PhD Defence on Friday

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  • PhD Defence on Friday
  • camo16

    Mine was fairly straight-forward… 😉 …but that was in History.

    I found the viva pretty scary at first, but as soon as I realised I knew more about my thesis – way more, in fact – than the specialist external, it was all Kool and the Gang. It helps to have loads of little extra tit-bits you can carelessly throw into the conversation.

    What’s your subject?

    EDIT: you hate it now, but you might grow to like your thesis in time. Honest.


    A very good friend of mine was in an almost identical situation to you – long time (almost 5 years), loads of hard work (some bizarre branch of Chemistry), family bereavement etc. It broke her and in the end, she hated it so much that she didn’t bother. 5 years wasted. She now regrets it, a lot.

    Stick in, you’re almost done 8)


    Another humanities/social sciences PhD here. Although my viva was more about methodology then anything else, it still went on for 2hrs. Now I sit on the other side of the viva table, in general we want the PhD to pass and the student to do well (I have had one unbelievably arrogant candidate who got a verbal slapping down). We also expect you to be nervous and possibly to stumble a little so take your time. Just be crystal-clear on rationale, methods, process and how you arrived at results. After that, try to treat it as a potentially enjoyable conversation rather than an exam.


    Yes at least you wrote yours up. I got so fed up with mine I left after 3 years to go and work in IT.

    4 years til submission for mine, 3 months til the external was available. A week before it, broke my elbow. Was offered the chance to put it back by another 3 months or just get it done, so did with the help of some pain killers.

    I actually found the viva the best part of the whole process – you finally get to engage with someone who, while an expert, has only a working understanding of what you’ve done and have a discussion about it as it stands, rather than constantly fighting the day-to-day battles to get it written.

    Had “minor” corrections, but as I was working full time by then took another 3 months of evenings and w/e’s to tie up the loose ends and sign it off. Random thoughts: hated at the time, glad I did it now, wouldn’t do it again in the manner I did (obviously alot more savvy, if not wiser now), looking back at the thesis as a written document it is a pile of poo but I still see it/the subsequent papers referenced every now and again which raises a smile…. 😉

    EDIT: Saxabar speaks the truth – it’s in everyone’s interest to (ultimately) pass you, so you’re provided you’re not a complete ar$e and play the game to some extent then it’l be OK.

    Premier Icon Garry_Lager

    The viva will depend on a few things, you, the thesis, the external etc. but generally should be enjoyable. Different formats between disciplines as well.
    I subscribe to the viva-as-celebration model, so try and give the candidate the opportunity to shine. No trick questions, just let them talk about the research. They need to be stretched and put under some pressure, so it’s a real defense, but nothing beyond this. All vivas should be like this IMO unless there are real problems with the thesis.

    I’ve done others as the internal which were viva-as-pitched battle between the external and the candidate with me as the ref. Hopefully this won’t happen.

    What can be very irritating is when you bowl a few gentle looseners at the candidate early doors, and they react like you’ve pitched them a real googly. So they over analyse or clam up and you waste half and hour on introductory stuff when really you want to be getting at the meat of the research. So I’d say to expect simple, straightforward questions just as much as the really testing ones you would naturally focus on in your preparation. So if both you and the external get on the same wavelength this will be clear, and the viva will go really quickly.

    Best of Luck!

    Premier Icon drbob65

    I did a science PhD, thye tend to start with odd questions, I had an American external examiner and alhough I recognised the words he was speaking were english I had no idea what I was being asked, my internal had to keep restating the question into “english”. He threw me with his first question on research paradigm, I know the whooly social sciences do that kind of nonsense and all I can think of when i heard the word paradigm was thinnk of the paradigm trail in Marin County!


    For four and a half years the hated thesis destroyed my life. Finally it was submitted in December. The external examiner wasn’t available until March. Then my father died. It got pushed back. I have zero interest in it at this stage. I have re-read it, surprised at how not shit it was, and have most of the presentation done for the open aspect of the viva. have a mock run through with my research group tonight.

    Finally the epic that was my thesis can be scrubbed from the face of the earth when this is done. I do expect corrections. I have no idea how much I will have though.

    So what do I do for the next few days?

    Advice for on the day?

    I will have a full bladder ready for their shoes if they don’t pass me.

    Premier Icon ART

    Lots of good advice up there ^^^ . My experience was pretty good on the whole – I didn’t have a massive gap to the viva, but like you was pretty ‘over it’ by the time it got there.

    No one knows your thesis like you, really they don’t. Good externals are interested in you, the process and your ability to articulate your research well. In the event (and it was over 10 years ago for me now) it was a pretty enjoyable process, I walked away with minor corrections that I got done in a day or so, and was able to wrap up that bit of my life.

    I think anyone who has ever done the PhD thing knows people who so nearly got there but for lots of reasons bailed at the last minute. Hang in there and get this done – in fact go for it and enjoy it if you can. It is worth it in the end – cause once you’ve got it you’re done and free to get on with whatever else it is you want to do.

    Edit: Good luck ! have a bottle to hand, it helps whatever!


    I’d reiterate what a few people have said. Unless your examiner is a total arse, it should all be about you demonstrating your understanding of the research process, the methodologies used, the analysis and presentation of results. The examiners are there to facilitate that process, make sure you did the work, and check you know what you’re talking about.

    A few tips i can think of… You should be aware of the flaws in your work (don’t try to bullshit them as they may well smack you down)and be able to reason why you did it that way, and how you would change things if you had the opportunity to do it again.

    I’d also recommend being honest if you don’t know the answer, but feel free to have a stab “i’m not 100% / i don’t know the exact evidence, but if i were to speculate then i would think it was this..”

    Also, remind yourself that you know the thesis better than anyone, and the reason you have the examiners there is because they most likely are interested in the topic, have enjoyed reading and would like to know more.

    Good luck with it, and enjoy it. Remember, this is probably the only time you have a few hours to talk with experts about your work.

    Premier Icon marko75

    The advice here is sound….

    My viva was tough but all in all they are marking you on your work to make sure its yours….. You of all people should know your thesis (as it takes so freaking long to write)so you shouldnt have anything to worry about. The external examiner even said that one of my chapters ‘was the dogs dinner’ but didnt suggest any corrections!

    The single best piece of advice… dont bullshit. If you dont know – say it…..

    Like above – if your supervisor is any good you wont get put forward for the viva unless you will pass. But a death in the family puts it all into perspective – my mother was rather ill and died 3 weeks after my viva.

    Good luck and remember the viva is all about joining a club…. once the viva is over you will have the same qualifications as the examiners!

    Mine was a piece of piss. They quized me about one chapter. I said it was shit because of y and z ( mostly due to foot and mouth restrictions) and said i hadnt used it in my concluding chapter. They said ok you’ve passed. Think i dodged the bullet by knowing the weaknesses. Had loads of minor corrections. Went and got very drunk.


    I did a social sceince PhD – took 3 and 3/4 years to get it done, and waited 5 months for the viva.

    I quite enjoyed doing the PhD itself. Never really had any major traumas, good supervisors, pretty smooth. Then came the viva….


    In the end I got minor corrections – just. The viva was two hours of getting a hiding from the external. Wave after wave of assault – it was like riding up-hill into a headwind and every now and again being pushed over by an oik. The only restbite was when the internal asked a question. 5 minute breather before the bumming recomenced. Left the room feeling like Bishop Brennan after he’d been kicked up the arse.

    For the next three months I spend every non-working hour doing the corrections. I was working for min. wage at the time too, becasue I couldn’t find anything else. Happy days. Got my PhD July 2012.

    I made some great mates, enjoyed the last hurrah of being a student and had a blast for the 3 funded years. Career wise it was a massive waste of time, and although it was funded, it’s still cost me £000s Wish I’d jacked it in after the end of the funding.


    Mine was a bit of a nightmare:

    Two weeks to go – everything is sorted. Great external and internal examiners picked, travel all booked, and i’m naturally pretty nervous.

    One week to go – the external breaks his leg and can’t travel. Aaaah! What to do? Re-arrange? Do it over the phone?

    6 days to go – we agree to do it over the phone. phew! Later that day someone realises we have no speaker phones suitable. Aaaah!

    5 days to go – the dept buys a conference style speaker phone box. Phew!

    4 days to go – internal examiner has a re-occurance of a jaw problem. This means they can’t speak, are in pain and are signed off work for two weeks. Aaaah! What to do? Re-arrange?

    3 days to go – panicpanicpanicpanic

    2 days to go – internal agrees to come in, they want to do it and will just dose themselves up on painkillers.

    One hour to go – eating lunch with supervisor in her office (also the place for the viva) and the fire alarm goes off. Seriously, wtf!?

    Thirty minutes to go – get let back into the building.

    Viva time – i’m talking to a box and someone who can barely talk.

    55 minutes later – we’re done, they are going to consider their decision. Wow, that was short, was it really that bad?

    5 minutes go by – Congratulations Dr Jon, sort out your typos in the next couple of weeks, and start calling yourself Dr. Uh, what? Really? That’s it?

    All that stress and the viva was a total of one hour!

    Premier Icon StirlingCrispin

    Ah – happy days.
    Top Tip: Ask to go for a wee after a couple of hours, and hopefully they’ll use the break to decide you’ve passed.



    My viva was only 1hour 40 but I was on the verge of tears most of the way through it! I had wanted to do a PhD since a very young age and the amount of pressure I put on myself was stupid! The feeling afterwards is amazing though!
    Good luck!

    Premier Icon ahsat

    Top Tip: Ask to go for a wee after a couple of hours, and hopefully they’ll use the break to decide you’ve passed.

    I did exactly that (and ate a kitkat from my handbag) and I came back in expecting another hour and a grilling on the conclusions (geography for me) and they said, that will do, well done!

    I agree with the advice above – be honest of the weaknesses and admit you dont know (at one point I said ‘god I am really messing this up at the moment arent I’ and they laughed) and you will realise you do know it. Most people hate thier thesis at this point (and for the next 3 years while you try and write papers from it), but you are the only person who knows it inside out. In the meantime, go ride your bike, drink coffee, catch up on the those few papers you only read the abstract of while writing the conclusions (we all did it) and get some sleep.

    And just think how proud your Dad will be of you come Friday evening.

    Good luck


    Just to pick up on the two questions you first asked (what do I do for the next few days/advice for on the day?) it doesn’t hurt to know your examiner’s specialisms and preempt any curve-ball questions. While the Chair should ensure you are not asked anything unrelated, you can find some externals have an axe to grind/petty issues and being aware of what these might be could save you some re-writing time.

    Also have a look at the big things going on your field that your might research might apply to. This will give you more to elaborate on as well as further confidence in what you have produced. Otherwise, go riding, stay fit and feeling good, and don’t overdo it on the caffeine beforehand!


    Wowsa, lots of really good points to take in here, thanks so much everyone. My background is sports science, the PhD is in exercise physiology/inertial measurement units. Odd combo…but it works….ish.

    Presented my ..erm presentation for the first time this afternoon to our research group and my supervisor. Finished it an hour before I gave it…I’d not seen the slides bar writing them and it went well…. bar going well well over the time.

    Feedback – very good, know my stuff, just trying to give to much, make it less.

    Was happy that I could show my work, on little to no preparation. Really happy.

    Then I went home and rode my bike. Oh and a new frame turned up. And now I have a beer. All is good in the world.


    My background is sports science, the PhD is in exercise physiology/inertial measurement units. Odd combo…but it works….ish.

    Not that odd, did an exercise on it (no pun intended) on a Coursera data analysis course a month back – predicting user activity from Samsung SII accelerator data. Interesting stuff, potentially a bit big-brother though!

    Good luck with your viva, can’t give any advice other than to agree with the “have a bottle ready” bit 🙂

    Premier Icon SaxonRider

    Not much to add, really, except that I quite enjoyed my viva. My internal examiner was the scariest, but he complimented me later for anticipating some of his challenges.

    If you are as ready as you seem to be from what you say, just try to be calm, and allow yourself to enter into the conversation of a lifetime.

    When I arrived home afterward, my wife and kids had made a cake and poured champagne. It was a great day all told.

    Premier Icon Daffy

    My wife’s Viva was last Thursday. She’d been dreading it for almost a month and was practically in tears at the slightest thing on the run up to it.

    However, after a 20 minute presentation and a 1 hour discussion/QnA, they told her she’d passed with NO CORRECTIONS!

    In typical Mrs D fashion, her response to this was “What? ….I don’t understand, what do I have to do?”

    After uttering some disbelieving expletive, her supervisor explained what had happened 🙂 🙄

    Premier Icon Metasequoia

    Just enjoy it: you know your thesis better than the external does- listen and defend as needed, but it’s really a conversation about something you both have knowledge and passion about, maybe in different measures, I surprised myself with knowledge that was stored away in the deep recesses of my mind (I had a typo in line one of the abstract, and some interesting grammar to correct!). Hope it goes well.


    Theoretical Physics PhD (Topological defects in the early universe). About 80 pages of maths. My external examiner was one of about three people in the world who could examine me. He asked some pertinent questions about implications, but didn’t find any mathematical errors 😉

    The Viva is to establish i) that the work is original and sufficient for the degree, ii) that you did it and iii) that you understand the limitations and implications of the work for future research.

    I’m assuming i) and ii) are covered. Focus on iii)

    Good luck.

    Premier Icon SimonR

    Some good advice there and some food for thought. Just got my thesis printed and off to my examiners after 7 years effort mostly in my spare time. Not got a date for my viva yet but looking forward to it – I’ve got a captive audience who have to take an interest in what I’m presenting 🙂


    The Viva is to establish i) that the work is original and sufficient for the degree, ii) that you did it and iii) that you understand the limitations and implications of the work for future research.

    Hah, this made me laugh 🙂

    Yep have i and ii covered, mostly know what I want to say about iii but have a few papers to read before I move on!


    The Viva is to establish i) that the work is original and sufficient for the degree, ii) that you did it and iii) that you understand the limitations and implications of the work for future research.

    Got it in one!

    Mine was three hours, which seemed to be about standard for my department. I had one hairy moment, but apart from that, it was basically a chance to discuss my work with two world experts in the field. I was already a few months into my postdoc at the same uni though, which meant the chair brought in some marking to keep him occupied!

    If you do go on to a career in academia in your field, you’ll do well to impress your external. In my case, it’s his reference that got me my first permanent position.

    Premier Icon darrell

    mine was 1 hour and a bit. Just me and the external chatting about the experimental techniques but non of the results. The internal was so bored he feel asleep.

    I passed without corrections. My thesis consisted of 3 already published papers plus and intro

    Hmmm 5 hours for me, and my thesis had 2 published papers. Most of that time was my Canadian external just being incredibly excited about geology. At my expense. In the end I just had a short list of spelling and grammatical corrections from my internal.

    Preparation consisted of lying on the sofa the day before, reading the first page then deciding to do a massive ride in the snowy Yorkshire Dales instead. I was already doing a postdoc in a similar area so was up-to-speed enough.

    Never used ‘Dr’ either 😀


    I do have some published work in the PhD so that will help I suppose. Just trying to preguess the questions I’ll get. Not doing so well on that at the moment.

    once I get talking I think it’ll be easier, but thats assuming they are in a nice mood.

    I have been told that they’ve booked food for us all in the university VIP restaurant…so that must be a good sign 🙂


    I have been told that they’ve booked food for us all in the university VIP restaurant…so that must be a good sign

    Dude, I didn’t even get a coffee.

    Hope the meal you choose isn’t some sort of hidden test. Choose wisely! 😉


    One of the guys in our research group had a 85yr old internal and 84 yr old external, both very well respected in our area. They went out for a big roast lunch before his viva. It was all done in about 40mins, they could both barely stay awake, sadly i don’t think that’ll work with my int and ext.

    I’m trying to get mine written and finished, urgh.


    I was debating brining some nice whisky for the examiners… but figured that’d be a step too far 🙂 I’ll just need to keep my mouth firmly shut afterwards as I expect to be excited.

    I was debating brining some nice whisky for the examiners

    Thought it was an urban myth, but the internet says otherwise so it must be true.


    13.5 hours to go!

    Thanks for all the good advice, feeling really ok with this now. Presented again today, went very well, bring on the questions.

    Premier Icon ART

    Good Luck! You are all prepped, relax now and give your mind space to do its thing. The niche within a niche that is the STW PhD club wishes you well. Post viva report expected ‘natch. 🙂


    Best of luck, waiting on the good news (and surely ammusing anecdotes) tommorow afternoon.


    Good luck! It sounds as though you are well prepped and feeling happy about it all.

    Enjoy your conversations with your examiners, then enjoy the post viva meal (and subsequent skin full of well deserved beers / champagne / shots etc). Please let us know how you get on…

    My examiners brought tea and cakes to my viva. Helped calm me down a little…

    Good luck.

    No one gets out of here alive.


    good luck – as much as you may (or not) be bricking it, everyone in the midst of writing up would swap positions with you right now…


    Best of luck. You might end up enjoying the Viva, some people do.


    Presumably this is good news as you’re not sober enough to operate a keyboard??


    Well? How did it go then?


    So, long story short.

    I have corrections to do (unexpected), I just don’t know how much I have to do as the intern and extern appear to not agree on it. Thus, I get a list next Monday, I have 3 months to get them done. Then I get to be called PhD.

    Short story long.

    Study done by 10pm then night before, went to the pub for two pints with my mate as I just needed to turn off my brain. Slept ok, woke up, read through presentation again then went into the university. Extern was a bit late so we started maybe 10mins late.
    Presentation went well, very well. Took questions from the audience afterwards (we do an open viva, there was maybe 20 people there and examiners) so was very happy with that. Got kicked out for 15mins and just took some down time, food and coffee in. Then called back in.
    The first hour of the viva went fast, very fast. We ignored the lit review and went straight for the experimental chapters, one by one they were shredded, I had to talk/defend/fight as expected. After about 2.5hours I took a break to go to the toilet. At this point my brain was fried. Came back in and it started again. Got thrown a massive currveball…massive one… something I’d not noticed, and a mistake at that. Not a massive one, but big enough that I couldn’t let go of it and I froze mentally, then broke. The next 30mins was me watching my lst 4.5 years of work melt away before my eyes, i probably was not very useful at this point and I know that I was saying less and less to each answer, shutting back inside my head. The not fun, depressed side of my brain took over, after 30mins they called it as I think they realised they had broken me.
    45 minutes waiting to be called back in for the ‘decision’ that was given to me. The extern was explaining to me their choice, that the work was good, the data solid, that I’d not need to repeat either the viva – data collection – presentation, i’d just need to do an amount of corrections that they had chosen in three months. My brain heard – you need to re-write all of this in 3 months.
    In the 15 minutes I was back in I said 3 words, then excused myself from the proffered lunch and left after thanking them. My supervisor tried to explain to me that it was all actually ok, I have a PhD once corrections are done… I didn’t see it like that. I’m not sure that I do as of yet.

    The last 3 days have been hard. Thankfully I had to get back to the UK the evening of the viva (I did my studies in Ireland) so was driving and ferrying so not drinking. The two days after similar as I was on driving duties supporting my partner at the 3 Peaks fell race. I’d not like to think what would have happened otherwise, I’ve a history there that I don’t like seeing again.

    I’ve taken some time and thought a bit logically about this. Thought about it, but not really acted on it, I cant until I see the level of edits I have to do. At this point, coping mechanisms are in full flight. Deal with what I can, ignore the rest, push it back, break it down when it comes.

    Logically I know its not the end of the world. The part of me that contributed to Toms depression article ‘Vicious Cycle’ in issue 78 has risen to the front, the root cause once again _that_ document. At the moment I don’t know what I am going to do with it.

    I do know, that I am going to ride my bike this afternoon. Thats a good start anyway.

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