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Submitting Your Thesis and Preparing for the Viva Exam

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The final stage of a doctoral degree is writing and submitting your thesis and defending it in a viva exam. Here you can find advice on the key stages of that process. Understanding what to expect and what is required will help you to ensure the process is a smooth one and that you can look ahead to successfully completing your degree.

The best place to start is the Research Degree Examinations Guidance Booklet (PDF, 706 KB). It provides a comprehensive guide to the requirements and expectations relating to the examination of doctoral degrees at the University of St Andrews.

As well as familiarising yourself with the requirements for your thesis and the viva exam, you should also think more broadly about things you will need to do to successfully complete your degree. Vitae suggests six tips for completing your doctorate successfully:

  1. Plan for the end of your doctorate
  2. Prioritise
  3. Work with your supervisor(s)
  4. Avoid perfectionism
  5. Take time to consider your next career step
  6. Make sure you do finish!

Visit the Vitae website to read more about finishing your doctorate.

Planning for the end of your doctorate is something that you should begin well before the start of your final year and should be part of your overall work plan for your degree. You might find it helpful to use our Postgraduate Plan Template (Word, 63 KB). Remember to share your plan with your supervisor(s) and seek their comments on this.

Important Notice (March 2020) - Owing to Covid-19 restrictions, the process for submitting your thesis has changed.

Please see the advice on submitting your thesis during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Planning and Writing Your Thesis

Many doctoral students find it daunting to contemplate having to write their thesis. A structured approach to planning your writing and reviewing your progress will help you keep momentum and maintain a sense of control and perspective. As far as possible you should plan to be regularly writing as you progress through your degree - it should not be something that is left entirely to your final year.

Further Advice

Long text documents, such as theses, can be difficult to control and format correctly. Our short guide - Formatting Your Dissertation in Word - has advice on how to use MS Word to make managing your thesis easier. It also has links to online Microsoft resources where you can learn more.

You can find the University's requirements for formatting your thesis and word limits in the Guidance for submission of theses (PDF, 870 KB).

Wellbeing and Support

Many doctoral students find the process of writing a thesis to be a stressful one. Make use of the support available. Your supervisor(s) can provide academic advice and comment on draft work while the Advice and Support Centre can advise on common issues such as perfectionism and imposter syndrome. Where there are more significant issues, Academic Registry can advise on options for taking a leave of absence or requesting an extension of registration.

Further Advice

Submitting Your Thesis for Examination

About four months beforehand you should declare your intention to submit your thesis for examination. Academic Registry will then start making arrangements for your viva exam, helping to minimise the time between you submitting your thesis and the viva exam taking place. You must submit three softbound printed copies of your thesis (sometimes four copies depending on the composition of the examining committee).

Further Advice

For further advice, please read the Guidance for submission of theses (PDF, 870 KB) .

Visit Print and Design for advice on printing and binding your thesis.

Preparing for the Viva Voce Exam

The viva voce exam is an an oral examination where you will defend your thesis. The purpose of the viva exam is to provide assurance that you understand your research, can discuss the wider context for your research, and can clarify any areas of uncertainty or doubt. The viva exam will normally take place within three months of you submitting your thesis.

Further Advice

There is separate advice for staff on examining doctoral students.

Final Submission and Electronic Theses

Following the viva exam, and the completion of any corrections required by your examiners, you must submit the final copy of your thesis. You must submit one hardbound printed copy and one electronic copy. You must submit the final copy of your thesis to be eligible to graduate.

Further Advice

For further advice, please read:

Print and Design also have advice on printing and binding your hardbound thesis.

Beyond Your Doctorate - Careers

Over the course of your doctorate you will have developed and demonstrated a range of personal and professional competencies. These will include essential skills such as communication and problem solving as well as higher-level skills such as discipline-specific methodologies, analytical skills, and project management.

Further Advice

Remember as well that, as a graduate of St Andrews, you are automatically a member of our worldwide alumni community.

Further Advice and Questions

You can find advice on most topics by using Ask a Question.

Please contact us if you need any further advice or cannot find an answer to your question:

Academic Registry (Postgraduate Research)
Walter Bower House
Eden Campus
St Andrews 

KY16 0US
+44 (0)1334 463 084