What to wear is usually at the bottom of the to-do list when preparing for the VIVA. Not so with EmmaEmma. Stylish Academic had a wonderful time chatting with her over the weekend, listening to her experience, and having a good laugh while at it. Emma successfully passed the Viva on May 1st, so congratulations! Without further ado, meet Emma Burnett.

Hi Emma, please tell me about your research and what motivated you to take it on? 

My research was about understanding risk perceptions and responses of the public and healthcare professionals towards Clostridium difficile (a healthcare associated infection), and also to explore the role of the media in health-related risk reporting.  I used to be an infection prevention and control practitioner, so talking with patients, relatives and other healthcare staff about this infection was part of my role.

However, it wasn’t until I did a previous qualitative research study examining the burden of healthcare associated infections did I realise that we actually have very little understanding of how people think about risk factors associated with infections. We really don’t listen to people enough, so how can we communicate effectively with them.

There have also been a number of significant C.difficile outbreaks in UK, with the same issues of lack of communication arising. Lastly, the media are always so highly criticised for dramatic and scaremongering reporting, but we actually have little understanding of their role and how this impacts on others, so it was important for me to examine this as well.

That’s insightful. Your passion for this subject comes through, but what was your PhD experience like overall? 

It was an incredible experience and I feel I have developed so much as a researcher, a writer and a critical thinker. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination – some parts were really challenging. It also becomes a main focus of your life, with very little respite from it. Meeting my participants and for them to trust me and speak freely with me was amazing. I wouldn’t have changed any of it. Even the tough parts make you stronger.

Hmm, “tough parts”… ?

Research is not a neat and tidy linear process, and you have to be prepared for the messiness of going back and forth. There were some parts, particularly around my methodology where I had to stop what I was doing, and go back to re-think things. That’s quite tough mentally. Sometimes you think there will never be a way forward, but through perserverance and sheer determination, you do get there. Lack of sleep during the tough parts is a killer. I also work full-time and have a family, so finding a balance was hard.

You did write a detailed post on your blog about preparing for your Viva, it was so helpful…

It was good to read my thesis again from cover to cover. It confirmed how much I did and how much I really knew. I’m pleased my blog helped you 🙂 …

It was a wonderful post … one would think you’ve been to a viva before

Ha ha, one viva is more than enough! It’s easy to doubt yourself during viva prep, but there’s no need

Okay, now in hindsight, what would you say to someone preparing for their Viva at the moment? 

Read your thesis thoroughly: consider what you did with a very critical eye and importantly, what you did not do; be confident in the decisions you made.

Now to the outfit!


(we laugh)

At what stage did you start considering the question “what will I wear?”

I started thinking about it during submission time (3 months prior to my viva)

Wow. You are so organised!

So I knew what I wanted it to say – I wanted to look confident and stylish. It was important that I felt good and my outfit was key to this. I wanted to look as though I could take on anything!

I wanted people to look at me and think ‘she means business’

However, I also knew I had to be comfortable, so I didn’t want any tight waistbands or anything that would cause me to fidget.

I think I always knew it was going to be a dress – a formal, yet stylish dress.

My shoes were important too. I chose black patent shoes with a heel. To be honest, I like my heels much higher, but I am quite tall so I didn’t want to be too overpowering and also, I knew my legs were going to be quite wobbly with nerves on the day, so I also didn’t want to fall over and break my ankle.

You know that is so important. I, for instance wanted something quite loose to avoid sweat stains 😀

Ha ha ha – yes, I was just going to say that. I knew I needed a sleeveless dress because our building gets way too hot and I thought i’d be particularly sweaty anyway! I do metafit, body attack and INSANITY on a daily basis so I didn’t need to worry about bingo wings lolDSC_0005

… You considered EVERYTHING Emma!

I honestly had very vivid dreams about walking in the room and falling on my face in front of my examiners (she laughs). I think I exhausted every single avenue 🙂

I think the dreaming is universal… someone messaged SA on Twitter today that she dreamt about her Viva wearing the dress she bought the day before. It’s safe to say I also dreamt of my viva several times haha. Someone needs to do a research on this! 

I even practiced my hand shake so many times before – not loose, nice and firm but not too rough

How about colour … did you consider anything about that?

Actually I did. I wanted something bright, perhaps a mix of bright colours, but in the end I went for black, grey, white – colours that I definitely didn’t want.

I also went for black tights. Probably too thick – I would have liked them thinner. A bit of a story – my teenage daughter said she had some that had never been used so I could have them. I was meant to have a look at them the day before the viva in case I needed to go out and get some more, but I completely forgot. They were a little too thick but worse part was they were too small and they felt like the crotch was at my knees (rofl) I had visions of them falling down in front of my examiners  (at this point of the conversation we are both rolling over with laughter)

So why did you change your mind about bright colours for your dress? 

I changed my mind because I tried on a colourful dress in Next (store) and it didn’t feel as formal and stylish as I wanted – it felt too casual. Then when I tried my dress on, it just felt and looked right.

My tights were a nightmare though (laughs)

DSC_0004So what lessons in selecting an outfit, would you pass on to someone preparing for their coming viva?

Choose something that makes you feel confident…. most important. Also make sure your tights fit (laughs)

Make sure it looks like you have made an effort. This is not a time to be casual. For females, nails are important especially if you speak with your hands – clean and neat. I had shellac on mine – nail polish is nice, but make sure it’s not chipped at all. A definite no-no!

Clean and neat nails for a man too – just no polish on them!

Except his research has to do with nail polish (we laugh) – Lastly, if you were just about to embark on a PhD, what advice would you give yourself now?

Take one step at a time. Stay dedicated. Take time off. Allow yourself to be confused/bewildered/uncertain. Talk to people. Speak at conferences. Publish as you go. Drink wine.

Beautiful! Thank you for your time Emma. I really appreciate you, and congratulations again on passing your Viva.

You can find Emma Burnett on Twitter & her blog is EmmaBurnett.Wordpress.com, where you’ll read all the juicy details about her VIVA experience itself. 

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