Yifen Xu (January 2012)

When I was told that I can share my experience of the Panel, if it is helpful to others I am happy to do it. I might finish my account with a few words of advice, like ‘be clear about what you are doing’, or ‘be honest to say what you have done and what you have thought about. ’ However, I decided to share the whole story about how I thought and felt about it from preparing my research plan until I passed my panel.  Actually, I had both good and bad times when preparing for the panel. When I go back to think of that  period, I have to say all those experiences  were valuable, as they not only pushed me forward but also made me think about my research in depth. This will be helpful to carry into my studies in future.

After I finished my M.Sc a few months ago, there were some moments that my head was absolutely blank and I had no idea what I needed to do. I got stuck during reading and I could not seem to get any clear ideas from quite large numbers of articles and books I read. I had such awful feelings of frustration for a while, and many doubts- I even did not think my plan was good enough on the day before my panel! There were some times that I felt the more I revised my proposal the more problems I found and I panicked.  However, it was that kind of experience which pushed me to work harder, which bit by bit improved my proposal.

To be honest, I did my work mainly with my first supervisor and I cannot ignore his contribution to my successful presentation. He did give me some very helpful comments once I had a clear focus for my proposal. We had several meetings in the last month, especially the last two weeks. When I sent my various drafts and revisions to my supervisor, he tried to give me feedback as soon as possible. I revised it again based on his comments. That interaction process kept going on right up to the day I did my panel presentation. I even made some changes when I rehearsed my presentation with my supervisor one day before my panel meeting.

I also attended the presentation practice session which was arranged by one of my classmates. I have to say it was helpful, although I felt very nervous doing my presentation without a PowerPoint. My audience was a few of my classmates and another two lecturers who had never before seen my research plan. They asked me some questions as outsiders, which I think was helpful to me in improving my plan. I do not mean their questions were the same as those asked by the actual panel members, but these questions showed me there were ways I can improve my design. In some cases, ‘the spectators see more of the game than the players.’ For instance, when I showed my draft to my second supervisor for the first time, he pointed out some points which I did not expect. He overviewed my plan as a whole and noted the literature was not tightly linked to the research questions, even though I thought it was very obvious to see the link and logic.  In this sense, I think you can benefit from talking about your proposal with as many people as possible.

I was quite nervous in the first few minutes when I did my presentation, and then I calmed down.  The feeling of fear disappeared and I was much more confident to talk about my research. It is normal I think to be nervous, but there is a point that, when you get over it, you feel that your heart was put back where it should be. It was magic!  I said most of the things I wanted to say. My supervisor also commented afterwards that my presentation was much more confident once I relaxed.

When I sat down and explained my ideas while the panel members questioned me, I felt much better and I really felt quite ready. Their questions were wide-ranging, and it is hard to summarise which parts of my proposal they were most interested in.  They asked me about my research questions, the proposed research methods, ethical issues, access, and so on. But it was fine. I can get through it because they can see I know what I am doing and what I will do next. I also understood what people had said to me that the panel members care about whether you are clear about your plan and that you seem well prepared to conduct your research. My supervisor is always reminding me that I should make sure the research I designed can be do-able by me, myself, as a lone student researcher.  Anyway, I appreciated that the experience of preparing for the panel and the questions asked reminded me that I should carry out my research systematically and with rigour, and try to think things through comprehensively whether I am doing my fieldwork or writing up in future.

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