Friday, 16 October 2020

Confirmation of candidature

Tara Brabazon from Flinders University in Adelaide runs a weekly video blog, which has been running for four and a half years, packed full of tips, hints and PhD tricks for post-graduate students and lecturers at the University. Over time her audience has grown outside the university, as her posts have great utility. One post struck me as being particularly useful. 

For those of you who are not familiar with the Australian PhD system when starting your PhD, there are three stages: the 'confirmation document' (research proposal), the confirmation presentation, and the discussion. A couple of years ago, Tara posted a clip providing some great tips to meet the Confirmation of Candidature for an Australian PhD programme. Tara walked through the requirements, and I felt that her vlog provided advice in two halves: questions; and evidence. The first half provided questions about whether we are able to take on a PhD, as follows:
  1. Can we identify a research problem (or a series of research questions)? Do we know the point of our research? Do we know if we can get the job done?
  2. What is our original contribution to knowledge? Can we complete the sentence “my original contribution to knowledge is…”? 
  3. Do we have the ability to write, and configure, and sustain an argument? Do we have the vocabulary to sustain that heightened level of scholarship required?
  4. Do we know what is methodology and what is methods? Do we understand and are we able to demonstrate the mechanics?
  5. Do we have the time-management skills needed? Do we have the capacity for planning and delivering? Do we have the commitment, energy and motivation? Can we put in place the planning and are we able to make it flexible enough to ensure that all tasks are done?
  6. Can we develop competent oral presentation skills which clearly communicates our research?
  7. Are we aware of any exportability or third party agreements which may limit the transferability and the IP consequences of our research?
    Tara spoke about originality being the defining characteristic of a PhD, whereas synthesis is the defining characteristic of a Masters. That is a very good point. Then Tara moved onto what I felt formed the second half; the evidence that we would need to display through our confirmation of candidature, to prove to our assessors that we can deliver. This includes:
    1. A document containing the following: Title; the summary of the research; the rationale for the research; research objectives, research questions; methodology; how the research contributes to a discipline or disciplines – eg, “my research contributes to x in y way” (show we understand how the work sits in the broader context of the field); theoretical perspectives; literature review; and a PERFECT reference list.
    2. Demonstrating a clear - compelling - vision
    3. Showing that we are a self-starter, including that we have undertaken PD to learn what is required and to expand our horizons; and that we have planned PD into our PhD schedule to learn what future requirements are there  
    4. Listing any required resources (which should match the pre-proposal; if it does not, communicated to our supervisor what additional resourcing is needed before the document is finalised, because it may affect departmental budgets)
    5. Having a clear plan for the work that needs to be done over the coming year, including specifying the chapters that we want to complete, and any issues that we would like discussion on or help with. This should also include us listing our research outputs - conferences and papers - that we will deliver on in the coming year.
    These are two very useful lists. Professor Brabazon has a clear view of what is required which will help us all to be successful. Even better, she can convey it to us, so that we can learn from it.


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