My panel experience was a positive experience because I was faced with the challenge of articulating my PhD study to a non-specialist audience in under 15 minutes. I’ve been used to “talking shop”, so to speak, with my peers and my supervisors who have extensive backgrounds in TESOL, the industry that my study is situated in. And so preparing for the panel required me to really focus on streamlining my proposal to something that is clear, concise and thorough. Should be straightforward enough, right?
Instead I found writing the actual proposal the most difficult aspect. It’s one thing to talk about your research with like-minded individuals and it’s another thing to actually write about your research in a way that is understandable to a wider audience. It wasn’t that I needed to dumb down my proposal – far from it! It was finding a way to present my research differently. I wasn’t really comfortable with this but with the encouragement and sound guidance from my supervisors, I was able to craft a document that I was proud of.
Moreover part of preparing for panel was to do a dry run in front of both my supervisors. I remember this event quite clearly because my performance was horrendous! As soon as I started my presentation I knew it was going to go badly. My mind went blank, I mumbled a lot and repeated myself several times! Think I threw in words like “validity” and “theoretical framework” thinking these words would help. Fortunately I have very patient supervisors who stopped me, gave me (several) suggestions for improvement, and made me start again. And after that, they grilled me for 20 minutes on my proposal, asking questions that we thought would probably come up as well as difficult questions as a way to see how I would handle myself. I came away from that experience feeling rather deflated but with the assurance that the actual panel was not going to be anywhere near as hard as what my supervisors had put me through.
The next day, I stood before the panel in January 2011 feeling nervous and at the same time, feeling well prepared. I remember the moment before I started: I looked around the table at the four panel members, taking one last look at my supervisor, took a deep breath then started to speak. This time, as soon as I began talking, I felt my nerves settle and my confidence grow. When I had finished my supervisor was actually smiling (in contrast to the look of despair during my dry run). The questions that were put to me were fairly straightforward and were mostly focused on my methodological approaches. It wasn’t their intention to catch me out but rather to see what I understood about my research proposal.
I remember leaving the room feeling ok. While the panel committee had raised several issues with my research proposal the general consensus was that they seemed fine, overall, with allowing me to continue. My supervisor stayed behind to meet with the panel committee for a few minutes and then met me a short time later to confirm that I passed. I left that day feeling very, very relieved.
They say that the panel experience is a little different for everyone. I found that working closely with my supervisors was key to effectively preparing me well. Their tactics may not work with others but the know me well enough to understand when I need a word of encouragement and when I need a shove (intellectually speaking)!