Monthly Archives: March 2017

Confirmation of Candidature – Marcia’s Story

By Ruth Wagstaff

This is the story of someone’s confirmation. Let’s keep this person anonymous and call her Marcia. Marcia loved the topic that she settled on. She read far and wide. She talked about it with anyone who would listen. She found scholarships to apply so that she had to write for different audiences. She would write literature reviews to help consolidate and refine the research question. Her supervisors were happy with her progress and they mostly enjoyed supervision because she was constantly finding new questions. However, her supervisor’s joy was tempered by Marcia’s inability to choose the measures and methodology.

Marcia announced to her supervisor that she wanted an early confirmation. The supervisor nodded in agreement, no doubt hoping it would force Marcia to make decisions that she alone could make about measures and methodology. The associate supervisor simply went along with the decision because he trusted in Marcia’s ability to get things done. Her supervisor nominated the panel and to Marcia’s surprise they all accepted.

About 3 weeks before the proposal was due to be submitted to the panel, Marcia polished her proposal. Polishing the proposal had three effects on Marcia. The first is that just has her principle supervisor had predicted, she was forced to make decisions about methodology and measures. This was a very good outcome. Another effect was that polishing provided an opportunity to tighten the conceptual work. Another good outcome. But less a desirable effect was the realisation that the project could go very pear shaped, and even worse, that she did not have the skills and knowledge to do complete the project successfully. Her feet went cold but hands became sweaty. Sleeping became a little difficult. She became irritable. Marcia had visions of the panel laughing at her and cutting her down into bite size pieces. Marcia had gone from a confident and carefree soul to one shackled by poor confidence, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Supervision was no longer something Marcia looked forward to but her supervisor was wise and very experienced. Not only had he seen it all before, but experienced similar emotions during the confirmation of his Ph.D. candidature several decades earlier. In his usual calm voice, the supervisor asked Marcia what she was most afraid of.

Marcia’s reply was honest. She said, “I feel academically very vulnerable – even when doing a practice presentation for you here in your office. There is no reason for me to feel like this because you do not bite, and you do not want to tear me apart. I have worked on this proposal solidly for 12 months. It is mixed with my blood, sweat, and tears, and comes from my inner soul.”

The supervisor nodded in agreement, waited a moment, and said in a slow deliberate tone, “Yes, but the panel and I only want you to succeed. We are on your side.”
As he spoke, Marcia reflected on the stories of the candidates who were left in tears. Through the haze of Marcia thoughts, her supervisor’s voice took centre stage again.

“If you knew the answers to this research, it would not be Ph.D. worthy,’” he continued. “You have done the work required. Relax in your ability to get this done. You are not alone on this journey.”

As alone as Marcia felt, the evidence was that she was not alone. Her closest friends were Ph.D. colleagues and were always there. She knew her supervisors were walking with her, mentoring, and guiding her. The panel was walking with her by taking time out of their busy day to read the proposal, listen to the presentation, and make comments to help her. The panel did not have to do this but chose to. Marcia was definitely not alone.

The day of the confirmation presentation came and went. Marcia may have felt as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, but as she heard her voice begin the oral presentation, her concerns lifted. Her PhD friends were there. Her supervisors were there. The panel were listening attentively. Extra staff were there to support her as well. There is still work ahead but her project is Ph.D. worthy. Marcia is now a confirmed candidate: she has crossed a bridge and is about to embark on a new phase of her PhD journey.

Confirmation of Candidature Checklist

By Debbie Mulligan

Ready Set Go! by John Lester on Flickr, CC-BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/>

READY

• Ensure your Ethics application and any other paperwork is completed
• Choose the panel members carefully if you have a say in it – ask around
• Check blogs eg. Thesis Whisperer for support
• Ask colleagues how they went
• Attend a few other c of c sessions so that you know the procedure and you can pick up tips
• Practise, practise, practise keeping to the allotted time

SET

• Ensure you have the location and the time embedded in your memory
• Meet with supervisors
• Check out the room prior to the day. Note lectern (or lack thereof), where you can position your laptop (on a table? is it near a power outlet?), where you will stand to deliver your speech?
• Talk to the Faculty Research support and tell them if you want/need to make any adjustments to the room
• Think about room layout- do you want your chairs in a circle for a more informal gathering? -where do you want the lectern positioned?
• Ask some friends/ colleagues along for moral support
• See if there’s a techie onsite for those last minute computer problems
• How do you want to present yourself? Think about clothing, hair, shoes etc
• Organise a post coffee date with friends if you are that way inclined (debrief)

GO

• Get to the room EARLY
• Picture yourself giving the talk- are you happy with the set up?
• Put your mobile phone on silent
• Bring:

-back up USBs
-your notes
-power cords for your laptop
-print outs of diagrams that are too detailed to be a slide or can’t be seen properly on the slide
-watch/ phone/ stopwatch for time
-water
-a hard copy of your speech, your slides and your proposal

BREATHE

Preparing for Confirmation – When should I start writing

When should I start writing?
When undertaking my research degree and during my time working in research administration I often heard the catch-cry from research supervisors of “start writing as soon as possible”. I remember thinking at the beginning of my Doctor of Philosophy, what do I have to write? I haven’t read enough yet. I don’t have a plan. Even when I began to formulate a plan for the structure of my literature review and confirmation proposal I still did not feel ready to write. So, when should we start writing? What do supervisors mean when they say, “Start writing as soon as possible”? When is as soon as possible? When is it too early? When is it too late? What are the benefits of writing early? The answers to these questions lie in our ability to balance the need to read the literature, plan our writing and begin writing the research.

Hold your horses!
It is advisable to start writing as soon as possible but it is also important to ensure that writing efficiencies are built into the writing process. At the extreme, beginning the writing without reading the literature or structuring a writing plan is obviously an inefficient way to approach writing. Of course there will be some initial writing in the note taking and planning stages but the writing needs to be balanced against the development of the conceptual plan which informs the writing. The pressure to write should not impact on careful reading, note taking and planning. The more developed the plan the more efficient the writing process is likely to be.

Giddy up!
Of course, and this is where the balancing occurs, it is important not to wait too long before writing. If you are not careful the reading and planning stage can go on forever and consume valuable time in the candidature process. It is also important to realise that writing can inform and refine the planning. It is often only through writing that the plan and scope of the research becomes clear. This part of the writing process has been described as writing for understanding.

Write to understand
The initial process of writing usually involves exploratory writing. This is writing that helps you to understand your project and how it relates to the literature. In most cases just reading is not enough and it is only through the process of writing that you come to more fully understand your topic. This writing can then be developed through editing, supervisor feedback and revision to become writing to be understood.

Write to be understood
The next process of writing involves drafting and re-drafting to ensure that the initial writing – your argument and supporting points can be understood by others.

How to balance a wayward horse?
When trying to balance writing for understanding and creating efficiencies through effective conceptualisation and planning, one strategy is to undertake smaller sections of writing to better understand the literature and inform the planning process. This type of writing can occur very early in the process, even at the note taking stage. Rather than just reading the literature and taking notes it can be useful to research and take notes around a particular topic and then write up a small piece addressing the important issues and significance of this literature to your research project. This type of exploratory writing can then be used to inform the development of your project and may even make up a section of the confirmation proposal or the final thesis.

I hope my thoughts around when to start writing have been helpful. Please find some additional resources below that you might find of use.

Resources – writing a literature review

https://www.usq.edu.au/research/support-development/research-training/redflix/research-student-journey

Aveyard, H. (2014). Doing a literature review in health and social care: A practical guide. McGraw-Hill Education.
Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Sage.
Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2016). The literature review: Six steps to success. Corwin Press.
Pan, M. L., & Lopez, M. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Pyrczak Pub.
Ridley, D. (2012). The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. Sage

Be prepared

 By Neil Martin

Be prepared Image credit: Viktor Gurniak (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Presenting your research ideas at your confirmation of candidature is a scary prospect. I can remember a few sleepless nights thinking about my confirmation talk and all the possible things that could go wrong. However a successful presentation really does come down applying the Scouts motto “Be Prepared.”

What is confirmation for?

Your passage through confirmation of candidature involves writing a research proposal that articulates your research plan for your doctoral thesis. There is also an accompanying presentation through which you demonstrate your understanding of your research area and present a viable thesis plan that will take you through to the end of your doctoral studies. Following your presentation you will be asked some questions by your confirmation panel and members of the audience.

Prior to your presentation, the panel members will have read your proposal and formed some opinions and ideas on its quality. It may not feel like it at the time, but they are there to help. Their role is to cast an eye over your research ideas, identify any possible problems, and ultimately judge if you have a future doctoral thesis, for example: Is your research plan logical and well formed? Have you articulated your research questions? Are your ideas theoretically sound?

In the early stages of your thesis, there are lots of confirmation presentations, and it is well worth going to a few to familiarise yourself with the process. Confirmations are advertised regularly through the Redtrain bulletin, but make sure you go to as many that are close to your discipline as possible as they are the most likely to be similar in content to yours.

Preparing your slides

Given the effort that you have put in creating your confirmation proposal it is easy to leave your presentation to the last minute, however I would recommend starting work on this at least a month before. Ensure that your slides tell the story of your research including articulating the research problem, providing a theoretical overview, presenting your research questions, your studies, how you intend to analyse your data, and the possible implications of your research.

Remember not to clutter your slides with too much information (use more slides if necessary) and use diagrams where they may add understanding and context for the audience. There are some great resources out there on slide preparation so do a quick google search.

Practicing your presentation

Some of the best presenters spend a long time preparing their talks. The late Steve Jobs obsessively rehearsed product launches yet made them seem effortless. http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2015/03/26/how-steve-jobs-made-presentations-look-effortless/#49ae7bcc458a

If like me you don’t see yourself as a natural public speaker and feel quite anxious about your presentation, your best approach is to practice and rehearse as many times as possible. First of all, practice your presentation on your own until you know the contents of each slide. Make sure that you time each presentation to get a sense of how long you are likely to take on the day. You should be aiming for a presentation that lasts around 30 minutes and no longer than 40, so you may need to add or delete a slide or two. Once you feel more confident, practice with your partner or a close friend. They may not understand all the content but you can rehearse making eye contact and begin to get a sense of the flow of your presentation.

You should practice your presentation at least once with your primary supervisor. Your supervisor will often pick up on things that you will not. I can remember clearly in a practice run with my supervisor that he noticed that I was using the laser pointer in an annoying way when explaining a diagram describing my theoretical perspective. Rather than pointing at a specific element of the diagram, I was waggling the pointer all over the place, most irritating for the audience and something I was very conscious of on the actual day and did not repeat.

Familiarisation and imagery

One tip I would offer is to familiarise yourself with the room that you will be presenting in. If it’s a bookable room then try and book it out for an hour and rehearse your presentation. Understand where you will be standing and where the panel will be sitting, check also that the technology is working e.g., if you are plugging in your own laptop.

A useful technique you may wish to try is imagery. Imagery is a psychological skill that many elite athletes use in preparation for competition and may be used in a limited way to help you prepare for your talk. Although it requires a great deal of practice (I certainly would not describe myself as an expert), it may help you mentally prepare for your talk including manage your anxiety.

The images that you should attempt to create in your mind should be one of success. On your first visit to your presentation room, learn as much as you can about it for later recollection. Try to take in as much detail as you can about the room and then imagine yourself in that space successfully giving your presentation to a panel and the audience. Picture exactly where the panel and the audience will sit, consider the noise in the room and lighting and colour. Think about where you will be standing in relation to the audience. Imagine yourself talking authoritatively and in control about your research and answering the panel’s questions clearly and concisely.  You should try to be relaxed when using imagery and try to use all your senses to create the simulation.

Finally, if you have given a successful talk in the past, which undoubtedly you have, then draw upon these feelings as you prepare.  It’s not easy, but try to ignore those times when you were less successful. To the best of my abilities, I used some imagery techniques for my preparation, and it really helped me with my confidence on the day. It’s certainly a skill that I would love to master.

Confirmation day 

On your day of confirmation, turn up to your room as early as possible. Set up your presentation and do (yet another) check of your slides, by now their order will be very familiar to you. After that follow a routine that be suits you, you may want to go for a quick walk on your own, or chat to your supervisor or a friend. A few minutes before your talk, stand where you will give the talk as try once again to recall those images of success. Once the panel and the audience have arrived, you will be introduced by the panel chair and will be away on your presentation. From my memory those 30 or 40 minutes go very quickly!

The dreaded questions

Having given your talk, you will be asked a few questions by the panel before opening out to the room.  It is impossible to know exactly what you will be asked, but it is well worth anticipating them. Prior to your presentation day, you can discuss with your supervisor possible questions. You should also critically assess your confirmation submission for further questions writing down and answering any possible questions that you think may come up. For example, you may be very quantitative in your research method and a panel member may ask why you are not using more qualitative approaches. On the day don’t feel the need to commit to all the feedback that you are given if you are not sure of a response then acknowledge the point and say that you will discuss further with your supervisor.

Don’t panic!

I hope these tips are useful to you. Remember to prepare properly and you will increase your chances of having a positive experience in your confirmation presentation. If you are anxious remember that the audience will be more sympathetic than you think and in fact we often draw off our nerves to excel on the day. Don’t panic (more easily said that done!) and good luck – it’s one of the big milestones on your PhD journey.

Below are a few links that may help you further.

How To Mentally Prepare Yourself To Give The Performance Of Your Life

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/08/14/how-to-mentally-prepare-yourself-to-give-the-performance-of-your-life/#35d07d5236d5

5 classic research presentation mistakes

https://thesiswhisperer.com/2010/11/25/5-classic-research-presentation-mistakes/

AIS – Imagery

http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/performance_support/psychology/brainwaves/imagery

Help it’s confirmation and I’m experiencing fear!

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Kp9eG9fX34oj0jzDHrj0jElX1yO0RXoc_mihd-p_9I0/edit#slide=id.g1ec4696c_3_16