The Morning Of (the Viva)

The Viva is such a big part of the PhD process. If you are in the States, or in Europe and elsewhere, it may be different than the typical UK viva and I can therefore only speak to my own experiences. But having talked to PhDs from other countries, there are similarities in how your prepare and how you deal with the nerves.

If you missed the last post about preparing for the viva, see here.

I will do another post about the actual viva experience and, at a later date, about what happens after the viva (UK based), so stay tuned for those!

As I said, previously, I was very jet lagged when it came time for my viva. I hadn’t slept well in days and was still recovering from a trans-atlantic flight. If you can avoid that, best to do so (either avoid the need for a flight – i.e. already be in the country where your viva will be held, or come over extra early).

I woke up very early the day of my viva (a Friday). I already knew (again, don’t do this!) that as soon as my viva was over I had time for a quick (hopefully celebratory) drink and then an early train all the way back to the airport (3 hours). And then an early flight the next morning to get back to Toronto in time to attend my friend’s super important launch celebration. The kind of thing you don’t miss, if you are a best friend. It was just unfortunate timing, but I decided that as important as my viva was, my friend was just as important and missing her big event would be understandable bad.

So I got up that morning knowing I had a jam-packed 24 hours ahead of me, and the viva would only be part of that!

I had brought two outfits with me, because after much thought and contemplation, I couldn’t decide between the two of them. I still couldn’t decide that morning, but finally the fact that it was February and cold won out and I put on the pant suit. I thought it would make me more confident in a room full of men. Hard to say if that actually worked or not, but I hate wearing form-fitting dresses amongst men who I want to respect me for my intelligence. I figured a pant-suit would fit in better.

You can wear whatever you want, but be comfortable. You don’t want to have to worry if a part of your body you would rather not is showing or showing too much. You don’t want to be tugging at a skirt or constantly worried about sweat stains on a dress shirt (men, take note). If these are problems you have, dress with care, but keep it professional. You are there for your mind, not your appearance, but that doesn’t mean sweatsuits are acceptable. Dress as you would for a conference presentation.

I tried to eat breakfast – failed – and just moved on to redoing my hair umpteen times until I finally decided to just put it into a bun. I imagine men also have this problem, but it’s probably more about how spiky they should go with their fringe. Either way, if this passes the time and helps you cope, go for it.

My viva was at 2pm. That’s a long time to wait for something that terrifies you. And I knew I needed to eat something before then.

Right before lunch I headed to my department (where my viva was being held) and sequestered myself in my supervisor’s office, where he got me lunch, calmly talked to me about how bad the weather was, and tried to stop me from having a panic attack. None of it really worked, but bless him for trying. I would have been even more of a wreck left to my own devices.

Just before two, I was called into the viva.

Now, my department was pretty informal, so all vivas were held in the office of the internal examiner. And the examiner came to get you and took you to their office. Other schools have specific places on campus they do all vivas, and some you will not even have an internal from your own department. Make sure you understand ahead of time how the day will be run, where you should be (when you should be there), and what the general schedule will be (arrival time, viva time, viva length, waiting time for results). You don’t really want to be surprised about any of this.

That just leaves…the viva! Stay tuned.


After rather a lot of thought, I have decided to simplify things by posting new entries every Monday. At least until I run out of things to talk about.

If you are thinking of doing a PhD, or are currently doing one and you have a burning question you don’t think I’ve covered (or not in enough detail), please ask. Depending on what it is, I might not have an answer, but then again, I might!

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