Common Questions About The Viva: Dress Code

Is there a dress code for the viva?

Whenever I deliver a workshop on viva preparation, I ask “What do you want to know about the viva?” 100% of the time I get asked about the lengths of vivas, but as I answered that question last week, I thought that I would ask the question I get asked at 99% of workshops: is there a dress code for the viva?

In a few institutions, there is a standard of academic attire that is required (I believe Oxford and Cambridge often asks for candidates to wear academic black dress robes); be sure to check if there are any requirements at your institution. Guidelines might be given, but more often it is the candidate’s choice to decide what they want to wear. I know people who have worn business casual to their viva, and I know people who have worn a t-shirt and ripped jeans. I also know people who have stressed over what is “the best” or “the right” thing to wear.

So what is the best thing to wear to the viva?

The answer is really simple: wear something that makes you feel like the best possible version of yourself. I am not alone in feeling like a million dollars when I put a suit on (OK, OK, I feel like James Bond…). Dressing formally does good things for people, straightens your shoulders, raises your posture, puts a little spring in your step.

For other people, dressing casually will bring out the best in them: it helps them to relax. If there is any chance that you might be stood, even for a short time (perhaps giving an opening presentation or explaining something at a board), then make sure that the shoes you are wearing are comfortable. Practical wins out for me every time.

Dress for confidence. The viva does not have to be a scary event, but understandably people can feel a little stress. The clothes you wear can help build you up, so choose things that make you feel great. Also check out this great TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on confidence – and practice your power pose!

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about common questions that PhD candidates have about the viva; there will most likely be one of these posts at least once a fortnight. To get things going and answer the big things first, in the first week of November I will be publishing a post every day answering common questions about the viva. From the workshops that I have done I have a huge list of questions that people regularly ask – I could please myself and pick five of those…or I could answer some of your questions.

So, what do YOU want to know about the viva?

Thanks for reading! Either tweet questions at me, leave them in the comments or drop me an email!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

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