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This resource contains top tips for doctoral students preparing for their Viva. It was originally written by Priya Vadi for the RGS-IBG's Postgraduate Forum.


The viva is not as daunting as it seems. I really enjoyed mine and did not even realise that I had been in the room for just over 2 hours. Nobody will spend as much time reading your work in as much depth as your examiners. It is a real opportunity to show what you know and engage in a conversation with specialists in your field.

I was fortunate to have a fantastic supervisor who guided me through what the viva process entails and I would now like to share my top tips with you.


Top ten tips

  1. Read your thesis 1 month before the viva and make notes on post-its rather than on the thesis itself as it will allow you to access what you require quickly.

  2. I found useful to make notes of any errors on a separate piece of paper as well as in the thesis itself. Doing this allowed me to show my examiners that I was aware that the thesis needed a good proof read.

  3. Read key articles and books to become familiar with what your examiners have written. Questions will usually be based on the work that they engage with.

  4. Identify and acknowledge key gaps, weaknesses and mistakes. It will show that you are able to take criticism and are able to be critical of your own work

  5. Make sure you know your own arguments and those of key scholars in your field.

  6. Know what makes your work original and what contributions it makes.

  7. You don’t know what questions will be asked. However, some questions you will be able predict, so know your answers to those and make short notes.

  8. Take a note book and pen. This will allow you to write down questions and also buy you a little time in answering.

  9. Having said that, take your time in answering the question and ask to repeat questions if needed (at one point my mind went blank and I did forget what the question was!).

  10. It is about developing a narrative. It is a conversation with a purpose. I felt that I answered some questions inadequately, and went back to them, showing that I was able to develop my argument.

  11. This is perhaps the most important of all; don’t be a nervous wreck! I did some yoga and meditation before I went in as it cleared my mind. Do what you need to do to relax!


Useful phrases

Here some useful phrases that may be helpful:

  1. Can you rephrase the question?/ Is that what you are asking?

  2. I am aware… however…

  3. That’s an interesting point, but the way I was thinking about it was…

  4. Is that answering your question?


Post viva

You will most probably be exhausted afterwards and may experience some anxiety a few days later. It feels very anticlimactic, as you have spent 3-4 years of your life working on one thing and now don’t know what to do. This is completely normal. It may take you a few days to adjust, enjoy your free time because hard work is now over!