I think it’s important for everyone to know that the Graduate School are constantly re-evaluating things with the aim of improving the PhD process. How do I know? I know because I recently went to a meeting with Brett from the Graduate School and about 10 other PhD students who have just completed the first year of their PhD at Leicester. We were all there to discuss our experience of the probation review process. In August when I was actually writing my probation review report I did a post on everything involved in the process, so for more details about what’s involved you can check it out here or look at the Graduate School’s information on their website.
So back to this meeting, well the probation review process (previously students went through APG) was new for students beginning Sept/Oct 2013, therefore we were the guinea pigs. The probation process was bought in in an attempt to standardise the process of assessing first year students. With APG there had been a lot of differences in how different departments did this, which is understandable with such a variety of subjects being undertaken. For some the process changed very little except in name, for others I think it was bigger shift.
So intro done what came out of the meeting? Well, we covered a lot of ground:
- The general feel was that we were all very aware of the fact that we would be assessed and the date by which that assessment had to be completed. It seemed that we all received a lot of information very early on, in particular from the Graduate School induction.
- One thing that became apparent was that we all received a lot of information early but then everything went quiet. It would be nice to be introduced to the process during the Graduate School induction, but the more detailed information could come later in the year (possibly around Easter as this is still before anyone is assessed).
- When it came to probation review panels (the two academics who would assess us) the situation wasn’t so clear, people were assigned panels at very different times and for some the assignment was left late. I consider myself lucky, my panel was sorted out very early, although I did use one of my monthly meetings with my supervisor to get the ball rolling on the subject so perhaps that made a difference. Additionally some departments require an early meeting with the panel (somewhere between months 2-3) to introduce the project, this was a requirement for me and while it was intimidating meeting with my panel so early I now realise the benefits this brings.
- There seemed to be a lot less information provided by the departments on their individual requirements (some have addition features such as presentations, and aspects such as word counts vary). For me this took the form of not being advised on what should be included in my probation report (should it be more of a literature review or should it predominantly be used to demonstrate the results obtained so far) for others there was conflicting advice about word counts.
- There was a big difference in who had seen the actual marking guidance and how we were supplied with this. For any future students the document used for assessment by the probation panels is available on the Graduate School website. It’s not secret and it isn’t hidden, visit the link above and you’ll find it (I would definitely recommend doing this).
To sum it all up I think we all felt the overall process was relayed to us well, even if it was a little early on, but individual departments can be lacking in providing the details students require. I don’t think this was entirely unexpected by the Graduate School, there will always be teething problems with a new process. I think there are two really important things to come from this, firstly the Graduate School planned for this, they held this meeting and listened to our views, they want the process to run in the best way possible for us and for the University. Secondly it shows that you can make a difference, students who are willing to engage and share their experience will be able to help shape processes and regulations within the University – if you’re willing to share they’re willing to listen.