This is a book review of “How to fail your Viva: 12 steps to failing your PhD and 58 tips for passing” a new book by Dr Nathan Ryder, who is an expert on helping students get through the Viva. The viva is the oral examination at the end of the thesis process in the UK and Europe, and in small parts of Australia and New Zealand.

I immediately downloaded and read the book with great enjoyment as I know Nathan and his work. Although we do not have many vivas in Australia, I think the advice in here would be of use to anyone who has to publicly present their research – and that’s everyone.

The fabulous Ben from the Lit Review HQ blog volunteered a review and here it is. Thanks Ben!

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This witty guide is filled to bursting point with nugget after golden nugget of important viva survival material. It’s very short (10,000) but very efficiently written to cram as much information in as possible. Not only that but it’s incredible easy to navigate (even on the Kindle) due to the strategic use of layout, paragraphs and headings.

I know that the author (Nathan Ryder) has spent a long time as a viva coach and skills trainer. His unique perspective (having guided many students from different academic backgrounds through the viva process) comes through and as you read it and you can see how he sequentially peels back the layers to ultimately demystify the whole process. It’s cheap (only £2.56 on Amazon) and well worth a quick download.

What this book is

For a start I have to say how witty this guide is. I have read a lot of books on academic topics and most of them are pretty dry. “Fail Your Viva” makes for a nice change as Nathan introduces each section with a set of instructions to totally mess up your viva. I found myself laughing out loud at some parts of this (probably because I narrowly avoided doing some of the things myself!). I specifically remember when he talks about how to really upset your examiners by repeatedly getting them mixed up.

Not only does this interesting approach make the information easier to read and digest but by highlighting potential disasters, Nathan is clearly telling us how we can pass the viva – by doing the opposite. Then he goes on to break down the overall message, point by point to give you a detailed roadmap to actually pass.

This is a great book to read cover to cover if you’re anxious about your viva. It won’t take you very long and you’ll certainly get a lot out of it. However, it’s also a great book to have in your collection as a reference. You can easily flick through the chapters and pick ones that are especially relevant to you at any given time.

What this book is not

This book is honestly very difficult to criticise. However in the spirit of doing a balanced review I should point out that one of the strengths of this book may be a weakness depending on what you want.

The thing is that the chapters are very short. They are really condensed and full of information, but they don’t cover every last detail. If you want to be slowly guided through all of the difference facets of the viva and build up your confidence over time then you may not get everything you need from this book (although it would probably be a welcome addition to anything you did read). It has been specifically designed as a quick reference.

This book is the paramedic at the scene of the accident with the first aid kit. If you need to see a specialist viva consultant (which Nathan is by the way) then you might not get all that you hoped from this book. However if you do need some patching up, or you like the idea of having a viva first aid kit in the house then you should definitely get this guide.

About the author

Nathan is a friend of mine and an expert at what he does. He’s been a skills trainer since 2008 and has run many events for Graduate Schools across the UK as well as running the Viva Survivors podcast for a global audience. He’s helped a lot of people through the viva process and many of the tips and tricks he uses are present in his book.

More book reviews:

How to write a lot

Mapping your thesis

Note to authors and publishers: The thesis whisperer loves to get books to review! If you have something you think would be of interest to our audience, please send an email to the editor.

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