Going through Panel
I had my Review Panel in January 2012, but it seems like forever when I think back about it. May be this is because I forgot all about my initial worries and fears as soon as I stared my presentation. But let me rewind back and look into my preparation for Panel…
Back in September, or four months before the panel, I was terrified that I will have to talk about my research to a group of academics. I remember preparing a plan for the academic year, thinking about the literature review, schools, sample, research questions, and all the things that seemed manageable and simple enough at the time. It was just a matter of organisation to get them done. However, the thought about Panel was not as welcome in my head. Every time I was thinking about it, I was feeling empty inside and incapable of explaining my research properly to anyone but my supervisors. It took me two months to build my confidence by reading around my topic and restructuring my research questions before I could see some progress.
Preparing for the Panel
There is support available to all students going to Panel and the sessions start about a month in advance. I attended two support sessions with Olwen McNamara, Pauline Davis and Graeme Hutchinson and it was a good experience to get feedback on my draft proposal and presentation. As a result from these sessions and the meetings with my supervisors my research proposal from last year changed completely, but this is part of the learning process, isn’t it? Being asked many questions about the nitty-gritty of my project helped me to become more articulate about it and also pointed my attention in directions I was not necessary aware of before. I also received answers to my own questions about the structure of the proposal, the details that need to be included, the duration and format of the presentation and so on.
Two weeks before the Panel I organised a mock session and invited the rest of the students who were going to present as well as my supervisor and the PGR tutors. The rules were that we recreate the Panel session as much as possible, meaning that presentations were timed and then there was a Q&A session for each project. We also recorded the session so that we have our presentation and feedback to work on before the panel. The experience of video recording a presentation was extremely useful – seeing all the signals given by body language and hearing all the hums and errs… I think this is a great way to improve presentation style as well as content.
Both my supervisors came with me to the Panel presentation. When we entered they introduced me to the Panel and headed for the back of the room. I was really relieved when the Chair invited them to join their table and not sit in the back. This meant I could clearly see my supervisors while I was presenting and made me feel more comfortable.
I have to say that once I started speaking my anxiety was gone and I was actually enjoying the experience of presenting my research. The occasional nod from the panel members was even more reassuring and I really felt that I have moved on and considered all the details carefully. When I finished my presentation, I was invited to sit down and answer the questions of the Panel members. The feedback was really positive and they said my presentation had actually answered most of the questions they had prepared in advance. I think this was a good sign in terms of presenting the details of my research which I could not include in the actual proposal as space was limited. I was asked only 3 questions and they required very brief reconsideration of my theoretical framework and conceptualisation of the main terms. When I answered the questions my second supervisor left with me and my first supervisor stayed for a debriefing with the Panel members. Later in the day he reassured me about my unconditional progression and we scheduled a meeting to talk about the next stages in my research.
On the whole, the Panel experience was extremely useful and if I could draw some tips about it, they would be:
- Be prepared, plan your presentation and do the work in advance. This gave me confidence at the actual presentation and the feeling that I am ready to do it.
- Be honest about what you have considered and what not when you are asked questions, I did have to say that there are points I have to think about and the Panel was happy with this.
- Be open to suggestions but do take them as advice rather than prescriptions. Later I considered the points raised by the Panel with my supervisors, but the most important factor here is that this was my research and my supervisors and I are a lot more aware of all the details and justifications. You can’t put all this in an 8 page proposal… so all the decision making was actually down to us as a team.
- Take a break once you have passed your Panel, because you deserve it!