I have wet shoes, I have wet shoes because I’ve just come back from the library and the weather today is very British. So the library, it’s not a place I go often, but today there was a thesis forum. This is a little get together, normally arranged by the lovely Helen Steele from the library team, where students with experience of one aspect of the PhD process (thesis submission, probation review, publication etc. etc. etc.) do a small talk for those of us who are a little newer to it all. Todays topic was the probation review (formally known as the APG review) which is the assessment at the end of your first year. You need to pass the probation review in order to carry on with your PhD. So it feels like a pretty big task, for me it involves a 5,000-10,000 word report, a seminar to the department, the submission of my training and supervisory meeting records and an assessment by my thesis committee.
I don’t feel like I have that much knowledge of the whole process, this is partly because every department is different (and if I’m honest I haven’t had any info from my department since my first week about this process 🙁 ), partly because the process has changed from the APG to the probation review (so any second/third year students will tell me things but follow with “but it might be different now”) and finally it’s also because my supervisor, like me, is in his first year here at the University of Leicester. These factors all combine to make me feel a little clueless. So how to tackle it? Well, last week I had my monthly supervisory meeting and I used it as my first opportunity to try and really find some information out about the report aspect. Luckily my supervisor is on the thesis committee of another first year student, this means he does have some idea of what’s expected in the report. This is where I got the 5,000-10,000 word limit from. This report should include a literature review and my results to date. Ok so I’d nailed down a little more information – a good start, I also got the advice to email the Post-Grad tutor in the department, which I will be doing before the week is over.
Back to the actual thesis forum, this was a opportunity to hear from students who had actually been through the process recently, so I felt it would be really worthwhile. There were 3 speakers, although disappointingly for me no STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) students, and they did help ease my fears a little. All three emphasised that the assessment by your thesis committee should be viewed as an opportunity not an interrogation, you have two experts there and provided you’re prepared and know your work (which I hope I do!) it’s the ideal chance to explore new research directions. Overall the thesis forum highlighted to me all over again just how different a lab based PhD is from other forms, but also how different every department is in their assessments. Maybe next year, provided I pass my probation review, I will volunteer to speak and give the STEM students a little insight….
For anyone looking at doing a PhD at Leicester I would defintiely recommend the thesis forums, you don’t have to go to all of them just choose the one’s you want. I think Helen puts a lot of effort into organising the sessions and always sends follow up emails to those who’ve attended. Even if you get nothing else from the thesis forums it’s still reassuring to sit in a room of other PhD students and realise that they feel just the same as you.
Update: Just to show how on the ball Helen really is, I just got an email from her, last year two STEM students spoke about their probation review experiences and I now have the link (right here) so for any other STEM PhD first years (or potential students) have a listen 🙂