I haven’t blogged for a while but there is a valid reason for this. I have been working on my transfer report to support my RD5 review. This is the review which determines if students are able to progress onto the PhD and whether their research projects are of PhD standard. So therefore this review is very important to my PhD progression.
I had my review on Wednesday this week. For some bizarre reason I was not nervous at all until the 15 minutes before I went in (when I bumped into my supervisor outside the printing room). I’m not really sure why this was. You might remember from my previous review blog post that I was very very nervous for that one… and it’s the RD5 which is the most important one so that’s a mystery to me. It could be because I knew my panel and I had spent the previous 10 weeks writing and preparing the transfer report in support of the RD5 review – who knows! Either way, I was able to get up and head into the office in good time and not panic until the last few minutes. As I had been full of cold for 5 days before my review, I did not think it would go so well. I thought my snotts might take over and wear me down. However, I gladly started to recover and by the time my review came, I had managed to control the cold (with a bit of vicks) to a point where it did not interfere with my review at all.
Oh I should say now that I passed my review first time round and am now officially a PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University (yippeeeee!). As I am only 10 month in, I had major doubts to whether my document was up to scratch and whether all of the effort put in would be worth it. I wholeheartedly thank my supervisors for the help they put in and the time spent helping me prepare and review the document. My fellow PhD students proved sanity and good advice when I needed their knowledge and experiences of their own RD5 reviews to keep me going. I also thank my family who came to visit bank holiday weekend as this was a lovely distraction away from the review. My dad told me that he reads all of my blog posts so this is a hello to him so that he can laugh when he reads this (hello Dad!)… and thank you to Chris who provided support and the prosecco for during and after the review 😉
What happened during my review?
So for my review what did I actually need to do? My university class this as a mini viva because it is the first time (as such) your panel will question you on things like the background, methods, contributions etc. However, this is not enough. For my review, I had to write a transfer report which comprised about 50 pages on the topics below:
- Context to the research (ie, why it is important)
- Literature review (where does the research lie within the literature)
- Contributions (ie, gaps in knowledge to be filled and also theoretical and practical contributions)
- Methodological approach and the research paradigm
- Theoretical framework (the theory underpinning the work)
- Methods used and the stages of research
- A timetable / plan of the research for the next two years
- Lots and lots of references
For me, this document was really important so that I KNOW what my research is about, how it will be done, and why. I think spending 10 weeks on the one document has helped me understand the research from a different perspective and has helped me bring it together as a whole. During the review I was questioned about my research questions first of all as they needed a little clarification and also about the contributions. I stumbled a little on these but it was good to chat to my panel chair about this because now I know my response if asked again. I was then asked about my sample and approach as this is a really important thing in my second year. If I cannot get organisations to participate in my research, what would my plan B be and how would I approach this? I can’t say that any of the questions shocked or surprised me which is good, but the nerves did kick in during this time thinking that I would not answer them right or thinking that I would make a terrible mistake. My supervisor and I agreed that I am ‘better on paper than speaking’ but this just means I need to improve my confidence when being grilled about my research. It turns out that having an ‘outsiders’ perspective on the research is a really positive thing and my supervisors and I now know what we need to tighten up and what we might think to change – the research questions being one of those changes.
My learnings from the RD5 process
During the process of preparing for my RD5 review, I learned a lot about my research, my supervisors and myself. Firstly, things don’t always go to plan, but don’t fret, this is normal apparently. My supervisors and I don’t always agree on everything, but I think this is good. It promotes discussion and encourages me to go look into things further so that we can come to some overall conclusion. I like that we all come from different research backgrounds (information science, employment and psychology) so the research can consider all perspectives, even if they are not all included in everything. This is what makes us all a perfect fit for the research I think!
More importantly, I learned lot about myself and here are some of the things I now know:
- I can’t write academically to save my life. Well, it has improved quite a bit since I started but I had a 3 year academic break so this meant I did not write, search literature or even read much for that. I think that submitting work to my supervisors has helped with this a lot as I have been able to see mistakes in my writing style and worked to improve this. One of the comments of my transfer report is that it was well written so it cannot be as bad as I think.
- I don’t like tasks that take a long time (so why on earth am I doing a PhD???). I found that I get intimidated when I have a lengthy task that might take a while. I often want things done yesterday and don’t like the prospect of it taking forever. However, this approach is absolutely useless. Instead, I found that splitting larger tasks into smaller and more manageable tasks helped me get through it at a decent pace. I can then create a checklist of things I need to do and tick them off one by one as I go along. This way, I can see smaller progress steps and then feel happier with progress when I can see things are getting done rather than the big task not being done.
- I don’t like noise when I’m editing a document. We use a shared office space and this is great when I am doing other things, but editing a document is not one of those other things. I have found that I need silence (or a quiet space) for that so that I can concentrate which is something I am not used to. I have always preferred to work around people but this changed when I started working from home a little more over the summer and I found my productivity was even better than at the office (when editing my work).
- I need to take a good break every now and then. I found that taking time off really helped. During August, I look a little extra time off as I had holidays that I had not taken. This helped me to focus more on my tasks when I got back. It also helped to get time away from my desk and home so that I was not in the same surroundings during one of the most stressful months of my first year of study.
- I need plenty of tea and snacks through the day when I am concentrating on writing. I found that this was odd. Normally I don’t like to take long breaks but during the RD5 preparation period the opposite happened. I found that taking a good tea (and cake!) break every now and then helped me to boost my energy levels through the day and also got me away from my computer. It meant that I did not feel so overwhelmed by what I had to get done knowing I could split my day into chunks and look forward to a little taste of heaven.
- I discovered that I need to do other things than the PhD. I know everyone advises not to let the research take over your life, but when you’re home alone quite often, what choice is there? I discovered that keeping myself occupied within non-research related things was good. I found that I can make a mean lemon drizzle cake and I enjoyed the process of baking this (and learning how to do this from my Dad) at a time where I would normally be stressing over work. More importantly, I look time away to go for coffee with friends and made sure that my days off were my days off, even if I did not have much planned.
- I discovered I like to moan on twitter, which student does not? Although not very productive, it’s good to get my struggles out there and moan a bit. However, I do know I would never moan about other people specifically and I would only moan (publically) about the stupid things I have done or the daft things I am encountering.
- I am stupidly (negatively) critical about things I do even if they are not bad. From previous experiences, I always criticise myself on what I do as I expect that others will do the same. This is not a problem as such but it stops me seeing the good stuff I have done and the progress I have made. I will not go into the event that has made me think this way but thankfully I have a great PhD team around me who see how far I have come and constantly tell me all the positive things they see in me (I love you all for doing this!).
So what advice would I give to people facing a similar review?
- Prepare early – I found that my preparation took a lot longer than expected, then the reviewing and editing took even longer. If you prepare early it gives your supervisors (or people involved) time to check over the work and help to make improvements;
- Get someone to proof read – after the review, my supervisors and I both said we should have got someone external to look at the work. This is because there were mistakes in it that we did not spot and an external person might have picked these up before the review;
- Take a break – take a break both in writing and also from the work as a whole. This helped me concentrate more when I returned back to the work if my goals were set beforehand;
- Seek help when needed – I have learned to ask for help when I needed it. I got stuck with a few things and I could not get these done on my own. For example, I asked other PhD students about the timetable of research and problems they encountered to help me write my timetable;
- Don’t panic – I would always say don’t panic (easier said than done). Whatever the result, your efforts will be noted so if you have put the work in then the outcome should reflect this. If you don’t, then you can’t expect miracles to happen.
- If you do feel worried, tell your supervisors – I found that I was concerned, but my supervisors helped reduce my worried by explaining things that had happened in other (anonymous) reviews they had been involved in. This helped me understand that everyone has problems and successes and whatever happens its probably happened before to someone else.