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PhD Viva

Viva - Do Not Disturb noticeMay your last hour be your best hour
Prayer - Our Lady's Blessing

The PhD viva examination, or thesis defence, represents the culmination of the PhD examination process, and how you perform at it can determine whether or not you are successful overall. It is crucial, therefore, that just as for any other kind of examination, you prepare yourself thoroughly, so that you come across well and give of your best. The outcome is too important to be left to chance.

>>>>> FAILURE >>>>>   N.b. For detailed guidance on what to do if you fail your viva examination, click here.

The following further important points about the viva should be noted:

  • It is strongly recommended that you ask your supervisor to arrange for you to have a practice viva. This will help to give you a feeling for what it is all about and prepare you for answering searching questions about your thesis.
  • You should make yourself thoroughly familiar with the contents of your thesis and prepare yourself to answer the three fundamental questions which you are likely to be asked in some shape or form:
    "What have been the significant contributions of your research?"
    "What would you do differently if you were setting out to do it today?"
    "Where do you see this kind of research moving in the future? What are the openings?"
  • It can be a useful exercise to try summarising your thesis in just two minutes, speaking aloud to a friend or colleague.
  • During the viva, as in the thesis itself, you should aim to be courteous but assertive. This means, for example, that if the examiners have a misunderstanding about various points in your thesis you will be prepared to ensure that matters are appropriately clarified for their benefit - for there will never be another opportunity! If you tend to feel hurt by criticism it would be valuable preparation for the viva to attend a series of assertiveness workshops.


Prepare yourself thoroughly for the viva in the ways suggested above and by talking to students who have recently completed their PhDs. But having done all the preparation you should then attend the viva in a very positive frame of mind. Your examiners will not be expecting perfection and they will not be seeking to fail you. All they will be looking for is an appropriate level of originality and research competence.

Further Information

For further information about the PhD viva examination see:

How to shine at your viva by Tristan Farrow
How to Survive a Thesis Defence (University of New South Wales)
Nasty PhD Viva Questions by Dr Andrew Broad
Survive your viva by Rowena Murray
Ten Tips for getting through your PhD Viva
Vivas: the procedure and possible outcomes
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Page last modified: 14 July 2012
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