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Director of the Doctoral College’s Blog

Thoughts and insight from Dr Benjamin Halligan

What Not To Wear: Viva Voce Preparations and Practicalities

17/10/2018  -  3.34

Dr Benjamin Halligan

There is one question that is almost always asked when I talk to doctoral researchers preparing for their Viva Voces. It used to surprise me, and it seemed a bit irrelevant in the context of talking about strategies for defending your work, limited critiquing of your own methodological approaches (etc)… but it’s in fact a legitimate concern. That question is: what do I wear? This short blog post is a quick collection of nonprescriptive thoughts around this. But I’ll add to this too, in order to think about some more general practicalities around the big day.

Firstly: the outfit. Comfort is the key – but at the same time, a bit of smartness may be important: after all, the External Examiner may have travelled some way for this, and will have spent some time working on your thesis. So I wouldn’t recommend dressing in a way that could seem not to acknowledge the importance of this. If you’re comfortable in a suit, go with the suit. If you prefer something looser, go with that. You’re not being assessed on your appearance.

Secondly: the time. If you’re preparing for the Viva and you’re a morning person --- ask for it to be run in the morning. But think about travel too; don’t put yourself through rush hour if you can avoid it. Or request an afternoon if that’s better, but be mindful that the event may take a number of hours, and so can’t reasonably be scheduled to start too late in the afternoon. This arrangement can be complicated, as often it’s a matter of finding a time for two examiners and the Chair, and possibly your supervisor too. But make sure you have your say! The Viva Voce is the examination of the doctoral researcher: they are the ones in the hot seat, and therefore, I feel, should have some autonomy when it comes to issues of comfort.

Thirdly: the room. Again – have your say. If the room provided isn’t good enough (too noisy, too small, lacking ventilation, PC not up to requirements if needed, effectively a green house or a fridge) then request another. If your University suggests a room that will make it difficult for you to be comfortable, see if you can have that changed before arrangements are finalised. And do go and scope the room beforehand if you can, so you can get a feel for it.

Fourthly: the food. Time will determine this, but I would suggest that the ideal would be to go in after having just eaten and not on an empty stomach. You’ll need sustained (rather than sugar high) energy for something that may stretch to a number of hours. My recipe for a Viva Voce meal would involve bananas, yoghurt, nuts and cereal, and (not instant) coffee. Take in some water too. Typically this is provided, but make the provision just in case.

Fifthly: the break. Please do call a break if you want it --- and this can be done through the Chair. I would recommend one every hour and a half, at least, rather than trying to power through the whole lot in one go. In addition, a break can be very useful for clearing the air if you and the examiners have reached an impasse. After 10 or 15 minutes, the examiners may be more inclined to move on to the next point rather than continuing to labour the minutiae.

Sixthly: the friend. I would have someone on standby, for the breaks, for the wait while the examiners decide the outcome, and for the point at which it’s all over. This could be your supervisor who, if also attending the viva, may usefully offer a pep talk during any breaks. I’ve occasionally encountered the friend, when I’ve been chairing a Viva, turn up with a camera – perhaps not a bad thing once it’s all over (and if the outcome is successful). You might need to “walk it off later”, to allow the nerves and tension to wind down.

That’s the checklist! Further in this area, I’ll be turning my attention to the use of mock Viva Voces in my next post.