This weekend I came home from work and a couple of drinks with B to find a letter from the university regarding my progression and continued registration as a PhD candidate. It said that they had “…..raised concerns about the estimated submission date…….expects you to submit your thesis…May 2012……………………….hold progression until you provide us with a plan detailing how you are going to meet this deadline. …………by Mon 15th Aug….failure to submit this work plan may lead to your de-registration. …”
I re-read the letter, I reasoned with myself. I cried some more. I went and found W and listened to her reason through the letter, and I cried. Then I regained my composure and emailed my supervisor for advice.
She has contacted various people and considered the possible meanings and paths we could take. It looks like that the best case scenario for me (that is that it was an administrative error and I could carry on as I had been) has been ruled out as has the worst case that I would have to be finished and polished in the next ten months. What we haven’t worked out is exactly what I need to provide the university with by May 2012 – a full draft?, a copy to be sent to externals?, or what….
However, when I go and see her in a couple of weeks about getting a new 2nd supervisor when the current one retires we will hash out a plan to submit to them to prevent my de-registration. L as been as helpful as I could wish and resolutely optimistic that I can achieve a PhD, which is what I really need.
I don’t know if there are words to explain to the non-academic, or indeed people outside of humanities research, both what it would mean to me to achieve my doctorate and also the murkiness that surrounds the assesssment of standards at this level but let me try. A PhD is supposed to be the highest formal award you can get as a student it is the milestone that passes you into the realm of established researcher – beyond this point your ideas have their own status. In reality researchers are judged continuously through peer-reviewed journals etc to prove they are evolving and offering contributions to scholarship and yet that benchmark remains and it stands for me as the final bastion of intellectual fortitude – achieve it and I can no longer be deemed ‘not clever enough’… I know its daft but there you have it. The trouble is working out what the standard of a PhD really is – the guidelines state it must make a new and original contribution to scholarship, that it must show how it is related to the existing body of knowledge and must be in an appropriate level of literary presentation. Ok so how do I know I have reached that level? Even reading theses is not the same as having something to compare your own original work to; there is no right or wrong; no points that have to be made to get the marks – it just has to be good enough to convince your examiners its good enough. Quite frankly thats terrifying.
The point being that my supervisor’s confidence in my ability to achieve that level within the regulation time is absolutely vital to not only my self-esteem but also the perception of my work by others.