PhD first year formal review: some thoughts

So, yesterday I had my first year formal review. I’m no stranger to review processes and have both undergone and hosted quite a few while I was working in retail management. Unlike many, I actually see them as a good opportunity and valuable milestone in gauging progress, success and areas for improvement. What I did find strange, however, is having the review conducted by employees that I either knew only slightly or by reputation only. And going into the review fairly blind as to what it would entail. To be honest I think the review panel chair himself was expecting a different format to that which we held. In my case by supervisor, for whom I have a lot of respect (no supervisor horror stories from me I’m afraid), made himself available but was instructed to remain silent for the duration, whereas this was not the case for other PhD research students that I know both in the department and other institutions.

The internal marker, who controlled effectively controlled the progress of the meeting, did have some good points and I’m grateful for them being made. Part of the criticism towards my research sample was justified and I’d actually already come to some of the same conclusions. To get the theory and rationale to fit into and frame the research sample, I included a brief synopsis of my approach. I definitely think I could have more concisely explained this approach, and headed off some of the criticisms in that direction. I’ve already made some decent notes regarding that.

For the Formal Review, we had to submit a substantial sample of research of between 4k and 12k words (mine came to about 11k eventually), a timetable for completion, and a thesis plan. In the end I made a Gantt for my timetable for completion, mostly because it seemed the easier way of visually represented that data. I may in fact end up using it was a bona fide Gantt, it’s a fairly simple one so should be maintainable without eating up more time that it’s worth. One thing that I was keen to include, based on my experience producing the 11k-word research sample, was a regular timetable of writing. The mantra “just write!” is well known to PhD students, but my gads did producing this work hammer it home! So I’ve devised a plan to write regular snippets and I’m going to attempt to hold myself accountable for their delivery. Having worked in retail management, the idea of a productivity tracker makes me feel quite at home! This writing will be ugly; I’m writing them as .txt in Notepad for as distraction-free and system-agnostic an environment as possible, and not doing proper referencing or sometimes even grammar, in order to stop me disappearing down those enticing rabbit holes of perfectionism. The aim is to overproduce this rough material, from which I can hew my eventual proper thesis drafts. It will crucially also help to alleviate a problem that I had of having to leave out those interesting bits of argument or bibliography, and the more cringe worthy typos or clunky phrasing, simply because the press for time necessitated leaving stuff out or missing errors. In other words, and somewhat obviously, just writing continuously will give me more time not to make simple own goals. We’ll see how this goes.

(And I’m totally counting this blog post towards my quota for the week!)


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