I’m now approximately half way through my PhD! This is both very exciting and a bit scary. I’m really eager to see the outcome of my efforts, to take the disparate threads of data from different experiments and tests, and weave them together into a body of work that contributes something new to my field. However, before I can get anywhere near writing my thesis, I’ve got a lot more work to do and quite a few hurdles to clear. In particular, I’ve got to prove that I’m good enough to continue my PhD.
As the hypothetical halfway point, 18 months is a major milestone in a PhD. My department (Life Sciences), my division (Ecology & Evolution) and my PhD sponsors (the Grantham Institute for Climate Change) all require various reports and presentations at this stage to ensure I am fulfilling their expectations. In the last few months I have given two oral presentations, presented a research poster, and written a report summarising my work and results for the last year and half. I am still working on the final and most important of these milestones, the ‘Late Stage Review’ (commonly known as an Upgrade Report). For this, I must present and justify everything I have done so far and lay out a clear plan for what I will do for the rest of my project. This, in conjunction with a viva , will be used to determine if I have done enough to continue working towards a PhD.
In general, these presentations and reports have been quite useful, though I’m still a bit tense about the upgrade. They gave me a chance to present the work I have done so far and get feedback from others. They also forced me to step back from the day-to-day project tasks that occupy so much time and consider my results in a wider context. They encouraged me to discuss what I have found so far, ask what questions that raises, identify if/how I can answer those questions with the time I have remaining in my project, and plan my next steps rather than blindly following the path I laid for myself at the start of my project.
Despite these obvious benefits, all these requirements came at roughly the same time, making them feel more like obstacles than opportunities. As well as limiting the time I had available for necessary research tasks, each also impeded my preparation for the others. There have been whispers about trying to consolidate some of these requirements. For instance the Grantham Institute may relax its conditions so that reports submitted for other departments could also be used to meet their requirements. I really hope this becomes a reality.
For now, I’m focussing on finishing my upgrade report and preparing for the dreaded upgrade viva examination – something that is likely to feel like a threatening obstacle, but which I hope will provide valuable feedback as well as preparing me for the real viva I’ll need to pass in order to earn my PhD. I have heard a few viva horror stories, but luckily recent posts by Simon Leather (Are PhD Examiners really ogres?) and Athene Donald (The Viva Experience) help to put it all in perspective, and I definitely recommend them to anyone approaching a viva or similar exam.