Confirmation happens for Australian PhD candidates at about the 1 year mark. For me, that was today.
It involves writing a report that outlines the direction your thesis is taking, your research so far, and draft chapters (in my case, a draft theoretical chapter and a few short stories); amounting to about 15,000 words. The panel (consisting of your supervisor, associate supervisor, and a chair) reads your report, and the supervisors write their own reports on your report. And then, a few days later, you have your confirmation day. They have a chat first and then you can go in. They go over the pertinent points of their reports and ask you to respond to those.
Sounds simple? Unfortunately, it didn’t go entirely smoothly.
Let me start by saying that, in my case, all these people were very nice to me. It seemed like they genuinely found my work interesting and that they want to help me get this thesis to a doctoral standard. This, however, does not alter the fact that I DID NOT PASS CONFIRMATION.
I am trying to remain calm.
The first thing I did when I left the room was go to my office and write down a plan of attack. Much to my surprise, I did not cry.
There are different ways to fail confirmation. In comparison to those I had dreamed up in my fatalistic mind, the way I failed doesn’t seem too bad. I have been given three months to submit some further writing. Thankfully, I do not have to write an entire 15,000 word report again.
They said my thesis is too big (I knew that already). I have clearly done a lot of research, but what is not clear is how this research is going to be turned into a thesis—an argument that is all my own.
I have heard, and read, that a PhD needs to be an “original and substantial contribution to knowledge”, over and over (I heard it again today) and, for some reason, this is a really hard concept for me to get my head around. It is not enough to say that I am looking at texts the way I am because it is interesting; I have to have an argument– an hypothesis that I am testing. So, for the resubmission, I need to narrow my focus and have an hypothesis.
Another criticism I need to address is that the creative work I presented was inadequate, and inadequate in several ways. Firstly, there wasn’t enough of it (this was partly because there was a word limit imposed on the report, and partly because I have haven’t actually finished all the drafts of my stories so far). Secondly, it was unclear how the creative work related to the theoretical work. And thirdly, and I quote, my stories ”don’t do much that is interesting, original, or complex with the material.” Ouch! In other words, I need to pick up my creative game and I need an overall cohesive concept for my thesis, that acknowledges that the theoretical and creative sections are equally important.
I will conquer this thesis, even if it’s the last thing I do.
For those out there embarking on a creative thesis, don’t let comments like these put you off. The number one reason I am doing this PhD is to improve my creative writing. Despite these comments, I don’t think my writing stinks, well not completely. It is easy to overlook the creative when your head gets stuck in the theory, but the creative section need to show as much academic rigor and originality as the theoretical section.
Today, I have learnt that my PhD thesis does not need reflect everything that I know and think. It is just my own little slice of the knowledge pie*. And it is up to me to make it academically edible.
I’ll keep you posted on how the re-submission goes and I’d love to hear how everyone else is going with their thesis so far.
*I tossed up whether to say cake, or even some other more nutrition food group, but I do love a good pie.