In this blog, Magdalena Oldziejewska shares her experience preparing for her PhD viva and why having a mock viva is essential for these preparations.

What do you expect from your mock viva?

I thought the mock viva would be a great way to facilitate the preparations for the big day. It’s been recommended to me by several experienced academics, as well as fellow PhD students, so I believe that it’s an important part of the process of preparing for the viva and completing a PhD successfully. On a more personal note, after I’ve submitted my thesis, I put it aside for a few weeks to get a bit of a break and start working on some publications I’d had on my list for quite some time. I found it a bit hard to get back to it again, with everything going on at the time, like new jobs starting and drafting the publications. The mock viva preparation provided a great incentive to get back into it gradually, easing into it and taking away some of the pressure that goes with preparing for the actual viva.


What are you hoping to get out of the experience, and what persuaded you that it was an important part of your viva preparation?

I was hoping that it would help me prepare for the day of the actual viva and remove some of the stress of it, as a way of flagging any key points for the viva preparation, especially any blind spots that I might have, as well as highlighting any more testing questions that may come my way on the day. Knowing the key points to consider in preparation for the viva provides much-needed reassurance and peace of mind that the big day will go as smoothly as it can, enabling me not just to prepare myself for it as well as I can, but hopefully to also enjoy it when it comes. Several of my peers and much more experienced academics have told me that I should try and enjoy the viva, as it can actually be quite a positive experience - despite the many scare stories that are familiar to most PhD students – and I think being well prepared will make it easier to enjoy the process. I hope that after my viva I will be able to share more positive stories of the experience with earlier-stage PhD students.


What have you learned from the mock viva experience?

The mock viva experience proved to be even more useful than I expected. It made my preparations for the viva much more focused, by highlighting key points in the thesis that I needed to revise, including the literature that I needed to revisit or perhaps just refresh in my mind, as well as the importance of having a structured approach to answering the viva questions. The process of preparing for it and debriefing afterwards also helped by highlighting important strategies for preparing for the viva, such as bookmarking the key pages and passages in the thesis, in case I needed to come back to them during the viva to support my answers, or creating mindmaps of my key contributions. It was a fantastic way to help me prepare for the viva and feel more confident going into it. Having had this experience, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to all PhD students getting close to that stage.


What tips would you give to someone preparing for a mock viva?

I would recommend that they plan to have it in good time before their actual viva, so that they have time to revise all the answers that weren’t as good as they would have liked. Secondly, I would suggest that they go into it as prepared as possible, but with an open mind – the process is there to help us prepare for the real viva, not necessarily to test us. Thirdly, not to be put off if it seems like their mock examiners are tough on them – if that’s the case, it’s most likely a good thing because it means that the examiners want them to do well and they can be better prepared for their viva through noting the hard questions in the mock and thinking through what they could have done to give better answers.


What are you doing now to prepare for the viva itself, because of what you learnt from the mock? Are you doing anything differently?

Since the mock viva, I have been preparing for my viva in a much more structured and focused way, knowing what it is that I was missing in my mock. The mock viva highlighted a few areas where I wasn't as thorough or confident in my answers as I should have been. This means that I then particularly focused on these areas in my revisions. Going through the thesis now, I know much better what to focus on, what to highlight and bookmark, so that I’m prepared for all the tough questions when the day of the viva comes. Going through the thesis with this fresh perspective and focus gives me much more confidence that I can give much stronger answers in my real viva.

I hope that every PhD student gets the opportunity to have the mock viva experience.