of interest related to research. More importantly, focus on the areas you are extremely positive about. Briefly speak about your past achievements without overwhelming the examiners and sounding boastful. Keep the introduction professional.

2. What is the reason for selecting this research question?

The response to this question is often generalized by saying that you are interested in the topic. However, examiners want to hear the specifications of your interest in the topic. You must plan your answer stating the most interesting aspect of your research and why did you choose the research question over another topic from the same or allied domain. Furthermore, cite certain instances that helped you in selecting the research topic and the particular field for your project.

3. What is the key focus of your research?

Remember that the answer to this question is not about summarizing your research. It involves talking about the area of primary focus of research. Most importantly, in order to demonstrate the viability of your research, it is essential to identify some of the key questions it addresses.

4. Did the research process go as per your plan or were there any unexpected circumstances that you had to deal with?

The purpose of this question is not only to see whether you can work as per your structured plan, but also to understand your readiness with backup plans in case of unforeseen situations. An ideal way to answer this is by clearly stating if the project went as per your predefined plan. Furthermore, be honest in mentioning if you were assisted by others in dealing with it, as it may lead to a new set of questioning from the examiners.

5. After completion of your research, which part of the process did you enjoy the most and why?

Remember that the examiners know about a PhD student’s stressful journey . Therefore, do not elaborate on the hardships that you went through during your research, unless asked otherwise. Emphasize on the aspects of the research project that you enjoyed and looked forward to every time you stepped in your laboratory. Describe how you developed interest in newer approaches to conduct research.

6. As a researcher, what change has this research brought in you?

This question demands a strong, progressive, and positive response. Remember your first day in the research laboratory and compare it to today. Identify the differences in your traits as a researcher. Mention how following, reading, and analyzing other researchers’ works have brought a positive change in you. Furthermore, address how you overcame your shortcomings as a researcher and upskilled yourself.

7. Summarize your thesis.

Be well versed with the entire project. Start by explaining why you selected the topic of your thesis and close your explanation by providing an optimum solution to the problem. You must prepare for 3 types of answers for this question. Prepare a 1-minute, 3-5 minutes, and 10-minute summary and use the correct one based on your audience at the viva.

8. What developments have you witnessed in this field since you began your doctorate? How did these developments change your research context?

Familiarize yourself with the advances in your field throughout your PhD. Mention works of researchers you have referred to while working on your project. Additionally, elaborate on how other researchers’ work influenced your research and directed you to finding results.

9. What original contribution has your thesis made to this field of study?

Answer this question by keeping in mind what was known before in published literature and what you have added as part of being awarded your PhD. Firstly, you must present a major piece of new information during your research project. Secondly, elaborate on how your research expands the existing literature. Thirdly, mention how your work is different from other researchers’ works that you referred. Finally, discuss how you developed a new product or improved an existing one.

10. How well did the study design work?

While answering this question, you must focus on how your planned methods and methodologies were executed. Furthermore, mention how you tackled difficulties in study design and concluded your research.

11. Elaborate on your main findings and how do they relate to literature in your field?

While answering this question, elaborate on how you evaluated the key findings in your research. Mention the key factors involved and the reason for choosing a particular process of evaluation. Furthermore, explain how your findings are related with the literature review of your project. Mention its significant contributions in your field of research. In addition, discuss how your research findings connect with your hypothesis as well as the conclusion of your research.

12. What is the strength and weakness of your research?

While you may want to impress the examiner by emphasizing on the strengths of your research, being aware of the weaknesses and planning a directional move to overcome them is also equally important. Hence, mention the strengths first and elaborate on how they connect with the key findings. Additionally, underline the limitations and the factors that could be transformed into strengths in future research.

How nervous were you while preparing for your PhD viva voce? Did you follow any specific tips to ace your PhD viva voce ? How important is it to prepare for these common PhD viva questions beforehand? Let us know how you prepared for your PhD viva voce in the comments section below! You can also visit our  Q&A forum  for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.

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Really useful in helping me put a plan / script together for my forthcoming viva. Some interesting questions that I hadn’t thought about before reading this article – the proof of the pudding will be how well the viva goes of course, but at least I now have a head start! Many thanks

Thank you, this is super helpful. I have my viva voce in a month and I’ll be using these questions as a guide

Well framed questions

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Experiences of a London PhD student and beyond

How to Defend a Thesis: An Introduction to the PhD Viva

viva phd

The prospect of defending your PhD work can be more than a little daunting. It represents the climax of many years of hard work, you’ll have to defend a thesis in front of experts in your field and the whole PhD viva process can seem cloaked in mystery.

Maybe you’ve seen a labmate go for their PhD viva to then emerge several hours later, relieved but perhaps slightly dazed. Often it’ll be the case that they’ll have forgotten the specifics by the time they’ve left the room. On top of that, horror stories of bad PhD viva experiences pass through many research groups which are enough to make even the most confident and positive PhD students shake in their boots.

Having had my own PhD viva earlier this year, in addition to discussing experiences with many other PhD graduates, I now want to help you through the process.

Before we begin, I want to offer some reassurance. For most people the PhD viva is not at all the horrible experience we occasionally hear about. Even so, it’s still useful to know what to expect. I’ve therefore put together a series to help others understand the PhD viva process and how to defend a thesis.

Defend a Thesis: Overview of the PhD Viva Series

This first post will be an introduction to the PhD viva process and how to defend a thesis. Upcoming posts will cover:

  • Viva Preparation: Common PhD Viva Questions
  • What is a PhD Viva Like? Sharing Graduates’ Experiences
  • How to Choose Your Examiners

If there is anything specific you’d like covered, please let me know! I’ll be sure to include it. If you’d like to subscribe to get notified of upcoming posts as they’re released you can do so here:

How is a PhD Assessed?

Typically the main output expected at the end of your PhD project is a thesis. You’ve put years of work into your PhD and the thesis details your contributions to your chosen research field. But how is the thesis “marked”? Who will decide if what you’ve written is actually any good?

This is where the PhD viva comes in!

The PhD viva involves you discussing and defending your work with experts in your field. The experts act as examiners to determine whether or not the university should award you a PhD based on your thesis and viva performance. The thesis is the written report submitted for a PhD, and the viva is a means of quality control to ensure that only suitable candidates are awarded a PhD by the university.

Although part of the purpose of a PhD viva is to ensure that the work is of a high quality, just as importantly it’s to check that you were the one who carried it out and that you understand what you were doing!

The PhD viva is therefore essentially an exam during which you’ll have to defend a thesis.

Here is the official “mark scheme” for a PhD at Imperial:

viva phd

I recommend looking at the presentation which this screenshot came from: sadly I only came across it after my own PhD viva whilst putting together this post!

Steps to Completing a PhD

  • Submit your thesis for the examiners to read ahead of the viva.
  • Have the viva , where you’ll defend a thesis and discuss your research. The examiners will decide from a list of possible outcomes as detailed later in this post.
  • Make amendments to the thesis as necessary.
  • Optional celebration.
  • Have the thesis amendments approved by the examiners and/or your supervisor and confirmation sent to the university.
  • Upload the final copy of your thesis to the university.
  • Eagerly await notification that you’ve been awarded a PhD by the university!
  • Celebrate, Dr!

All celebrations except for the one after making changes to your thesis are mandatory!

PhD Viva vs PhD Defence

The words viva and defence are sometimes used interchangeably, but often are used to reference the different ways that the a PhD is concluded around the world.

A PhD viva (technically a viva voce ) is a formal examination of a PhD. It’s typical in the UK (amongst other countries) and it is a closed-event between yourself and some examiners.

Across much of Europe it is common instead to have a PhD defence . This still involves expert questioning but can be more of a ceremony and may even be open to the public. You can read about Siddartha’s experience , who completed his PhD in the Netherlands.

I went through a PhD viva and that’ll be the focus of this series. Nevertheless, there is overlap and you may still have difficult questions in a PhD defence, so the content in this series should still be useful no matter where you’re based.

In both a PhD viva and a PhD defence you’ll be expected to defend a thesis which represents the culmination of your work during the PhD.

Who is Present During the PhD Viva?

In the UK it is typical for the PhD viva to include:

  • One or more experts from your university ( internal examiner ).
  • One or more experts in your field from another institution to your own ( external examiner ).
  • And sometimes your supervisor, though in my experience this is quite rare unless you actively ask them to be there.

The main role of the internal examiner is to act as a moderator and ensure that the university’s protocols are upheld. They’ll usually still have some questions for you, but on top of that they’ll make sure that the external examiner(s) are reasonable. They will also take charge of documenting the viva.

Often the external examiner will be more specialised to your field than the internal examiner, so expect them to potentially ask more tricky and technical questions.

As mentioned in the previous section, for PhD defences in other countries the event may be less of an exam (viva) and more of a celebration of your work. These can be a lot more open, with access granted to your friends, family or anyone else who is interested in the topic. I quite like this idea, especially when the research has been publicly funded!

How the PhD Viva is Structured

The structure of the viva will vary but a typical format is shown below. The times in brackets are how long the sections for my own viva were, thankfully not all vivas are over five hours long!

  • Introductions (2 minutes) – greeting the examiners and they’ll usually quickly give an overview for how they want the viva to go.
  • Presentation (10 minutes) – Not all examiners will want you to give a presentation, it’s best to ask them in advance. I believe many examiners like asking for presentations: both to ease into the exam and also to see how you do at distilling years of work into a short presentation.
  • Discussion (Over 5 hours, yes, really!) – the long and potentially scary bit.
  • A short break (~10 minutes) . You’ll leave the room (or video call!) and the examiners will come to a decision for your PhD outcome.
  • Decision and final comments (10 minutes) – where the examiners will tell you what the outcome is of the viva – we’ll cover this in more depth in the next section.

The discussion in the middle of course is the main guts of the PhD viva, and the potentially scary bit. This is where you’ll get questioned about your work and thesis. What you get asked could vary considerably depending on your thesis and examiners.

I’ll save an in-depth discussion of my own viva for another post. In short, I received very few questions relating to the work or any fundamental underlying science. There were practically no questions to quiz my knowledge.

Rather than checking my understanding of the work, the viva was much more of a discussion of how best to present the work in the thesis. We spent roughly an hour going page by page through each chapter. This included suggestions for improvements to figures, changes in terminology and the like.

Possible PhD Viva Outcomes

At the end of the viva the examiners will give you feedback. This will include feedback on your performance in the viva. But as long as they’re satisfied that you carried out the work and that you knew what you’re doing, the bulk of the feedback will in fact revolve around your PhD thesis.

Technically there are lots of potential outcomes, as detailed here:

List of potential PhD outcomes from my own examiners' report. Satisfying these will allow you to successfully defend a thesis.

In reality here are the four main possible outcomes from the viva:

  • Pass with no amendments . The examiners didn’t want to make a single alteration to your thesis. Well done you just have to submit the finalised thesis to the university and you’ve finished your PhD! I know a few people who’ve had no revisions but it’s rare.
  • Pass with minor amendments Minor amendments include things such as correcting typos, rewording sentences and small alterations to data analysis and presentation. This is by far the most common outcome.
  • Referral for resubmission ( major amendments). More substantial changes to the thesis are required or further experimental work is required to fulfil the requirements of a PhD. The examiners will decide whether or not this means having another viva too.
  • Fail . Unless there are glaring issues or you didn’t actually do any of the research in your thesis yourself, you should be relieved to hear that practically no one ever fails. If you have failed, it usually points to systematic issues revolving around your supervisor: you shouldn’t have been allowed to get to this point. Usually the examiners would recommend that you be awarded a lower degree, such as a masters in research (MRes).

Slightly up the page is a screenshot from my own examiners’ report. You’ll see that I, like most people, passed with minor amendments.

2022 Update: Starting to prepare for your PhD viva? A set of viva preparation worksheets are now available in the resource library. Click the image below for free access!

viva phd

Making Changes to Your PhD Thesis

Shortly after the viva you should receive the examiner’s report which includes a list of revisions for you to make.

If you’ve got through the viva with a pass, you can breathe a sigh of relief because the hard work is over! In a separate post I’ll be covering how the process to make my own minor amendments went.

No matter the outcome, it is possible that you’d like to make your own changes to the thesis since it’ll have been many weeks (or months) since submitting the draft copy for your viva. On reflection there may be things you’re not happy with. You are welcome to make changes to the document yourself.

After you’ve made changes, the final stage in getting awarded the PhD is submitting your finalised version of the thesis to the university. Shortly afterwards you’ll get the long-awaited notification that you’ve got your PhD!

Notification of my PhD

Should You Strive For No Amendments?

In my opinion it’s not worth the effort of trying to get no amendments.

I’d personally rather spend slightly less time up front, knowing that more than likely I would have to made some amendments. You can never put in enough work to ensure there will be nothing your examiners want changed!

You could spent hundreds of extra hours endlessly going through your thesis meticulously before submission but your examiners can always find something they want you to change. In comparison, my own minor amendments only took two days of work.

Sometimes you’ll see someone mention on their CV that they passed with no revisions but it doesn’t really have any bearing on your PhD. Unlike most other qualifications, there aren’t really grades for PhDs: you either have one or you don’t.

During an early PhD assessment my assessor made a poignant joke about medical degrees: “What do you call the person who graduates bottom of their class in medical school? A doctor!” And it’s essentially the same with PhDs!

If you’d like personalised help with preparing for your PhD viva I am now starting to offer a small number of one-to-one sessions. Please contact me to find out more or click here to book a call.

I hope this introduction to PhD vivas and how to defend a thesis has been useful. Let me know if you have any specific questions or concerns you’d like to see addressed in the following posts.

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5 tips for passing your PhD viva

Every Doctoral researcher is expected to defend their thesis through an oral test - so discover how to prepare for your PhD viva and ensure you make a good impression on the examiners

What is a PhD viva?

A viva voce is an oral test, which literally translated means 'with the living voice'. It's a focused discussion giving you the opportunity to present your PhD thesis and then defend it in front of a panel of academic experts.

1. Understand what's expected of you

Traditionally, your thesis would always be discussed in person, with the interview style viva exam overseen by at least two (internal and external) examiners. Afterwards, they would provide you with a joint written report detailing any corrections that need to be made.

However, following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the online PhD viva has become more commonplace with this examination more likely to take place via Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom.

The virtual experience will still typically follow the same format, but you'll be briefed in advance about the arrangements and any technical aspects to bear in mind. You can prepare for an online PhD viva by reading our video interview tips .

The chair of the viva is usually the internal examiner, although it can be an independent person. If you and the examiners agree, your PhD supervisor can also be present.

The examiners' main objective is to ascertain that you've written your own thesis, so if you have and are ready to talk through how you completed it, there's no need to panic. You may even enjoy the viva voce test.

In addition to assessing your thesis, the examiners are also there to assist you in deciding how and where this research might be published.

There are various results between a 'pass' and 'fail' but it's very rare to slip up at this point of a PhD. Most Doctorate awards will be made upon the condition that a number of minor corrections are made, with re-submission requests far less common.

However, while the pass rate is high, the viva exam itself can still be intellectually demanding. This is because you'll be debating issues that are conceptually complex, so preparation is crucial to your success.

At the end of it, whatever the outcome, be prepared to take on board any advice, as the examiners are there to help you improve your argument or the presentation of your thesis.

2. Know your thesis inside out

While you can be sure this isn't a memory test - as you're fine bringing notes and a copy of your thesis with you to the PhD viva - it's still important to gain a good understanding of what you've written and be knowledge about your field of study.

You'll need to think carefully about where this original piece of work would be placed in the context of the wider body of research carried out in this field. Questions will surely be asked about this, as well as whether the project could possibly be developed further through any future research.

As you'll be explaining parts of the document to the examiners (who'll also have a digital or physical copy), make sure the pagination is the same in your version as the one they're looking at to avoid any issues regarding everybody being on the same page.

If you get stuck at any point during the viva exam, you can use looking at the thesis as an excuse to re-focus and gather your thoughts.

3. Anticipate the viva questions

The examiners will have prepared a series of questions for you to answer at the viva voce, but this is nothing to get too concerned about. The questions will all be based on your thesis - what it's about, what you did and what you found out - and why this matters, in relation to your field of study.

So when getting ready for the viva, consider the types of questions you're likely to be asked, including:

  • What original contribution has your thesis made to this field of study?
  • Explain the main research questions you were hoping to address.
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your thesis?
  • If you had to start the thesis again, what would you do differently?
  • If funding was no object, describe how you'd follow on from this project.
  • What are your plans for the future?

It can be helpful to practise your answers beforehand, ideally vocalising them by arranging a mock mini viva - although, as you aren't restricted in terms of referring to notes in the exam, you can leave room for spontaneity, and you don't need to learn it all off by heart. If your viva is being held online, you can ensure any technical issues are identified before the day by having a run through with your supervisor or a friend.

While it may sound simple, stick to answering the questions posed. It's really easy to go off on a tangent and this can open up other lines of enquiry from the examiners - possibly in areas you hadn't expected to be quizzed about.

On the other hand, it's completely fine to bring personality to your reasoning and use stories as a means of describing the learning process you've gone through and the techniques mastered over the last three or four years that have brought you to this point.

4. Learn about your examiners' own work

The senior and well-respected academics who'll be reading your thesis will have their own ideas on conducting PhD standard research. Therefore, it's worth taking a look online at their academic profiles to discover if there's any correlation with the research they've had published and your own work.

From this, you should be able to gain a better idea of their motivations, their possible views on your thesis and the kinds of questions they might wish to discuss after having read through it.

You should research up-to-date theories, read any recent papers on the subject and speak to others who've recently had their own viva exam. Think about how your work differentiates from the research carried out by others in your chosen field.

Prepare to provide any supporting evidence asked of you by the examiners - for example, they may request to see experimental data you mention once the exam is over.

It's also necessary to check the policies and practices in place at your university and be sure of what the roles of the examiners are and how the viva panel will be structured. In many cases, Doctoral students can choose the examiners conducting the PhD viva.

5. Plan towards the viva exam

From the moment you know the date of your viva voce, work backwards and plan the steps you'll need to take before the day itself. Allow enough time to assess and review your work so that as the day approaches, you can focus on the practicalities.

This encompasses everything from making sure you relax, eat and sleep well the day before to arranging transport so you get to the viva on time - if you're attending in person.

An online PhD viva will present its own challenges, so ensure your working space is presentable and you still make an effort in terms of what you'll be wearing.

It's always advisable to adhere to interview etiquette and go with something that's both smart and comfortable. By looking the part, this should get you in the right frame of mind to communicate in a professional manner.

In the build-up, avoid any situations that might make you feel stressed and instead try to adopt a positive attitude, one that results in a genuine eagerness to engage in a debate about the work you've been toiling over for a substantial period of time.

If you're travelling to the examination, be sure to check that you have everything you wish to take with you, including the thesis, plus any notes or other materials that will help support your claims.

The PhD viva can last between one and four hours - usually two - so it's necessary to pace yourself to get off to the best possible start.

Remember, the examiners aren't trying to trip you up - they want you to pass and are primarily there to hear you talk about your project. So, after the polite introductions they'll typically start with an icebreaker to put you at ease and help calm the nerves.

It's meant to be an open and honest conversation about your work, so feel free to politely disagree with the examiners, especially on areas you feel strongly about. Don't forget to use examples from your thesis to back up what you're saying, remembering to be clear and concise.

If you know your way around your thesis and can explain your thinking and way of working, this test shouldn't be a problem. And if you don't know the answer to a specific question - admit it, as it's better to concede your limitations in an area than ramble on and hope they don't notice you're struggling to come up with an explanation. No research is perfect, so it's important to appreciate this during the discussion - but don't be too overcritical about your work either, as that's not your job.

Finally, as the PhD viva can quickly move from a series of friendly questions to those that are more in-depth, take some time to think before answering. Don't worry about any periods of silence from the examiners, as this certainly isn't an indication that you're doing badly.

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5 Tips for Preparing for Your PhD Viva

Zebastian D.

  • By Zebastian D.
  • December 13, 2019

Preparing for your PhD Viva

You’ve just passed a massive milestone: writing and submitting your PhD thesis. This has been the culmination of at least three years of work and is definitely a cause for celebration. But the journey’s not fully over just yet – you still have the viva to pass. In the UK the viva usually lasts a few hours and involves a detailed discussion of your thesis with two expert examiners; your primary supervisor may or may not sit in this. Expect the viva to be tough – you’ll need to be able to defend your PhD thesis and respond to questions designed to probe your understanding of your subject. But if you prepare for it well, you’re likely to come out of it having had an enjoyable experience discussing your work with people genuinely interested in your project.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the day.

1. Know Your Thesis

You should expect your examiners to have spent a considerable about of time going through your PhD thesis and the content of it will be fresh in their mind; make sure it’s fresh in yours too. Yes, you’re the one that’s written it but, if you’ve planned well , you may have written some of your chapter content quite a while ago. Equally, I would definitely recommend checking to see if any new papers in your field have been published since writing your chapters and submitting your thesis.

2. Know Your Examiners

Your examiners will be experts in their fields, and at least one (if not both) will be experts in the same field of your research. Make sure you look up papers they’ve published and think about how they fit in with your work. It’s likely that some of their line of questioning in the viva will be based around their contributions to the research area.

3. Think of Possible Questions

It’s a good idea to spend time with your supervisor to think of possible questions the examiners may ask you. In particular, can you predict the tough questions that might come your way and how you might best answer them? Are there any areas within your work that you would consider as limitations for your studies and that you should be prepared to acknowledge? Some preparation here and even a mock interview will go a long way in making the actual thing feel easier.

4. Bring a Copy of Your Thesis

Make sure you have your own printed copy of your PhD thesis that you bring along with you to the viva. Make notes and highlight pages and sections within it that you especially want to bring attention to. You might also find it useful to print separate larger copies of key results (e.g. graphs or figures) that you think would be useful to discuss. Some props that help explain concepts (if relevant) can also be a brilliant way to guide the discussions to areas you’re most comfortable with.

5. Focus on Your Strengths

Try to view the viva as an opportunity to showcase the new knowledge you have added to your field of research. Focus on the positives that have come out of your work; all projects will have some areas of weakness but there’s no need to highlight these to your examiners unless directly asked about them. Coming into your viva with one or two papers published (if possible) is a great positive – it’ll give you confidence that your work has already stood up to peer-review and is a very good way to present your contributions to research.

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Top 10 Ph.D. Viva Questions and How to Answer Them


Every doctoral candidate will complete the Ph.D. viva to defend a thesis and seek that coveted doctorate degree. You've worked hard throughout your academic career, and now you face this intimidating meeting! Before your viva, you might feel nervous, picturing yourself tap dancing as fast as you can in front of a firing squad. But your viva should feel more like a confident performance of your crowning research for an audience of adoring fans. Take a breath—you've done good work, and soon the committee will see that, too.

What is a Ph.D. viva? In this case, viva is short for viva voce, Latin for "living voice." The term refers to contexts in which responses to something are given out loud for people to hear, for example a real-time vote (all in favor, say "aye"!). In the academic context, the Ph.D. viva is a discussion between you (the Ph.D. candidate) and a panel of academic experts, during which you present your Ph.D. thesis. The panel of experts can include an internal and/or external examiner, your Ph.D. supervisor, and other people you can request to be in attendance, like your family members.

The examiner's main purpose is to determine that you've written your own thesis and ask you some probing questions about the work you've done. It's intended to be an open, frank conversation about your research, not an interrogation. Don't be afraid to challenge points your examiner makes if they don't align with what you've found in your study. Your expertise and passion about your work will demonstrate that you know your stuff and care deeply about it.

Of course, in order to think clearly and objectively about the subject you've been immersed in for months, you will need a healthy dose of confidence. To help you gain that confidence to make your viva a positive experience, preparation is key. Here are some prompts and questions you might be asked and how you can prepare beforehand to answer them.

1. Tell us about your study

Usually the first question is an opener and is asked with the goal of breaking the ice and getting you talking about your thesis. The items the panel presents to you will start broad and get more specific and involved as your viva progresses. Since you're here to talk about your project, give a good overview of who you are, your history in the field, and the process you followed in your study. You will have a lot of potential detail to provide, but since you won't know how much your panel is looking for, prepare synopses of different lengths: 1-minute, 3-minute, and 5-minute summaries.

2. What are your main research questions and why did you select them?

You'll very likely be prompted to talk about your research questions in detail, so be prepared to list the questions you set out to answer and the motivation behind selecting each one. Also, be prepared to discuss your aims, objectives, and hypotheses, just in case they ask about those as well.

3. What original contribution has your thesis made to this field of study?

Before you began your study, you probably looked at the gaps in the existing literature and decided on a research direction to fill those gaps. Now that you've finished your research, tell your panel what the world knows now as a result of your work. When future researchers delve into your subject matter, what will they cite you on?

4. Whose work has most influenced yours?

Because you went through the process of determining what your field of study still needs in terms of research and the kind of analysis that will contribute to it, you possess a pretty clear understanding of what has already been done. A lot of that knowledge comes from your academic journey leading up to the awarding of your doctorate, during which you've read a lot of papers and delved into the work that has been done before yours. Talk about the most influential works you've encountered. This can be a work that inspired you or papers that you felt were done poorly and motivated you to get it right. Bonus: The chair of the viva will be someone who knows a lot about your field, so take some time to get familiar with his or her work. Don't be a stalker, but be prepared to mention that you know what he or she has done. Not only will that demonstrate that you've prepared yourself for your presentation, but it will also show an interest in his or her life's work, which can't hurt. Don't spend too long on this, though—you're here primarily to talk about your work, not theirs.

5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your thesis?

You certainly want to brag about your thesis and offer reasons why you and your work are great, so don't hold back about what went right. Start with the strengths; outline your main findings and give reasons why your study enabled you to uncover them. Then, while it might feel counterintuitive to point out the ways that your thesis isn't the greatest ever, a report about the weaknesses of your research shows a sense of self-awareness and humility that benefits your study in that it paves the way for future researchers and shows that you aren't blind to your own potential for growth. If you prepare your response to this question before your viva, you can craft your response to show that you have already thought about the ways you can address the weaknesses of your thesis.

6. What ethical considerations did you apply?

Most Ph.D. candidates encounter ethical issues during the course of their research, and the committee might want to know whether you took measures to ensure an ethical project. Did you follow any ethical protocols in gathering data? Did you provide informed consent to participants in your study? What are the ethical implications of your work?

7. Did your study go as expected? If you had to start the thesis again, what would you do differently?

Every researcher has at least some idea of what he or she might find upon performing a study. Many form research questions and perform the study to provide support for that expected outcome, but sometimes the research leads to a different result. Consider what your own expectations were before you began and the path your research process took, either in alignment with that expectation or not. Knowing what you know now, would you change anything about your research? Would you approach the process differently? Maybe you would forego a step or two knowing that it wasn't as consequential or helpful as you originally thought.

8. Now that you've completed your study, what did you enjoy about the process?

Ph.D. thesis examiners are looking for a candidate who is passionate about the work. Remember that they know exactly how stressful the process is, so avoid delving into the hardships you encountered. Instead, give a summary of the high points and the reasons you were excited to keep going. While you should keep the tone professional and avoid gushing, feel free to talk about your personal motivation for pursuing this study.

9. If funding was no object, how would you follow up on this project?

Every researcher faces limits regarding the scope of a study that prevent them from gathering as much data as they'd like. Time limits, budget caps, and lack of interest or willingness among study participants can all put a damper on the dreams a researcher has for an analysis. Money can solve most obstacles within an examination, so dream big—what could you make happen with an infinite budget? This is another question that reveals your passion for the subject.

10.What are your plans for the future?

Questions might not be limited to your thesis, so give some thought to where you will go from here. Describe your plans for your future research or professional pursuits; this gives the panel a sense of your passion for the work and sets you apart from a doctoral candidate who is just trying to check the boxes and get a diploma in hand.

The questions your panel asks you on the day of your viva will probably not be exactly the ones listed in this article, but these topics will almost certainly be covered during the discussion with your examiner. If you prepare responses to these questions and make sure you know your thesis inside and out, you will be much more ready to answer whatever the experts ask you. Equally important, planning out your responses will also help calm your nerves before this very important event, so give yourself the gift of preparation as you anticipate your Ph.D. viva. Good luck—you'll do great!

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What is a PhD Viva?

  • Maisie Dadswell
  • September 6, 2023

viva phd

After you have written and submitted your PhD thesis, the next stage in the process is to pass your PhD viva examination, which your PhD supervisor at UWS London will fully prepare you for. Your viva will happen within three months of submitting your thesis; after completing your viva, you will know if you have passed with flying colours and can call yourself a doctor in your respective field. Though the prospect may sound daunting, see it as the chance to prove that your creative knowledge makes you a peer to the academic panel that will be present for your viva; it is the perfect opportunity to establish yourself as an intellectual authority in your field. 

This article will cover what a viva is, how it works, what the potential outcomes are, who will be present on the panel and provide some helpful tips that are relevant for all fields of study.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is the highest academic degree one can earn in most fields of study. It typically involves conducting original research, making a significant contribution to the field’s knowledge, and writing a dissertation or thesis that demonstrates expertise in a specific area. Learn more about PhD at UWS Londo n here .

A PhD viva also referred to as a Viva Voce, Latin for ‘living voice’, is an oral examination which follows the submission of your doctoral thesis, where you will showcase your knowledge and defend your research in front of a panel comprised of academic experts. This examination is compulsory for the vast majority of doctoral students.

PhD Viva Questions

All the questions asked during your viva will assess: 

  • Your knowledge depth in your specific area of research. 
  • How deep your knowledge is concerning the broader research field relevant to your PhD. 
  • If you can place your work in a broader context. 
  • If you can demonstrate how your research contributes to your field. 
  • If you know of any potential limitations and oversights in your work – where applicable. 

If the panel has any suspicions that your work may not be your own, they may also question the authenticity of your work.

How Long Does a PhD Viva Take?

One of the most frequently asked questions is how long is a PhD Viva. The average length is around three hours, but several factors can extend or shorten your oral examination. If there are issues in your PhD thesis or if it is poorly presented or formatted, this could lead to confusion on the panel, which will necessitate more clarification for you to set the record straight and prove that you understand your field of study. Similarly, how well-prepared you are and how concisely you respond to questions will also have a bearing on the duration of the viva. 

However, lengthy PhD defences don’t always need to be a sign that it is going poorly! Your examiners may enjoy the discussion enough that they will want to talk about it long after they have concluded that you have passed the examination. Even though, in some rare instances, a viva can take up to eight hours there may be university or country-specific rules on maximum duration – feel free to discuss this with your PhD supervisor beforehand.

Who Will Be on Your Viva Panel?

Your PhD examination will be carried out by one examiner from your university and an examiner from an outside university. Your PhD supervisor may also be on the panel, although this is not always the case. If you do find your supervisor on your viva panel, in the UK, it is common that they are prohibited from speaking. If they are present, they will solely act as observers. 

Together, the examiners will highlight what they found when reading your PhD thesis thoroughly, focusing on the theories and key concepts you put forward in your research. To ensure that the examiners are being fair and appropriate in the viva process, there is also usually a chairperson on the panel who takes notes documenting any notable suggestions or comments. The chairperson will either be internal or external from the university.

What Are the Outcomes of a Viva Exam?

In the UK, there are six potential Viva PhD outcomes. We have listed them below from the best outcome to the worst. However, it is worth bearing in mind that even if you need to make minor or major corrections after your viva, you will be given equal credit as someone who was awarded their PhD degree without corrections.

The average pass rate for a PhD viva in the UK can vary depending on the university, field of study, and specific criteria used for evaluation. However, it is generally quite high.

In many UK universities, a significant majority of candidates who reach the viva stage pass, often with some amendments required. A “pass with minor amendments” is a common outcome, indicating that the candidate has demonstrated a sufficient understanding of the research. Recent research on viva experiences indicates that 84% of Ph.D. candidates are required to make minor revisions in order to achieve a passing grade.

1. Awarded PhD Degree with No Corrections

It is rare for students to pass their PhD degree without any corrections. So, if this is your outcome following your viva, celebrations are in order! It means you have seriously impressed your examiners with your research and examination.

2. Minor Corrections Required to Pass

Recent viva experience research has highlighted that 84% of PhD candidates must make minor corrections to pass. Typically, the minor corrections will be small issues with the thesis, such as grammatical errors, typos, typograph issues, or presentational faux pas, which can be quickly edited. Don’t be disparaged if you are presented with this outcome following your viva; it still means that you have done remarkably well with your thesis and viva.

3. Major Corrections Required to Pass

This outcome is the second most common following a viva; it means you have met the required standard to be awarded your doctorate, but some revisions or corrections need to be made. Typically, this will involve you improving the structure or clarity of your thesis by rewriting chapters or adding additional analysis. Once again, needing to make major corrections shouldn’t be seen as a failure; although it may be disparaging, it doesn’t invalidate your research or contribution to your field.

4. Revise and Represent to Pass

You will be asked to revise and represent your work if the panel can see the potential within your work and that it can meet requirements if you undertake additional research or analysis. You will be presented with this outcome if your work doesn’t quite reach the PhD degree standard; unlike with the minor and major corrections outcomes, if you are asked to revise and represent, you will need to present your revised work to the panel again.

5. Awarded an MPhil Degree

If the academic panel decide that major corrections or additional research still won’t allow your work to meet the PhD standard, you may be awarded a lower-standard MPhil degree instead. For example, philosophy PhD candidates will be awarded a Master of Psychology degree instead of a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Typically, MPhil degrees are awarded in place of PhDs if your work lacks originality or the knowledge creation that a PhD requires. An MPhil degree ranks above MA and MSc degrees as the most advanced Masters degrees. An MPhil degree still demonstrates that you have the same skill set as someone who successfully obtained a PhD, and they are still valuable to employers.

6. Immediate Fail

An immediate fail is rare; a 2022 survey found that only 3.3% of PhD candidates fail their viva outright – it certainly isn’t something you should obsess over. If when you are preparing for your viva, you find some faults in your thesis, don’t be afraid to broach them yourself in your exam; this will show that you can present a passable thesis. `

PhD Viva Tips:

Don’t work with irrelevant guidance or tips.

While brushing up on generalised tips online can help you to feel prepared for your viva, remember that there will always be variability in the process, the focus of the exam, and the questions asked. The variable factors include your field of study and the university you are obtaining your doctorate. With this in mind, always chat with your supervisor to ensure you are preparing with the right and relevant knowledge.

Treat the Examiners as Equals

Your PhD defence may technically be an exam, and naturally, many PhD candidates are stressed, daunted, or overwhelmed by the process for weeks. However, you will do much better if you go into the exam with the mindset that you are equal with the academic panel and treat the examination as a discussion rather than an inquisition. Remember, your viva is your chance to be seen as a doctor, not a student.

Mindset Matters

After spending years on your thesis, you will know your subject inside and out; it is your area of expertise; don’t go into the viva with a defensive and confrontational mindset; remain confident in your knowledge creation and how it benefits your field of study. Imposter syndrome can come in hard here, so limit your negative self-talk and silence your inner critic.

Ask for a Mock Viva with Your Supervisor

Never be shy about asking your PhD supervisor for the support you need as you prepare for your viva. They will be best placed to answer all of your questions as they will know the procedure for your university and your field of research. Your PhD supervisor will likely have already been present in viva exams; they will know the score, and more importantly, after working with you for years, they will want you to pass your viva – never be shy about asking them to arrange a mock viva to help you prepare.

How long is a PhD?

If you look for an answer to the question, how long is a PhD thesis, you will notice that there is a lot of contradictory information on the internet because there is no one-size-fits-all answer for PhD students. How long does a PhD take ? Well, we’ve got all the info you need in our other blog

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How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva pp 7–15 Cite as

What Is the Viva?

  • Isabelle Butcher 3  
  • First Online: 16 September 2022

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An explanation as to what the viva exam is, what it is not, its purpose, a general overview of what it might involve, why it is an oral exam, the importance of conversation in the viva and the opportunities that can arise from your viva.

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How to structure your viva presentation (with examples)

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Most PhD vivas and PhD defences start with a short presentation by the candidate. The structure of these presentations is very important! There are several factors and approaches to consider when developing your viva presentation structure.

Factors to consider when developing a viva presentation structure

Structuring your viva presentation traditionally, structuring your viva presentation around key findings, structuring your viva presentation around key arguments, structuring your viva presentation around case studies, final thoughts on viva presentation structures.

A PhD viva or PhD defence is often one of the last steps that PhD students have to pass before receiving a doctorate. The viva or defence usually starts with a short presentation of the PhD candidate on the PhD thesis.

Presenting a whole PhD in a short amount of time is very challenging. After all, a PhD is often the result of several years of work!

It is simply impossible to include everything in a viva presentation.

Therefore, tough choices have to be made in terms of what to include, what to highlight, and what to exclude.

The structure of a viva presentation plays a crucial role in bringing across the key messages of your PhD.

Therefore, there are several factors to consider when developing a viva presentation structure:

  • Available presentation time : Viva presentations usually last between 10 and 20 minutes, but every university has different regulations. Developing a structure for a viva presentation that lasts 10 minutes is different from developing one for a presentation that lasts 20 minutes or more. Thus, find out how much time you are allowed to present!
  • The key contribution of your thesis: The structure of a viva presentation should reflect the content and key messages of the PhD thesis. For instance, if you have written a very theoretical PhD thesis, it makes no sense to structure your whole presentation around your data collection and analysis. Make sure that the viva presentation structure is in line with your main messages.
  • University standards: It is recommended to discuss your ideas and plans for your viva presentation structure with others, as each university may have may be different (and even unspoken) rules and standards. Ask your supervisors about their preferred viva presentation structure. And talk to your peers who defend their theses before you.
  • Clear storyline : Every presentation should have a logical structure which allows the audience to follow a crystal-clear storyline. This is also true for viva presentations. Thus, clarify your storyline and develop a presentation structure that supports it.

A very traditional viva presentation structure simply follows the structure of the PhD thesis.

This means that the viva presentation covers all parts of the thesis, including an introduction, the literature review, the methodology, results, conclusions, etcetera.

Example of a traditional viva presentation structure

The advantage of this rather traditional format is that it provides information on each thesis chapter. Furthermore, it is relatively easy to prepare.

The disadvantage of this traditional format is that it is very challenging to fit all the information in a – let’s say – 10-minute presentation.

Furthermore, it can result in a presentation that is quite boring for the examiners, who have read the thesis in preparation for the viva.

One interesting way is to structure a viva presentation around the key findings of the PhD research.

For instance, you can select your three main findings which you each connect to the existing literature, your unique research approach and your (new) empirical insights.

Example of a viva presentation structure around key findings

A viva presentation structure around key findings emphasises the unique contribution of a PhD thesis, particularly in empirical terms.

A challenge of this structure, however, is to narrow down the presentation to a handful of key findings.

Furthermore, it might be tricky to find enough time during the presentation to discuss your theoretical framework and embed your discussion in the existing literature when addressing complex issues.

A viva presentation structured around key arguments is very similar to one that is structured around key findings. However, while key findings place more emphasis on the empirical data, key arguments operate at a higher level:

Arguments are sets of reasons supporting an idea, which – in academia – often integrate theoretical and empirical insights.

Example of a viva presentation structure around key arguments

So, for example, your key argument 1 is your stance on an issue, combining your theoretical and empirical understanding of it. You use the existing theory to understand your empirical data, and your empirical data analysis to develop your theoretical understanding.

A viva presentation structure around key arguments is probably the most difficult viva presentation structure to choose.

However, if it is well done, it is probably the most academically strong and advanced way of defending your PhD.

Another common way to structure a viva presentation is around case studies or study contexts.

This structure is only applicable when the PhD thesis includes a comparative (case study) analysis, which is quite common in the social sciences and humanities.

A presentation can, for instance, first discuss the theoretical framework and research approach, then present Case 1, and then Case 2 or more if applicable.

Example of a viva presentation structure around case studies

A viva presentation structure around case studies can be easy to follow for the audience, and shed light on the similarities and differences of cases.

However, as always, you need to reflect on whether the structure supports your key message. If your key message does not centre around similarities and/or differences in cases, this is not the structure for you!

Every PhD thesis is unique, and therefore also every viva presentation structure should be unique.

The key to a good viva presentation is to choose a structure which reflects the key points of your PhD thesis that you want to convey to the examiners.

The example viva presentation structures discussed here intend to showcase variety and possibilities and to provide inspiration.

Never just copy a viva presentation structure that worked for others .

Always think about what fits best to your thesis, asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the main message of my PhD that I want to share during my viva?
  • How do I develop a crystal clear storyline to bring this main message across?
  • How can I structure my viva presentation to support and facilitate this storyline?

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What is a viva? PhD viva, viva voce, viva process and more

If you are a PhD candidate and preparing to take the biggest step in your academic journey, you might be overwhelmed by the thought of your impending viva voce or the oral defense of your thesis.

Worry not, we are here to demystify the process and provide you with actionable tips to successfully navigate this crucial academic milestone.

Here, we will guide you through the viva process, shed light on the perspective of your examiners, and help you understand how to prepare for this pivotal examination. 

Whether you’re just beginning to wrap your head around what a viva entails or are already deep in the trenches of preparation, this blog is designed to offer you comprehensive, step-by-step guidance.

By understanding the process, expectations, and preparing effectively, you can walk into your viva with confidence, ready to defend your thesis and demonstrate your deep understanding of your research area.

What is a PhD viva or viva voce?

A PhD viva or viva voce is an oral examination where you defend your thesis in front of internal examiner(s) from your institution and/or external examiner(s) from another institution specializing in your subject area.

viva phd

There may be up to 5 people on your viva panel. 

They are testing your knowledge and thought processed to be admitted into the degree.

Typically lasting for an hour and a half to two hours, the viva is a conversation between experts, giving you the chance to elaborate and clarify your research.

Preparation for the viva can involve ongoing conversations, with supervisors and focused development after thesis submission.

As the viva voce derives from the Latin for ‘living voice,’ let your passion for your research come alive in your defense.

As nerve-wracking as it might be, remember to relax and use this opportunity to share your contribution to your field. 

Supervisors will (or at least should) conduct mock vivas to help you prepare for questions and build confidence. Ask for a mock viva if one is not offered by your supervisor. 

During the viva, your supervisor may be present as a silent observer, ensuring examination conduct.

Outcomes of a viva range from:

  • passing without corrections,
  • passing with minor or major corrections,
  • or not passing at all.

Examiners won’t necessarily spot all mistakes, but they read your work thoroughly, engage in a comprehensive discussion, and submit independent reports before the viva.

Understand what’s expected of you in your viva (Examiner point of view)

From an examiner’s point of view, in your viva, you are expected to confidently explain and defend your thesis.

You should be well-prepared, recognizing that examiners will carefully read your work and may identify minor mistakes.

Keep in mind that examiners may not know your thesis as well as you, so be prepared to clarify and elaborate on your research. 

They may ask some really simple and basic questions of you – particularly early on in your thesis defense.

It is essential to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and address any questions posed by the examiners.

You may have the option to include your supervisor or other supportive figures from your institution during the viva for moral support and to witness the examination’s conduct.

Understand that examiners typically work independently and exchange reports just before the viva, so be ready to engage in a comprehensive discussion about your work.

Focus on showcasing your:

  • research abilities, and
  • significance of your thesis

during the viva.

How to prepare for your viva exam

To prepare for a PhD viva, follow these actionable steps:

1. Familiarize yourself with your examiner’s and supervisor’s work (4-5 days): Know their research interests, potential biases, and recent publications, and consider how they might relate to your thesis.

2. Understand your thesis deeply (5-6 days): Be able to explain your research question/hypothesis, aims, theoretical framework, methods, and key results concisely. Review all the papers you discussed or mentioned in your thesis, noting their relevance to your work. Address any weaknesses in your analysis, and justify your study’s merit to earn a PhD.

3. Practice summarizing your thesis: Prepare a 200-word summary of each chapter and a 2-minute explanation of your whole thesis. Be ready to clarify your work in one or two sentences.

4. Anticipate general questions : Examples include summarizing your thesis, stating your research question or hypothesis, and discussing your main results. Prepare answers for potential questions from both a general and discipline-specific context.

5. Conduct mock vivas with your supervisor: Simulate the viva experience to get comfortable with the format, build confidence, and receive feedback on your performance.

6. Review general questions and answers (last 1-2 days): Brush up on your prepared responses and make any necessary final adjustments.

Remember, most PhD students pass their viva, so focus on preparing and confidently discussing your research.

Things to keep in mind during your viva – top tips

Here are the top tips to keep in mind during your viva:

viva phd

1. Ask for clarifications if a question is unclear. Be polite and ensure you understand the question before attempting to answer it.   2. Don’t interrupt the examiner while they are asking a question. Give them time to finish, as it shows respect and allows you to fully comprehend the inquiry.

3. Be honest if you don’t know the answer to a question. Prepare a polite response for unexpected questions you cannot answer.

4. Maintain confidence without arrogance. Display a level of nervousness that reflects your dedication to the process, but avoid overconfidence or disrespect.

5. Keep your answers concise and structured. Use a clear format when providing your response, such as breaking it down into key points.

6. Speak at a moderate pace. Avoid talking too fast or too slow, as it can be distracting for the listeners. Practice controlling your speech rate during your preparations.

7. Give yourself plenty of time before the defense to prepare and relax. You should be in the right state of mind for your viva.

8. Be familiar with the protocols, format, and panel of your viva. Attend other thesis defenses, read your institution’s guidelines, and research the background of the examiners on your panel.

By following these tips, you can enter your viva well-prepared and have a successful defense. Enjoy the experience and demonstrate the hard work you have put into your research.

Wrapping up – thesis viva

Concluding our comprehensive guide on the viva process for PhD students, the final thought we leave you with is this: your PhD viva, or viva voce, is an opportunity to defend your research, a unique chance to demonstrate your motivation, strengths, and even your limitations as a researcher.

It’s important to understand the viva definition in its entirety: a viva voce is an oral test undertaken in front of a panel of examiners.

This panel usually includes one internal examiner from your institution and one external examiner from another. It may also include other experts depending on policies and practices.

Preparation is key when you get to the viva stage.

To that end, arranging a mock viva with your supervisor could help you anticipate the types of questions you’ll be asked. This practice could enable you to put your best foot forward during the real deal.

Don’t be surprised if the viva examination lasts anywhere between one and four hours.

You may be asked to elaborate on your PhD thesis, defend your field of study’s claims, discuss its strengths and weaknesses, and suggest future research opportunities. Your response to the assessment task should be in-depth and thoughtful.

Under the current COVID-19 conditions, many students are having their viva over Zoom or Skype.

In these cases, it’s important to arrange your setting to minimise distractions. Feel free to ask for clarification if the audio cuts out or you miss a question.

In preparation for your viva, review the academic profiles of your panel members, anticipate questions they might ask, and keep a copy of your thesis at hand.

Also, remember that while it’s important to provide an in-depth response, a concise explanation is ideal to avoid going on a tangent. If you’re asked about any weaknesses or limitations in your work, be honest and thoughtful in your response, highlighting your problem-solving skills as a researcher.

You’ve worked hard to reach this stage; now it’s your chance to shine! Best of luck!

viva phd

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

viva phd

2024 © Academia Insider

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Strange Glow Over Moscow Skies Triggers Panic as Explosions Reported

B right flashes lit up the night sky in southern Moscow in the early hours of Thursday morning, new footage appears to show, following reports of an explosion at an electrical substation on the outskirts of the city.

Video snippets circulating on Russian-language Telegram channels show a series of flashes on the horizon of a cloudy night sky, momentarily turning the sky a number of different colors. In a clip shared by Russian outlet, smoke can be seen rising from a building during the flashes lighting up the scene.

Newsweek was unable to independently verify the details of the video clips, including when and where it was filmed. The Russian Ministry of Emergency situations has been contacted via email.

Several Russian Telegram accounts said early on Thursday that residents of southern Moscow reported an explosion and a fire breaking out at an electrical substation in the Leninsky district, southeast of central Moscow.

Local authorities in the Leninsky district told Russian outlet RBC that the explosion had happened in the village of Molokovo. "All vital facilities are operating as normal," Leninsky district officials told the outlet.

The incident at the substation in Molokovo took place just before 2 a.m. local time, reported.

Messages published by the ASTRA Telegram account, run by independent Russian journalists, appear to show residents close to the substation panicking as they question the bright flashes in the sky. One local resident describes seeing the bright light before losing access to electricity, with another calling the incident a "nightmare."

More than 10 villages and towns in the southeast of Moscow lost access to electricity, the ASTRA Telegram account also reported. The town of Lytkarino to the southeast of Moscow, lost electricity, wrote the eastern European-based independent outlet, Meduza.

Outages were reported in the southern Domodedovo area of the city, according to another Russian outlet, as well as power failures in western Moscow. Electricity was then restored to the areas, the outlet reported.

The cause of the reported explosion is not known. A Telegram account aggregating news for the Lytkarino area described the incident as "an ordinary accident at a substation."

The outlet quoted a local resident who speculated that a drone may have been responsible for the explosion, but no other Russian source reported this as a possible cause.

Ukraine has repeatedly targeted Moscow with long-range aerial drones in recent months, including a dramatic wave of strikes in late May.

On Sunday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the region's air defense systems had intercepted an aerial drone over the city of Elektrostal, to the east of Moscow. No damage or casualties were reported, he said.

The previous day, Russian air defenses detected and shot down another drone flying over the Bogorodsky district, northeast of central Moscow, Sobyanin said.

There is currently no evidence that an aerial drone was responsible for the reported overnight explosion at the electrical substation in southern Moscow.

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Stills from footage circulating on Telegram early on Thursday morning. Bright flashes lit up the night sky in southern Moscow, new footage appears to show, following reports of an explosion at an electrical substation on the outskirts of the city.


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