So you think you’re doing a PhD?

 

upgrade

 

I’ve been upgraded! Yes I know the old version of me did suffer from bugs and sudden crashes, cheers for pointing it out, so an upgrade was long overdue, and thanks to the procedures of the PhD machinery, I’ve now got one, hoorah! Confused? Then read on…

So you think you’re doing a PhD? Often, not so, at least not to start with. You might be registered for a lesser degree first, and only clamber up onto the PhD train, destination graduation, later. Or your status might officially be ‘PhD-initial registration’, and you need to have your registration confirmed. Who knew? Not me! So this is the CoR, confirmation of registration, aka upgrade, aka transfer. Requirements for this vary between institutions and departments, but often you’re asked to produce a mini-thesis, bar findings, and just a general intro-background-methodology-findings-discussion list won’t cut it, sorry, it’s got to contain some serious content. Then you get to discuss this with a panel, with your supervisors sitting in but not allowed to say anything. Sounds like scary stuff – so preparation is everything.

Anyway, for me, it’s over. I’m a officially a fully signed-up PhDer now, and I couldn’t be more relieved. When I was preparing for it though, it struck me that I can’t be the only person who was struggling to piece together some info about how the whole CoR process works, or that it even exists in the first place! So here are a few key points that might be worth knowing (NB this applies to my institution and my home school – do check how it works with your own uni/school/department). If you look for it, the info CAN be found out there, you just need to know a) where to look, and b) that you should look in the first place! Since you’re reading this, you got b) covered. As for a), here are some….

…Top tips re preparing for your CoR:

  • Check your VLE (Blackboard, Moodle, etc). Mine actually has a useful section on the CoR, but I only came across it quite late. So save yourself some hassle and have a look on your VLE as your starting point! It will probably also say what paperwork you need to complete. Look out for these forms (again, this might be different for your department):
  • CoR new paperwork (honestly, it’s called that in my case, yours might not be ‘new’ :-))
  • Example document (extremely useful: someone else’s completed report – hopefully it was someone who passed!)
  • Annual Review of Progress – CoR – student template (don’t think just because you’ve already done a review of progress report not too long ago you don’t have to do a new one! You can just update the previous report though, self-plagiarism rules don’t apply in this instance).
  • Learning Needs Analysis (update and submit to assessors)
  • Check your Graduate School website. Mine has useful links to forms, policies and procedures.  (Don’t switch off at the sound of this – knowing this stuff will help you navigate the PhD maze! Familiarise yourself also with the CoR section in the Code of Practice on Research students, or your institution’s equivalent.
  • Good practice guides are helpful too, e.g. Monitoring and Assessing the Practice of Doctoral Researchers. Knowing the criteria against which you’re assessed is rather essential, but this information isn’t always easy to come by, astonishingly.
  • Read your PhD handbook!!! This is worth its weight in gold and your starting point for every general PhD question you may have. Avoid feeling a fool if the answers to your questions have been in there all along.
  • Put your CoR document through Turnitin. On my VLE there’s a button saying ‘draft chapters’, which I ignored until after I’d submitted my CoR document. THEN I found out that you can check, completely confidentially, for instances of unintended (and intended, I guess) plagiarism, by uploading your work onto Turnitin. With trepidation, I did this – and it came back as 28% plagiarised! Shock horror! If this happens to you, don’t panic. When I checked each item, it was all references or template ethics documents form the appendix. Phew! I do recommend before checking your document before official submission though, not after. All official University student work is now put through Turnitin as a matter of course. Use this tool to your advantage.
  • Your institution’s researcher development programme might run a seminar on preparing for the CoR. I went to one and it turned out to cover the whole of the PhD assessment process, not just the CoR. Quite useful but I’d have liked to spend more time on ‘the thing that it said on the tin’. Still, it alerted me to the documents above, and that’s definitely as good thing.
  • In the actual CoR session (not sure what to call this: a chat, an oral exam, a mini-viva? Let’s stick with session), relax and enjoy discussing your project with academics in your field. I think it’s a real privilege to have someone read and comment on your work – make the most of it! I finished my session with a feeling of renewed energy and inspiration. It reminded of why I embarked on this project in the first place. I can’t wait to get out into the field and collect my data now!

So the last thing then is to be aware of the criteria used to assess your application for full registration (again, this might vary from institution to institution). At my university these are:

  1. Is the work presented by the student such as might reasonably be expected as a result of their having studied for the equivalent of around 12-18 months full-time for a PhD, depending on the timing of the confirmation process?
  2. Has the student shown that he or she is able to exercise independent critical judgement?
  3. Has the student demonstrated that he / she understands how his / her research topic is related to a wider field of knowledge?
  4. Has the student demonstrated the ability to produce an original contribution to knowledge?
  5. Is the amount and nature of the subject-specific and generic research skills training that has been undertaken by the student appropriate to his / her needs, as identified through a Learning Needs Analysis or similar process?
  6. Is the student’s work, and his / her understanding of it, of a standard that indicates that it will lead to the successful submission of a PhD thesis within 3-4 years full-time registration (or part-time equivalent)?

Amazingly, the answer to all of these questions for me today seems to have been YES. So why do I still feel that everybody else knows what they’re talking about, whereas I don’t? To answer this, I’ve signed for a course called Imposter syndrome. But that’s a blog post for another day!

 

How is/was your upgrade experience? I’d love to hear from you via the comments form below!

 

 

Good vibrations

Last week I gave a presentation; this week I went on a presentation skills course.  Timing is everything.

Stewart Theobald from Talking Shop took us through a jam-packed day of theory and practice, starting with breathing from the abdomen (hard), via using your body as a resonating tool for the vibrations of the voice (harder), culminating in speaking without props or preparation in front of an audience, implementing the techniques we’d learnt (hardest).

Stewart, a trained actor and voice coach, works with clients from all sorts of backgrounds, including PhD students preparing for their viva (!).  For a number of the exercises he taught us you can download audio-files, whether you’ve been on the course or not.  Just do take heed of the health and safety warning and don’t listen whilst driving or operating heavy machinery, as Stewart is also a registered hypnotherapist!

Reassuringly, all the participants, experienced presenters as well as novices like myself, confessed to experiencing some sort of physical symptom of anxiety when faced with the prospect talking of in front of an (unfamiliar) audience. Don’t fret, says Stewart. Pick the one thing you notice most of all in your body; for me, this would be feeling my heartbeat thumping in my throat. Then work on that – apparently most symptoms of anxiety can be alleviated by deliberately slowing the breath, which should happen through breathing deeply into your belly. This will then impact on your voice, making it sound less shaky and more resonant (hopefully).  And in turn, this will calm your mind.  I hadn’t thought about it before, but when Stewart pointed it out, it made complete sense: if you are totally in the moment, you can’t feel anxiety.  Anxiety is mainly about the future, and sometimes about the past (at least when you’re giving a presentation! We’re not talking real life-threatening situations here, where the pre-programmed fight or flight reaction may have its uses).

I was struck by how this was very similar to techniques used in Yoga, meditation, mindfulness etc.  Stewart specifically drew on the Alexander-technique, which I always meant to learn more about, but never did.  Looks like you can’t fault the old ones – another helpful model we discussed was Berne’s Transactional Analysis concept of the parent, adult and child roles, and how adopting either one or more of these can affect the dynamics between audience and presenter.  When seeking a connection with your audience, bear in mind that first impressions are crucial: your body language and voice counts for over 90% of how your audience feel about you.  In other words, it’s how you say it, not what you say!  Don’t underestimate the importance of connecting emotionally; intellectual comes later.  Of course it may be possible to bring the audience round again through the riveting content of your presentation, but if like me you’ve experienced ‘death by PowerPoint’ just a few times too often, you’ll know there’s plenty of proof that that’s unlikely.

The more bizarre moments of the course included us opening our eyes to the catering man gingerly stepping around us, tray of sandwiches in each hand, attempting to reach the tables we’d stacked at the back.  At the time we were on all fours, eyes closed, entrancedly humming up and down across several octaves, trying to find the point of maximum vibrations.  All in a day’s work!

Conference proceedings

Ah, conferences… I love them!  That is, I love attending them, listening in awe whilst lurking silently in the back row.  Not so this time!  Having had my arm kindly but firmly twisted to take the plunge and present,  I gulped hard when I discovered that I was due to kick off proceedings as the first speaker at the Language Studies PhD conference 2015 at the University of Reading.  No pressure then!  Well, I survived and am here to tell the tale, and to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even plucking up the courage to ask the odd question or two.  Who’d have thought! Altogether 22 PhD researchers from English Language & Applied Linguistics, the Institute of Education, Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, and Modern Languages & European Studies talked about their research in front of an audience of fellow-students and lecturers.  In a day that lasted from 9am to 6pm, time flew by as we heard about topics as varied as language policy in Namibia, female twitter users in Saudi Arabia, Greek EFL writing, and aspect binding in Mandarin Chinese, to name but a few. Luckily the audience wasn’t the heckling kind; on the contrary, comments and questions were supportive and helpful.  As well as a round of applause, each speaker also received constructive written feedback on their presentation skills. The conference concluded with a panel session on the Language Studies Working Papers – an annual peer-reviewed digital journal with contributions from staff and PhD-researchers at the University of Reading.  Some of last year’s student-contributors spoke persuasively about the benefits of submitting a paper, such as article-writing practice, attention to detail and development of reviewing skills.  And the best thing: you can develop your text for inclusion in your thesis!  Sounds like a win-win to me. Find all necessary information, including format templates and past issues, by clicking here.   But hurry!  This year’s deadline is 30 April 2015. Many thanks go to Dr. Jackie Laws for organising this enjoyable, instructive and multi-disciplinary day.  It certainly changed not just my view of conferences for the better, but also my view of myself.  If you’re in two minds whether to give presenting a go, here’s my advice: just do it!

Click here to watch a 10 minute video of my presentation: German as a school subject in the UK: discursive representation, motivation and uptake.

How you roll your /r/'s says a lot about you  How you roll your /r/’s says a lot about you!