• Home »

find your perfect postgrad program Search our Database of 30,000 Courses

How to prepare for a phd viva.

Preparing for your PhD viva can be a daunting task. You'll want to ensure that you are ready to defend your thesis successfully.

To help, we've rounded up some useful tips on what to expect during your viva experience, how you can fully prepare for the process and what to expect after viva is done.

What is a PhD viva?

PhD Viva Interview

For the majority of PhD students, finishing the dissertation is a seminal moment. After all, knowing that such a long project has come to an end may seem almost surreal.

However, a hard copy of the dissertation is not the end of the PhD experience , each dissertation will have to be orally ‘defended’ in an examination called a viva, which usually takes between one and two hours to complete.

A PhD is an oral examination in the form of a discussion in which PhD students present their PhD thesis and defend their research methods and outcomes to a panel of academic experts.

The word ’viva’ is a shortened form of the Latin term ‘viva voce’ which means ‘live voice’.

How to prepare for a PhD viva

A key way to ensure success in your PhD viva is to make sure you are properly prepared – this can be done in four simple ways:

1. Know your research project inside out.

2. Find out about your viva examiners if you can. If you know about their areas of expertise, you may be able to anticipate their lines of questioning and even work out what they’d like to hear more about.

3. Compile a list of possible questions and practice your explanation/defence of methods used and outcomes discovered.

4. Prepare properly for the actual day by planning your journey to the PhD viva, knowing what you’re going to wear and compiling all the documentation that you need to have with you.

How to prepare ahead of your PhD viva – 5 steps to success

After you hand in your thesis/dissertation, you will usually have a few free weeks before undertaking the PhD viva. It is important that you prepare well during this period and walk out of your examination with at least a “pass mark subject to minor corrections”.

We have compiled a list of some of the most important PhD viva preparation steps to help you succeed in your viva.

STEP 1 – Take a break

After you have submitted your thesis, it is good to take a one or two week break and avoid thinking about your work. This will allow you to see your thesis from a third-person perspective and to understand your own shortcomings more clearly when you read it once again.

STEP 2 ­– Get to know your thesis

Read each section carefully and summarise its main points. You need to know how to explain and justify the main aspects of your thesis including the research question, methodology and data analysis. Writing any thoughts that come to your mind while reading the thesis as comments will help you to establish a "personal connection" with the thesis and understand it in greater depth.

STEP 3 – Critically examine your thesis

The crucial step of preparation is to lose any "compassion" towards your own work and criticise any weak points that you find in your thesis. It is very likely that your examiners will focus on some of these points in your viva, and you need to find out how to justify them.

STEP 4 – Learn how to defend your thesis!

Write a list of possible critical questions regarding your research and learn how to answer them convincingly. Try to think of yourself as a lawyer and of your thesis as the defendant whom you need to defend!

STEP 5 – Arrange a mock viva with your supervisor around 1-2 weeks before the actual viva

This will help you determine whether your preparation has been complete or there are still some aspects to be prepared before you can successfully defend your thesis. And don't forget to do something enjoyable and relax on the day before your actual viva!

PhD viva tips

We have compiled some of the most useful PhD viva tips to help you understand what is awaiting you if you ever decide to become a PhD student or if you already are one.

Who will be at a PhD viva?

A viva is attended by the PhD student and at least two academic experts.

In some universities, in addition to the student and the two examiners, there may be a senior member of academic staff present to act as chair of the examination. Your supervisor may also be present, although some universities do not allow this.

If there is a chair or your supervisor present at your PhD viva, they are not allowed to ask you questions or to take part in any of the discussion about the outcome.

PhD Viva Interview

What questions are asked at a PhD viva?

The examiners will usually start by trying to make you feel comfortable, perhaps by welcoming you and having some polite ‘social’ conversation to start with, for they will understand that you are nervous.

They will soon move on to the range of questions they have planned. These questions could cover anything about the thesis. They might ask you about the methods you have used, the results and findings or the conclusions you have drawn.

They may ask very detailed questions, or they may ask about the overall methods or findings. They will certainly want to explore any areas they feel you have not explained clearly enough or in enough detail in your thesis.

You may be asked to justify some of the conclusions you have made and to show exactly how your data has led you to draw those conclusions. In the area of methodology, you may be asked to justify your choice of the overall method you used, as well as explaining the decisions you made about the detailed methods you chose.

You may also be asked to show how well you know the range of literature and previous research in your field and how your findings add to the literature. In most vivas you will be asked to explain carefully what you believe to be your distinctive ‘contribution to knowledge’ from your research.

What will the PhD examiners want to know?

Understanding what PhD examiners might ask during your viva and having your answers is one way to prepare for success.

How do you justify the critical aspects of your work?

No dissertation is perfect and there will be some aspects of your PhD research that your examiners will be specifically critical about. Thus, it will be important for them to ask you some of the questions regarding these 'critical' aspects of your work to see if you can justify them. These questions will probably be decisive in determining the outcome of your viva.

Can you elaborate on specific sections of your research?

Besides focusing on some 'critical' aspects of your work, the examiners may ask you to give some more elaborate explanations of specific sections of your thesis or specific techniques used in your research. This will help them determine whether you really understand your own work and can think critically about your research.

How does your research contribute to your field of study?

Last, but not least, your examiners will be interested in how well you understand the place of your work within your field of research , and they will ask you to explain the overall contribution of your research to your discipline. As an aspiring student, you will always need to see the big picture and understand how your ideas can shape your academic field.

PhD viva – an academic discussion

A helpful way to think of the viva is as a serious academic discussion. It is an opportunity to sit and talk about your work and your field with two senior academics who know the field well.

As such, it should be challenging and stimulating, and should give you a chance to show that you can engage in serious academic discussion and debate at a very high level.

After the examination many students look back on their viva and see it as a stimulating and enjoyable experience, and they forget the nerves they felt when they first entered the viva room.

The dos and don’ts of a PhD viva

After you have carefully prepared how to defend the content of your thesis, it is important to think of how you should behave during the actual viva.

We have a whole host of PhD viva tips for you. From how to answer properly and be convincing to what to say and what not to say – here, we have clarified these things in our list of PhD viva  dos and don’ts . 

Are you a Doctor after your viva?

Once you have passed your PhD viva, you cannot officially use the title ‘Dr’ until you receive official documentation from your university stating that you are a ‘Doctor’.

Can you fail a PhD viva?

Although the majority of PhD students are happy with the outcome of their PhD viva, things don’t always go as expected, and some of the least appealing outcomes do happen. You can fail a PhD viva – although according to recent research by Discover PhDs this number is only 4%. It is more common for borderline students to be awarded a provisional pass pending amends to their research project.

If, as a PhD student, you feel that your own work is not of very high quality and you are aware that the unfavourable outcome is your fault, there is not much you can do except for complying with the decision of your examiners.

Appealing a PhD viva decision

If you feel that your viva has not been appropriately conducted and the outcome doesn’t match the quality of your performance, there are some things you can do.

Universities in the UK will usually allow you to appeal against how your examination was conducted and if you do appeal, a panel of researchers within your university will be appointed to investigate the issue, but you must possess clear evidence in your support.

If your appeal is successful, you will get a chance to undertake another viva with different examiners.

If the university hasn’t decided in your favour, you will be able to appeal to an external organisation, such as the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). But remember, appeals are usually not very successful, and it is always better to make sure that your thesis is of high quality and that you have done the right amount of PhD viva preparation.

Related articles

What Is A PhD?

How Long Is A PhD?

PhD In The USA

Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries


Exclusive bursaries Open day alerts Funding advice Application tips Latest PG news

Sign up now!

Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries

Take 2 minutes to sign up to PGS student services and reap the benefits…

  • The chance to apply for one of our 5 PGS Bursaries worth £2,000 each
  • Fantastic scholarship updates
  • Latest PG news sent directly to you.
  • Our story /
  • Teaching & learning /
  • The city of Liverpool /
  • International university /
  • Widening participation
  • Campus & facilities
  • Our organisation

Coronavirus (COVID-19) #LivUniCOVID

Research and response How you can help Information for students, applicants and staff

Computer Science Departmental Website

Prospective PhD Students

PostGraduate Research

Information for year 4 phd students.

The most important thing for you to do during the fourth year is to finish writing your thesis.

IPAP Members and Supervisors

Training and progress monitoring requirements.

  • Additionally, attending Departmental Seminars and your research group seminars is expected/strongly encouraged. Seminar attendance helps develop transferable skills such as oral communication skills, presentation skills, persuading skills, analytical/logical thinking skills, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills, research skills.
  • If you haven't already attended at the School Seminar Finishing Your PhD: Thesis, Viva, Training in year three, this is strongly encouraged. This is aimed at year three and four students but year two are also welcome. It will be presented annually. This reminds students of the expected training in years three and four; describes the University requirements and standards for a PhD and how they are examined; gives advice on writing a PhD thesis and how to prepare for a viva; and outlines the forms to be completed.
  • When you have completed your primary research, normally at the end of 3 years full time study, you can transfer to submission pending status. The form is available on the PGR Forms and Procedures web page . Please check that this will not affect your funding before you do this.
  • You must submit an Intent to Submit form at least two months before submission of your thesis. The form is available on the PGR Forms and Procedures web page .
  • The Thesis Access Declaration and return this to the Sydney Jones Library. The form is available on the PGR Forms and Procedures web page .
  • You need to submit two copies of your thesis to the Student Reception in the Foundation Building. These should be soft bound. The Student office can help you with this. This should be accompanied by a Thesis Submission Form . The form is available on the PGR Forms and Procedures web page . You should also send an electronic copy of your thesis by email to the PGR Team ([email protected]).
  • In April/May you should attend the Department of Computer Science Postgraduate Workshop . This helps develop transferable skills such as communication skills, in particular listening and presentation skills, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking skills.
  • In June , you will be asked to complete an Annual Progress Report (APR) via Spider/Tulip. Year four students should do this if they may need to register again in September, for example to do corrections. As a rule of thumb if you haven't yet had your viva when these are released you should complete it. Completed training picked up by the system is listed in a box on the report. Following this is a box entitled "any other training courses that are not mentioned above". If any of the expected training is missing please explain why and say when you will complete it. When you have completed this, it will be passed electronically to your supervisor, the DDPR, the PGR Team and (sometimes) the Faculty.

Thesis Writing and Submission

Call the department

Maintained by [email protected]

phd viva liverpool

How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva

  • © 2022
  • Stacey Bedwell 0 ,
  • Isabelle Butcher 1

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

  • Explains what the viva is, how the process works, and what the purpose of the viva is
  • Explores the course of preparing for a viva examination, focusing on organisation through to dealing with viva concerns
  • Features contributions from over 25 academics for a unique insight into the experiences of PhD candidates and examiners

2755 Accesses

1 Citations

4 Altmetric

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this book

  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Other ways to access

Licence this eBook for your library

Institutional subscriptions

Table of contents (11 chapters)

Front matter, introduction.

  • Stacey Bedwell, Isabelle Butcher

What Is the Viva?

Isabelle Butcher

Urban Myths about the PhD Viva

Stacey Bedwell

Real Viva Experiences

Making the most of and enjoying your viva, after the viva, practice questions, being confident in your thesis, the viva preparation timeline, participating in a mock viva, viva concerns, back matter.

  • life sciences
  • social sciences
  • research degree

About this book

— Sarah Lloyd , final year PhD candidate

— Gemini Katwa , PhD candidate

Authors and Affiliations

About the authors.

Dr. Isabelle Butcher  was awarded her PhD in Psychology in 2021 from the University of Manchester, UK, for her work on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia and traumatic life events. Isabelle’s current research interests are in the area of adolescent mental health and the impact of traumatic life events. Isabelle also has a keen interest in the ethics of research and is currently chair of an NHS ethics research committee.

Bibliographic Information

Book Title : How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva

Authors : Stacey Bedwell, Isabelle Butcher

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-10172-4

Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan Cham

eBook Packages : Education , Education (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-031-10171-7 Published: 16 September 2022

eBook ISBN : 978-3-031-10172-4 Published: 15 September 2022

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XIII, 183

Number of Illustrations : 69 b/w illustrations

Topics : Science Education , Higher Education , Psychology, general

  • Publish with us

Policies and ethics

  • Find a journal
  • Track your research

Viva Survivors

Daily viva help for PhDs

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new posts by email.

Email Address


Viva prep ebooks, recently….

  • Expectations & Exceptions
  • 7 Questions That Help
  • Over The Top!
  • Friends & Colleagues
  • Preparation Pressure

Tags & Themes

Independent webinars and workshops.

I deliver a variety of sessions for universities all around the UK, but more recently have been sharing some of my shorter sessions directly to people who need them. These 1-hour sessions are shared over Zoom, with booking and registration handled by Eventbrite. If you want to see details of upcoming sessions then check out this link to see what’s in my diary and how you can book on to a session.

Viva Survivor

Viva Survivor is a three-hour session designed to help postgraduate researchers be well prepared for their viva. To date, it’s been delivered to over 6000 PhD candidates at universities around the UK. By the end of a session participants will have

  • identified what examiners are looking for when they examine a thesis;
  • discussed the many ways that others can support preparation;
  • explored valuable viva preparation methods;
  • established realistic expectations for the viva;
  • discussed common questions about the PhD viva.
“The course is very useful for understanding what a viva will be and making it seem less scary. Nathan was very approachable, and clearly explained and structured information.” University of Manchester participant I went to a session of @VivaSurvivors with @DrRyder in @sheffielduni . It was extremelly helpful through my preparation. Dr Ryder's books were also full of useful advices (Got the kindle ones). I successfully passed my VIVA (minor) and just want to say thanks for the help. pic.twitter.com/0BZ0KS4u9V — Luis Ureña (@luisurena06) January 31, 2020

“Thank you very much, this is the most useful course that I’ve taken since I started my PhD.”

University of Liverpool participant

Had a great Viva Survivor session today with @DrRyder , highly recommended! /cc @VivaSurvivors — @[email protected] – Terry Allen🇪🇺🇺🇦 (@MathThyMod) February 26, 2020

“Thank you for the ‘Viva Survivor’ session which really helped with my doctoral viva last Friday – ‘exemplary’!”

Bangor University participant

Fighting off a cold I was dreading a 3h morning training session. .. thank you . @DrRyder for a fantastic . @VivaSurvivors session, including tips on setting expectations, asking for help, and reframing content!! #phdlife #phdchat #PhD . @ThinkAheadSheff . @sheffielduni — Dr. Elisabeth Kugler, AFHEA (@KuglerElisabeth) February 14, 2020

“I passed my viva yesterday and I’ve no doubt that without attending your workshop it would have been not nearly as pleasant an experience! I felt at ease knowing that I’d properly prepared and I enjoyed it.”

University of Sheffield participant

If you would like more information about the Viva Survivor  webinar session for your institution or to check pricing and availability, please contact me .

1-hour Webinars

Since April 2020, I’ve developed and delivered 1-hour webinar sessions that focus on specific aspects of the viva and viva preparation. 7 Reasons You’ll Pass Your Viva is a confidence boost to help candidates see that they will pass, and what they then need to focus on. The webinar has been delivered to large groups of participants and received really good feedback for almost three years!

Thank you @VivaSurvivors . A really inspiring and helpful workshop on preparing for my viva. pic.twitter.com/aAMyFsi6Io — Dr Emily LeQuesne (@EmilyLeQuesne) April 8, 2020
Thanks to @VivaSurvivors for a really empowering and motivating session on #7reasonsyouwillpassyourviva . Thank you so much Nathan! pic.twitter.com/P08l5Mjd7C — Thivashni Naidu (@thivash_n) April 22, 2020

These webinars would be useful as part of a researcher development programme for final year researchers, or part of a virtual conference. As well as delivering them for universities, I currently share these and other sessions independently on a semi-regular basis. If you want to know more for your institution then email me , or if you’re looking to attend an independent session then take a look at the @VivaSurvivors Twitter account or my Eventbrite profile .

Share this:

phd viva liverpool

  • PhD Viva Voces – A Complete Guide
  • Doing a PhD
  • A PhD viva involves defending your thesis in an oral examination with at least two examiners.
  • The aim of a PhD viva is to confirm that the work is your own , that you have a deep understanding of your project and, overall, that you are a competent researcher .
  • There are no standard durations, but they usually range from one to three hours, with most lasting approximately two hours .
  • There are six outcomes of a PhD viva: (1) pass without corrections (2) pass subject to minor corrections, (3) pass subject to major corrections, (4) downgrade to MPhil with no amendments, (5) downgrade to MPhil subject to amendments, (6) immediate fail.
  • Almost all students who sit their viva pass it, with the most common outcome being ‘(2) – pass subject to minor corrections’.

What Is a PhD Viva?

A viva voce , more commonly referred to as ‘viva’, is an oral examination conducted at the end of your PhD and is essentially the final hurdle on the path to a doctorate. It is the period in which a student’s knowledge and work are evaluated by independent examiners.

In order to assess the student and their work around their research question, a viva sets out to determine:

  • you understand the ideas and theories that you have put forward,
  • you can answer questions about elements of your work that the examiners have questions about,
  • you understand the broader research in your field and how your work contributes to this,
  • you are aware of the limitations of your work and understand how it can be developed further,
  • your work makes an original contribution, is your own and has not been plagiarised.

Note: A viva is a compulsory procedure for all PhD students, with the only exception being when a PhD is obtained through publication as opposed to the conventional route of study.

Who Will Attend a Viva?

In the UK, at least two examiners must take part in all vivas. Although you could have more than two examiners, most will not in an attempt to facilitate a smoother questioning process.

One of the two examiners will be internal, i.e. from your university, and the other will be external, i.e. from another university. Regardless, both will be knowledgeable in your research field and have read your thesis beforehand.

In addition to your two examiners, two other people may be present. The first is a chairperson. This is an individual who will be responsible for monitoring the interview and for ensuring proper conduct is followed at all times. The need for an external chairperson will vary between universities, as one of the examiners can also take on this role. The second is your supervisor, whose attendance is decided upon by you in agreement with your examiners. If your supervisor attends, they are prohibited from asking questions or from influencing the outcome of the viva.

To avoid any misunderstandings, we have summarised the above in a table:

Note: In some countries, such as in the United States, a viva is known as a ‘PhD defense’ and is performed publicly in front of a panel or board of examiners and an open audience. In these situations, the student presents their work in the form of a lecture and then faces questions from the examiners and audience which almost acts as a critical appraisal.

How Long Does a Viva Last?

Since all universities have different guidelines , and since all PhDs are unique, there are no standard durations. Typically, however, the duration ranges from one to three hours, with most lasting approximately two hours.

Your examiners will also influence the duration of your viva as some will favour a lengthy discussion, while others may not. Usually, your university will consult your examiners in advance and notify you of the likely duration closer to the day of your viva.

What Happens During a Viva?

Regardless of the subject area, all PhD vivas follow the same examination process format as below.


You will introduce yourselves to each other, with the internal examiner normally introducing the external examiner. If an external chairperson is present, they too are introduced; otherwise, this role will be assumed by one of the examiners.

Procedure Explained

After the introductions, the appointed chair will explain the viva process. Although it should already be known to everyone, it will be repeated to ensure the viva remains on track during the forthcoming discussion.

Warm-Up Questions

The examiners will then begin the questioning process. This usually starts with a few simple opening questions, such as asking you to summarise your PhD thesis and what motivated you to carry out the research project.

In-Depth Questions

The viva questions will then naturally increase in difficulty as the examiners go further into the details of your thesis. These may include questions such as “What was the most critical decision you made when determining your research methodology ?”, “Do your findings agree with the current published work?” and “How do your findings impact existing theories or literature? ”. In addition to asking open-ended questions, they will also ask specific questions about the methodology, results and analysis on which your thesis is based.

Closing the Viva

Once the examiners are satisfied that they have thoroughly evaluated your knowledge and thesis, they will invite you to ask any questions you may have, and then bring the oral examination to a close.

What Happens After the Viva?

Once your viva has officially ended, your examiners will ask you to leave the room so that they can discuss your performance. Once a mutual agreement has been reached, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, you will be invited back inside and informed of your outcome.

PhD Viva Outcomes

There are six possible outcomes to a viva:

  • Immediate award of degree: A rare recommendation – congratulations, you are one of the few people who completely satisfied your examiners the first time around. You do not have to do anything further at this point.
  • Minor amendments required: The most common recommendation – you obtain a pass on the condition that you make a number of minor amendments to your thesis, such as clarifying certain points and correcting grammatical errors. The time you have to make these changes depends on the number of them, but is usually one to six months.
  • Major amendments required: A somewhat uncommon recommendation – you are requested to make major amendments to your thesis, ranging from further research to collecting more data or rewriting entire sections. Again, the time you have to complete this will depend on the number of changes required, but will usually be six months to one year. You will be awarded your degree once your amended thesis has been reviewed and accepted.
  • Immediate award of MPhil: An uncommon recommendation – your examiners believe your thesis does not meet the standard for a doctoral degree but meets the standard for an MPhil (Master of Philosophy), a lower Master’s degree.
  • Amendments required for MPhil: A rare recommendation – your examiners believe your thesis does not meet the standard for a doctoral degree, but with several amendments will meet the standard for an MPhil.
  • Immediate fail: A very rare recommendation – you are given an immediate fail without the ability to resubmit and without entitlement to an MPhil.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

What Is the Pass Rate for Vivas?

Based on an  analysis of 26,076 PhD students  who took their viva exam between 2006 and 2017, the PhD viva pass rate in the UK is 96%; of those who passed, about 80% were required to make minor amendments to their thesis. The reason for this high pass rate is that supervisors will only put their students forward for a viva once they confidently believe they are ready for it. As a result, most candidates who sit a viva are already well-versed in their PhD topic before they even start preparing for the exam.

How Do I Arrange a Viva?

Your viva will be arranged either by the examiners or by the chairperson. The viva will be arranged at least one to two months after you have submitted your thesis and will arrange a viva date and venue that is suitable for all participants.

Can I Choose My Examiners?

At most universities, you and your supervisor will choose the internal and external examiners yourselves. This is because the examiners must have extensive knowledge of the thesis topic in order to be able to examine you and, as the author of the thesis in question, who else could better determine who they might be than you and your supervisor. The internal examiner is usually quite easy to find given they will be from your institution, but the external examiner may end up being your second or third preference depending on availability.

Can I Take Notes Into a Viva?

A viva is about testing your competence, not your memory. As such, you are allowed to take notes and other supporting material in with you. However, keep in mind that your examiners will not be overly impressed if you constantly have to refer to your notes to answer each question. Because of this, many students prefer to take an annotated copy of their thesis, with important points already highlighted and key chapters marked with post-it notes.

In addition to an annotated copy of a thesis, some students also take:

  • a list of questions they would like to ask the examiners,
  • notes that were created during their preparation,
  • a list of minor corrections they have already identified from their viva prep work.

How Do I Prepare for a PhD Viva?

There are several ways to prepare for a PhD viva, one of the most effective being a mock viva voce examination . This allows you to familiarise yourself with the type of viva questions you will be asked and identify any weak areas you need to improve. They also give you the opportunity to practise without the pressure, giving you more time to think about your answers which will help to make sure that you know your thesis inside out. However, a mock viva exam is just one of many methods available to you – some of the other viva preparation methods can be found on our “ How to Prepare for a PhD Viva ” page.

Browse PhDs Now

Join thousands of students.

Join thousands of other students and stay up to date with the latest PhD programmes, funding opportunities and advice.

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Sign in/register

  • Log in/Register Register



This page has been reproduced from the Vitae website (www.vitae.ac.uk). Vitae is dedicated to realising the potential of researchers through transforming their professional and career development.

  • Vitae members' area

Defending your doctoral thesis: the PhD viva

Format for defending a doctoral thesis.

Every institution will have specific regulations for the thesis defence. In some countries or institutions, the convention is for thesis defences to be public events where you will give a lecture explaining your research, followed by a discussion with a panel of examiners (opponents). Both your examiners and the audience are able to ask questions.

In other countries, including the UK, the oral examination is usually conducted behind closed doors by at least two examiners, usually with at least one being from another institution (external examiner) and an expert in your topic of research. In the UK the supervisor does not participate in the viva, but may be allowed to observe. Sometimes someone from your own institution is appointed as an independent chair. Although it is now becoming more common for the candidate to have an opportunity to give a public lecture in UK institutions, this does not form part of the examination and may or may not be attended by the examiners.

Viva preparation

Take the preparation for your viva seriously and devote a substantial amount of time to it. The viva preparation checklist may be useful to help you prepare.

Your institution may offer courses on viva preparation and there may be opportunities to organise a practice viva. Take advantage of these opportunities: they can be extremely valuable experiences.

Things you may wish to take with you

  • your thesis – mildly annotated if you wish
  • a list of questions that you might be asked and your planned responses
  • any questions that you want to ask your examiners
  • additional notes which you have made during your revision
  • list of minor corrections that you have come across during your revision.

During the viva

Your study will have strengths and weaknesses: it is essential that you are prepared to discuss both. You could think of any weaknesses as an opportunity to demonstrate your skill at critical appraisal. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. Do not interpret criticism as indication of a possible negative outcome.

Examiners have different personalities, styles and levels of experience. Sometimes a candidate may feel that a challenge is made in a confrontational way. Experienced, effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational, but some will. Do not take offence. A relaxed, thoughtful, and non-confrontational response from you will help re-balance the discussion. Having an independent chair can help maintain a constructive environment.

Useful tips for during your viva:

  • Ask for clarification of ambiguous questions or ask for the question to be repeated if necessary
  • Take time to think before answering
  • Be prepared to ask questions and enter into a dialogue with your examiners
  • Be prepared to discuss your research in context of other work done in your field
  • Be ready to admit if you don't know the answer to a question
  • Be prepared to express opinions of your own

You are not expected to have perfect recall of your thesis and everything that you have read and done. If you get flustered, or need to refer to notes your examiners will understand. They have been in your situation themselves!

After your viva

There are several possible outcomes   of a thesis defence. Most commonly, your examiners will recommend to your institution that you are awarded your degree subject to minor corrections, although in some instances they might ask for more substantial work.

Bookmark & Share



‘Augmenting’ the doctoral thesis in preparation for a viva

The viva voce exam is the final hurdle for PhD students, but for most it is also a new and fear-inducing experience. Edward Mills offers one framework to help those preparing to discuss their completed thesis at length

Edward Mills 's avatar

Edward Mills

  • More on this topic

A research student undergoing her viva exam

Created in partnership with

University of Exeter

You may also like

Advice from a doctoral student on overcoming common challenges while studying for your PhD

Popular resources

.css-1txxx8u{overflow:hidden;max-height:81px;text-indent:0px;} How to develop a researcher mindset as a PhD student

Formative, summative or diagnostic assessment a guide, emotions and learning: what role do emotions play in how and why students learn, how to assess and enhance students’ ai literacy, how hard can it be testing ai detection tools.

In many ways, my own PhD viva voce examination was shaped by when and where it took place. Because I was examined at a UK institution, mine was not a public event; it was held virtually, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic; and, perhaps most depressingly, I didn’t get to wield a sword at the subsequent graduation ceremony (although my fiancée did make me a small wooden one).

Many parts of the viva, though, will be familiar to PhD candidates the world over from almost any discipline. After working independently for four years to produce an 80,000-word thesis, I was suddenly expected to discuss my work in depth, with two examiners (one from my institution, and one from elsewhere) and an independent chair present. During that time, the examiners would be checking whether my thesis was indeed my own work, and whether it met the criteria for the award of a PhD.

Understanding the ‘whole thesis’

Like many PhD students, I’d spoken about my research over the previous three years at conferences, but these presentations had largely been confined to individual chapters. Now, though, I had to become familiar not just with (say) my arguments on medieval calendars, but also on how they fitted into my broader narrative about language use in medieval England.

The approach that I took – which formed part of a suite of resources for postgraduate researchers produced by the University of Exeter’s Doctoral College – was based around what I called “augmenting” my thesis. Intimidating as this may sound, it was based around a fundamentally simple concept: turning my thesis from a lengthy PDF file into something physical and tangible and which would be of use to me during the viva.

There is, of course, no single “right way” to do this, but for the sake of clarity, and at the risk of sounding like a 1980s Blue Peter presenter , I’ll outline my own process in a series of numbered steps for the benefit of readers who may be approaching the viva themselves.

  • Resource collection: Resources on academic writing
  • Viving la viva: how to answer viva questions
  • How to write a PhD thesis: a step-by-step guide

An ‘augmented’ thesis in four steps

Print out and bind your thesis. This would form the basis of the “object” that I would eventually take into my viva, but it also has the advantage of getting you away from a screen, making you less likely to skip over certain passages as you reread it.

As you reread, place sticky markers along the top of the thesis to coincide with chapter headings and subheadings. At each point, write a one-sentence summary of that section. These big-picture notes give a bite-sized summary of your argument in each section, and when strung together, they provide you with a sort of “thesis-on-a-page”.

When you’ve reminded yourself of how all of your arguments fit together, start to look for points of detail. This is where highlighting can be at its most useful, if done selectively: I used yellow for material that I thought was central to my argument (and that I wanted to be able to quote back to my examiners) and red for material that I felt, on reflection, would benefit from further explanation. Any sticky notes can be placed along the outer margins of the thesis, which will distinguish them from the summaries along the top.

Record typos separately. However hard you try, typographical errors will find a way into the thesis that you submit. Highlighting each individual one, however, is likely to take more time than it’s worth: instead, I’d advise making a list of typos, keyed to page numbers and suggested changes, separately: this could later form the basis of a table of corrections to be submitted to the examiners.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways in which a thesis might be augmented: one of the main themes that emerged from collaborating on Researcher Development was that doctoral research is shaped by the researcher and their own experience just as much by field and topic. A PhD thesis may have a completely different structure to the one alluded to above; it may require more or less context for an oral examination; it may (whisper it) have fewer typos than mine did. Nevertheless, finding some form of structure in the isolating and stressful months and weeks prior to the viva is an absolute necessity for doctoral researchers, and producing an augmented thesis might just be the way to achieve it.

Edward Mills is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Exeter. 

If you would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the Campus newsletter .

How to develop a researcher mindset as a PhD student

A diy guide to starting your own journal, contextual learning: linking learning to the real world, what does a university faculty senate do, hybrid learning through podcasts: a practical approach, how exactly does research get funded.

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site

Examining the British PhD viva: opening new doors or scarring for life?


  • 1 School of Nursing and Caring Sciences, University of Central Lancashire and Children's Nursing Research Unit, Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, Lancashire, UK.
  • PMID: 19697987
  • DOI: 10.5172/conu.32.1-2.169

The PhD viva -- regardless of its format -- has the potential to be a significant rite of passage for the student. It is an experience that can resonate for months or years afterwards. Part of the challenge is that for everyone involved -- student, supervisory team and examiners -- a degree of end-point uncertainty exists. These ambiguities and tensions are perhaps an inherent part of any examination but are particularly characteristic of the examination of the individual and unique body of work that constitutes the doctoral thesis. In recent years, increased attention has been placed on the processes that surround the examination, aiming to increase transparency, consistency and fairness. However, the process of examining a student and their thesis remains challenging and is surrounded by different agendas, ideologies and practices. This paper examines some of the issues surrounding the PhD viva, primarily focusing on the British viva whilst weaving in commentary about the Australian system.

  • Education, Nursing, Graduate*
  • United Kingdom

Boo House

Research Explorer The University of Manchester Logo

  • Apsley, J. (Examiner)
  • EEE - Academic & Research

Activity : Examination › Research


  • Postgraduate Research

Postgraduate researcher

Research degree fees and how to fund your PhD

How much it costs to study a research degree and ways to fund your PhD and help meet the costs.

Postgraduate students

Research degree fees and costs

What it costs to study a research degree such as a PhD for UK and international students.

phd viva liverpool

How to fund your research degree

Get funding for your research degree with PhD studentships, scholarships and grants.

Postgraduates in School of the Arts library

Working alongside your PhD

As well as providing many vacancies within the university, we can help you find part time work.

Researcher in library

Scholarships and awards

We offer a range of scholarships and awards for UK and international postgraduate researchers.

University of Liverpool postgraduate student

Find a studentship

Match your research interests to one of our studentships recruiting now

Find a course

  • A-Z of courses /
  • Studentship vacancies

Undergraduate enquiries

International enquiries

Postgraduate taught enquiries

Postgraduate research enquiries

Ask the University of Liverpool a question

  • Undergraduate
  • Postgraduate Taught
  • Online programmes
  • Welcome to Liverpool

Learn about...

  • Visits and Open Days
  • Accommodation
  • Student support
  • Careers and Employability
  • Continuing Education
  • Continuing Professional Development

Information for...

  • International students
  • Mature students and access courses
  • Parents and supporters
  • School and careers advisors


  1. Frans Coene's PhDs and RAs

    phd viva liverpool

  2. Frans Coene's PhDs and RAs

    phd viva liverpool

  3. How do you prepare PhD comprehensive viva Examination? PhD Comprehensive viva exam tips viva ppt VTU

    phd viva liverpool

  4. What PhD Students Should Know About the PhD Viva

    phd viva liverpool

  5. How to Prepare PhD Viva Presentation

    phd viva liverpool

  6. Your PhD Viva and How to Prepare

    phd viva liverpool


  1. 10 Anfield Secret Facts (Only true Reds Know)


  1. Viva examinations

    The object of the viva examination is to allow you the opportunity to explore, clarify and defend your research in the presence of academic leaders in your chosen discipline. The viva examination will normally be attended by an external examiner, an internal examiner and you. Your supervisor will not be present at the viva examination.

  2. PDF Finishing Your PhD: Thesis, Viva, Training

    explain the organisation of a PhD viva and its outcomes; provide advice on preparing for and doing a PhD viva; mention the forms to be completed. Finishing Your PhD: Thesis, Viva, Training 2/33 ... Requirements of a PhD at the University of Liverpool The full rules and regulations regarding PhD's are contained in Ordinance 57(B) (for students ...

  3. Submissions

    To submit your first submission. Complete the Submission of a Thesis Form. Send your initial thesis together with the complete Submission of a Thesis Form to [email protected]. It is important that you submit your thesis within a reasonable time frame from the start of your studies, to ensure that you do not exceed the maximum periods of ...

  4. (PDF) The Doctoral Viva: Questions for, with and to ...

    The viva voce, known commonly simply as the 'viva' or the. PhD 'defence', is a landmark occasion to evaluate a doctor-. al candidate's written thesis (or dissertation) and their com ...

  5. What is the PhD Viva?

    The viva voce is the final assessment for a PhD. It is an oral examination where the student defends their research to two academic examiners. This involves answering questions about your work, typically related to the literature, methodology, your findings and the significance of your conclusions. In some countries (like the USA) the viva is ...

  6. Vivas

    A PhD is an oral examination in the form of a discussion in which PhD students present their PhD thesis and defend their research methods and outcomes to a panel of academic experts. The word 'viva' is a shortened form of the Latin term 'viva voce' which means 'live voice'.

  7. ULCS

    Your PhD is supported by Liverpool Doctoral College which provides a focus and oversees all doctoral training and development in the University. ... If you haven't already attended at the School Seminar Finishing Your PhD: Thesis, Viva, Training in year three, this is strongly encouraged. This is aimed at year three and four students but year ...

  8. How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva

    How to excel in your doctoral viva offers an accessible guide to approaching and preparing for a PhD viva examination. The book explains what the viva is, how the process works, and what the purpose of the viva is. It guides the reader through the course of preparing for their viva examination, with chapters focusing on organisation to dealing with viva concerns.

  9. Workshops

    Viva Survivor is a three-hour session designed to help postgraduate researchers be well prepared for their viva. To date, it's been delivered to over 6000 PhD candidates at universities around the UK. By the end of a session participants will have. identified what examiners are looking for when they examine a thesis;

  10. PhD Viva Voces

    A viva voce, more commonly referred to as 'viva', is an oral examination conducted at the end of your PhD and is essentially the final hurdle on the path to a doctorate. It is the period in which a student's knowledge and work are evaluated by independent examiners. In order to assess the student and their work around their research ...

  11. Examining the British PhD viva: Opening new doors or scarring for life

    The PhD viva - regardless of its format - has the potential to be a significant rite of passage for the student. It is an experience that can resonate for months or years afterwards. ... Liverpool, Lancashire, UK & Karen Whittaker Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing and Caring Sciences, University of Central Lancashire, Liverpool, Lancashire ...

  12. Opportunities

    Applicants should be a minimum of five years from the date of PhD viva. March . Versus Arthritis Career Development Fellowship. More than 3 years of postdoc experience. April . ... Liverpool, L69 3GW United Kingdom The Original Red Brick. University of Liverpool Liverpool L69 3BX Liverpool city centre campus map; Find us +44 (0)151 794 2000 ...

  13. PDF Procedures for Viva Examination for Research Degrees

    3.1 A viva is an academic interview at which your examiners will be looking for an understanding of the subject ... 1 Taken in part with the kind permission of the author and Liverpool University, from Preparing for your Viva by Martin Stanistreet, ... (PhD/EngD), 1.5.2 (MPhil) and 1.5.3 (MD(Res)) ...

  14. Defending your doctoral thesis: the PhD viva

    Once you have submitted your thesis you will be invited to defend your doctorate at a 'viva voce' (Latin for 'by live voice') or oral examination. The thesis defence can be a daunting prospect, but many people really enjoy this experience of discussing their PhD research with genuinely interested experts. It can also be a useful networking ...

  15. 'Augmenting' the doctoral thesis in preparation for a viva

    Many parts of the viva, though, will be familiar to PhD candidates the world over from almost any discipline. After working independently for four years to produce an 80,000-word thesis, I was suddenly expected to discuss my work in depth, with two examiners (one from my institution, and one from elsewhere) and an independent chair present.

  16. Examining the British PhD viva: opening new doors or scarring ...

    The PhD viva -- regardless of its format -- has the potential to be a significant rite of passage for the student. It is an experience that can resonate for months or years afterwards. Part of the challenge is that for everyone involved -- student, supervisory team and examiners -- a degree of end-p …

  17. The Xiao group

    Many congratulations to Sydney for passing her PhD viva on 09 May 2024! ... Congratulations to Dr. Paul Colbon for being awarded the 2024 Potts Medal for founding and leading Liverpool ChiroChem (LCC). This year marks the 10th anniversary of LCC, which was founded by Jianjun Wu, Paul Colbon, Jiwu Ruan and Jianliang Xiao in 2014 at the ...

  18. Internal examiner for a PhD viva exam

    Internal examiner for a PhD viva exam. Zhang, X. (Participant) Academy of Pharmacy. Activity: Other.

  19. Postgraduate Research

    Pursue your PhD at the Original Redbrick. Join us for your PhD and undertake world-changing research at a world-class university. We offer a wide range of funding opportunities and a supportive academic environment where you'll get training and development tailored to you. Advanced materials; Infectious diseases; Personalised health; Heritage ...

  20. Postgraduate Research

    Postgraduate Research. We currently have over 150 postgraduate research students conducting specialist research and collaborating with academic staff who are working at the frontiers of their subjects. We are committed to ensuring that the quality and relevance of our postgraduate research programmes are of the very highest level.

  21. PhD viva

    PhD viva. Apsley, J. (Examiner) EEE - Academic & Research; Activity: Examination › Research. Description Liverpool John Moores University. Period: 19 Jun 2019: Powered by Pure, Scopus & Elsevier Fingerprint Engine ...

  22. PhD fees and funding

    How much it costs to study a research degree and ways to fund your PhD and help meet the costs. Research degree fees and costs. ... University of Liverpool Liverpool L69 3BX Liverpool city centre campus map; Find us +44 (0)151 794 2000; All contact details; Call us;

  23. PhD thesis/viva examiner

    Description. Internal examiner for the PhD thesis (ID: 201451182) Period. 12 Sept 2023 → 12 Nov 2023. Degree of Recognition. International.