My PhD Viva experience

Guy Fawkes
Remember, remember the 5th of November

For me the Fifth of November will no longer be associated with Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night, from this day forth it will no longer be the fifth of November if will be the “Phifth” of November, the day I had  my viva.

Completing my PhD has been one of the biggest achievements of my life, as a process it has been challenging, rewarding and life affirming, with many, many bumps along the way. However after submission, the part of the PhD process I was dreading the most was the Viva. Today I want to discuss my experiences of the fifth of November 2015 in more detail.

Do your homework

The weeks leading up to the viva were pretty nerve wracking. To get over these nerves early on I resolved within myself to do as much research as possible about the Viva process, the experience and what to expect. The early part of my research was a bit of a horror show, I read and heard many horror stories on how viva’s can go terribly wrong if you don’t plan or are unsure on any aspects of your thesis, especially methodology. I was just hoping and praying that my experience was positive. The only thing that kept me going were the words of my supervisor who was constantly reminding me “You’re the expert, not them!“.

The day of reckoning

As the fireworks were exploding outside, and butterflies were rattling around in my stomach inside, at 12:30pm I was invited into the dreaded Boardroom. There were three examiners one internal and two external. After the pleasantries it was straight down to the nitty gritty:

  • What was your PhD about?
  • Why did you choose this topic?
  • Give me a quick overview of your thesis in less than 5 mins.

While these are the opening gambits in many a Viva, I found them to be quite tricky. Compressing my work from the last five years into 10 minutes was not easy. It did help that I was prepared for these questions and it also helped me in developing a logical flow to my PhD.

As the PhD progressed the panel spent a lot of time talking about my literature base. There was some serious discussion around the chosen framework; Why was this chosen? What else was considered? where is your literature to support this? What really helped me at this stage was that my framework the Five pillars of culturally responsive teaching  (Jabbar and Hardaker, 2013) had already been published in a 2* journal. This helped give my PhD, which hinged so much on this framework some credibility before and during the viva.

The other major talking point within my PhD was my methodology. On the whole this discussion went quite well. There was discussion about sample selection and reflexivity. The main feedback in this section was that I had written this well but I needed to be clear on specific points, for example why was my PhD on just Business Schools, why not the wider University environment etc.

Result and Reflection

Overall the whole process was enjoyable. I enjoyed talking to my peers about my research and I found their opinions fascinating on how I could take my research further into different avenues. I found the Viva process a human experience based on respect. While I was glad it was over I also thought to myself “Is that it?”, five years of hard-work and graft discussed and finished in two hours.

The Viva is a exciting and mentally challenging process. I was exhausted by the end of the Viva and must have drank about five litres of water. However the key benefit for me was understanding the evolution of my work and finding areas of improvement and further development. I found the process helped me to better appreciate and understand my work and for that I am grateful.

The result: PhD Subject to minor amendments 🙂

Top tips

  • Be prepared, make notes, annotate your PhD and identify key areas where you feel you might be questioned.
  • If you need time to think, drink water, helps to give you a few seconds.
  • Don’t feel you have to answer straight away, think about your answer.
  • Do not be afraid to refer to your thesis during the Viva. This is not a sign of weakness.
  • Try to publish something out of your literature review. This can give you extra credibility.
  • After my Viva I was physically and mentally drained. Sleep, eat and relax as much as possible.
  • Go to the GYM, watch a Movie, grab a bite to eat, keep your mind off the Viva, when you are in there a  lot of the discussion will come naturally.

If you also have had your viva please share your experience. The more we talk about the Viva the less scary the word becomes!


5 thoughts on “My PhD Viva experience”

  1. Congrats on surviving your viva, and a big well done on getting those three little letters after your name – well deserved!


  2. Not full viva but I have an upgrade viva next week. Good to know that I can delve into the document if I need to as I was worried they might think I didn’t know what I was talking about if I had to do that. Roll on the real thing in a couple of years. And congratulations again on completing yours 🙂


    1. Thank you Pamela. The PhD is a long journey and I am sure you will be more than successful. Hopefully some of my tips will help. Another thing my supervisor always used to say to me, this is not a memory test, know your thesis.


      1. I can explain what I am doing and why in my sleep (and regularly do) it is if they ask me about the significance of a particular piece of literature I may need to look it up.


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