Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Natalie Lamb and the Confirmation Review Pass

The Confirmation Review is The University of Sheffield's way of saying yes, you can continue with your PhD. If you do not want to continue, it's an easy way for you to end your PhD while still getting a qualification from your year of work (an MPhil). But, for most people, the Confirmation Review is something they are desperate to pass and has probably been two words that have been panicked over (or strategically ignored) for the past month.

My personal experience was that everyone told me that I was going to be fine. My supervisor said to think about it as an opportunity to talk about my research with other interested researchers. But, now that I have sat it, I have got to disagree, it felt more like a viva than a friendly chat, if I am being honest. In this post, I would like to talk about what it is, how I prepared, what it was like and what I would do differently. 

Background Info
All University of Sheffield PhD students have to undergo a Confirmation Review to confirm their registration as a PhD student, comprising of a report and an interview. The Confirmation Review is to help you prepare for the final viva voce examination and assure the university of the following:
  • Your project is of sufficient substance and novelty (novel contribution to knowledge) to lead to the full award of a PhD within the time frame given to complete a PhD
  • You are intellectually and technically capable of carrying out the necessary work, i.e. you have made progress to date
  • You have a plan of you work and a risk mitigation strategy 
  • You have been completing training
You produce a Confirmation Report which gets judged by a Confirmation Review Panel before the viva and you receive their feedback during the viva. My panel consisted of two people, one from my department and one from a different department. My supervisors also asked to be present.

It is said that the Confirmation Report should consist of the following:

  • A clear statement of the area of research and contextualisation with respect to literature
  • A synopsis of the work undertaken so far
  • A schedule of further work
  • Draft chapter(s) of the thesis
  • Details and reflection of any training undertaken on the DDP, as well as future training plans, e.g. a completed Training Needs Analysis
You can see how I interpreted these requirements in this screenshot of my contents page.

Although I did not have to book the meeting myself or decide who was going to be on my panel (my supervisors did that for me), I had to contact my panel and send them copies of my report before the viva. So, on the 18/07/17 I emailed my Confirmation Review Panel:

Good morning,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for giving up your time to be an examiner at my Confirmation Review on 25/07/17.
Please find a copy of my Confirmation Report attached.
You should receive a hard copy of the report tomorrow.
Again, thank you for taking the time to read and assess my work. 

Thank you,
Natalie Lamb

I practiced for my confirmation review by researching the science behind my PhD that I was not quite comfortable with. But, if I had known how challenging it was going to be, I think I would have done a lot more work.

The Big Day 
I began the review feeling confident and proud. I spoke my speech, with my bound copy of the report lying comfortably on the desk in front of me. I felt OK with the atmosphere in the room so I threw in a bit of a crazy analogy that I had thought of at 5:30am that morning. Everyone laughed. I think it went down well.

When the questions started, they started probing. I was expecting some warm up questions, something like why did you choose to do a PhD, but the first question was about the title of my PhD, getting me to justify its usage. I do not feel that I answered well. I had just used my given title, I did not think about changing it so early on (which is why it is something I have added to my tips section).

My confidence was knocked further when asked detailed questions about my methodology. I had spent too much confirmation review practice time on researching the science behind my PhD that I was not quite comfortable with (e.g. the different types of lead), rather than my actual PhD methodology. I knew what I wanted to do but I did not know every specific measurement type that I would be taking.

I felt like a lot of questions were trying to get an answer from me, lead me to what they wanted me to say but I really had difficulties giving them the answer they wanted. I think I actually would have preferred straight out questions because I found this way of doing things very difficult. I interpreted these questions in the best way I could. I knew what I was saying was not the answer they wanted, but I said it anyway. A little frustrating, I think, for everyone.

Overall, when I left the room I felt quite disheartened. I thought it hadn't gone well at all. I was also outside for a long time so there must have been a lot of debate. When I was eventually called in, surprisingly it was good news. Minor corrections. I was happy with this, as it is the most common outcome (with others being major corrections and pass without corrections). We discussed what corrections needed to be done in the next three months, which I later added to my report and to an Excel document, to keep track of the changes to my report. After sending the revised report and the Excel document, I received confirmation that I had passed.

Final Tips

  • Do your Confirmation Review ASAP. The sooner you do it, the less work they would have expected you to have done. You likely won't feel like you are prepared enough, that you haven't done enough work. But, honestly, just do it!
  • Make your methodology specific e.g. what exact samples will you be taking
  • Take your phone while they discuss so time passing does not seem like to much of an eternity.
  • Do not look at your supervisor- the last thing you want is to notice a fleeting look of frustration!
  • Do not ask your supervisor for help during the review. I did it once and wish I would have just said I did not know the answer.
  • Bring biscuits and water etc for your panel
  • Plan a celebration!

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