Up(grade)s and Downs

While usually I try to focus these blogs on positive aspects of PhD life, today I want to focus on how I felt driving home after a mediocre day.

Yesterday was not a good day. Nothing particularly bad happened, but work didn’t go very well and by the time I left the office I was frustrated.

I ranted about it whilst driving home; about 45 minutes of “Why doesn’t it work?”, “Why can’t I write faster?”, “Why don’t I understand it all yet?”, “Why is science so *frustrating*?” etc etc

The frustration I’m feeling is down to the stress of meeting deadlines, not the work itself.

The main cause of my current work-related stress is the fast approaching upgrade process.

At the end of this month (October 2014) I have to hand in my ‘Upgrade Report’. On the basis of this document and a ‘Practice Viva’ (basically an interview about your work) I will either be allowed, or not, to officially change my student registration from an MPhil to a PhD student. This process is something that all UCL PhD students have to go through (although the timings differ slightly over departments), and I think all UK universities have a similar structure.

The basic information I have about requirements for the upgrade is:

“you will be expected to submit copies of the first two chapters of your thesis, a sensible plan for the remainder, and satisfactorily complete a viva”

I started this PhD a year ago (in fact a year and a week ago, or thereabouts) so I am not really clear how complete the ‘two chapters of [my] thesis’ really have to be. Therefore I am generally worried about not having done enough, that I am not progressing fast enough and I don’t understand enough.

I know that a fundamental part of doing a PhD is creating your own goals and being in control of your own progress, and I know that different projects move at different rates throughout the PhD journey. I know that exactly this makes it impossible to write a list of what each PhD student should be able to do and understand by now. This said, I struggle with not having a level to measure myself against at each stage. I know that I understand far more now than this time last year, but I don’t know if the progress I’m making is what’s expected, or more, or less than that.

I respect and trust my supervisor, so I believe that if something was going badly wrong in my PhD at this stage then she would discuss it with me. Believing that in principle is one thing, but truly believing the absence of that means I’m doing ok is something else entirely.

Before starting this PhD I ‘knew’ that it would be tough, that it would test me academically and personally. I feel that I’m starting to find out what that really means.

I want to finish this post with the two hopes I have for the upcoming upgrade process:

  • Firstly, that I pass
  • Secondly, that I will receive feedback on my strengths, weaknesses and general progress over the last year.

In just over a month I should be able to state how reality matched up to these hopes. For now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and keep writing, but not at the same time!

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3 thoughts on “Up(grade)s and Downs

  1. […] my last post I wrote about the relief of passing my “upgrade” panel, so I am now a fully registered PhD student (instead of officially an MPhil student). That was back […]

  2. […] was done for my Upgrade last November and I have been adding to it slowly since then. I’m sure it will mostly be […]

  3. […] let alone wanting any time just to relax! “I’ve not read enough”, “I’ve not done enough”, and “I just don’t know enough” are common worries of PhD students; it’s no […]

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