PhD Progress & Thoughts

Problem Solving: A Doctoral Case Study

Problem: A supervisor let me down spectacularly and, through their direct impact, my skill set is somewhat lacking.
How it occurred: I was ‘steered away’ (discouraged) from attending conferences during the first year of my candidacy. After attempting to prepare a presentation of my work at a conference during my second year of candidacy, that too was knocked back. As such, I have yet to ever present my work at a public forum.
Short-term solution: I fired that supervisor due to a list of attributes that negatively impacted my work, such as this situation.

This issue, and its short-term solution, doesn’t get to the issue at hand.

I’m out of practice, since I haven’t presented my work…ever…in public. I don’t know what I need to improve, I’ve never received open feedback on my efforts, and I haven’t benefited from establishing a professional network – all things which are usually addressed through conference attendance.

It’s now getting to the point where, if I don’t take some initiative, my research will be presented for the first time at my mid-candidature review.

Presented for the first time. At the mid-candidature review.

That’s awful.

Students should have opportunities to present their work far earlier than this. I saw the milestones come and go – the annual conference in 2017, the annual conference in 2018, and a handful of other opportunities that I could have easily attended if not for the interference of an academic who was ill-suited to supervision.

‘You have other things to worry about’ they told me, ‘focus on your thesis.’

I was told this when I had just started my thesis, and when I was preparing for my Confirmation of Candidacy. I knew that this couldn’t possibly be true, because I had attended an annual conference for my industry’s professional body during my Honours degree – I had plenty of other things to do at that point, and I still managed to present a paper at the roundtable session. ‘You have other things to worry about’ never stopped me before – a wedding, a dissertation, and family drama certainly wasn’t enough to impede my ability to present – so why would a significantly lighter workload get in the way at this stage?

(I later learned, ‘you have other things to worry about’ was code for ‘I need to have you available for my research projects’, which was 100% not going to happen.)

Now I have a much more competent supervisor on my team and the first recommendation they put forward was that I attend a conference.

Yes, finally.

So I registered for two events – a ‘meet the CEO’ event of a hospital in the jurisdiction that I will be collecting data from, and a state-level conference of a professional body that registers practitioners and academics in a related field. I’m still yet to present my work.

So what do I do?

Long term solution: Take the Bull by the horns.

As the saying goes, ‘if you want to get it done right, you might as well do it yourself’. Often espoused by frazzled mothers watching their children fuddle an easy chore, I’m going to adopt this stance as the deadline to my own submission date approaches. I have less than two years to finish my doctoral project – data collection, writeup, paper drafting, the lot – and I still have so many activities that I want to undertake before then. I want to teach*, dangnabit, and I want to present my work.

*Despite an earlier blog post about pedagogy and teaching experiences, I queued up those posts in anticipation of being a tutor in semester 1, 2018. Like with conference attendance, this fired supervisor of mine also blocked the opportunity to gain teaching experience despite my insistence and preparation. It’s a long story.

I want to present my work because it’s a good study, and a worthwhile project. I know this is so, because I have engaged with stakeholders at every turn. My research is wanted, it’s warranted, and it’s heavily based on requests both from the media and literature. It’s time, folks. There are people that want to hear what I have to say – all I need is an outlet.

So, how am I going to succeed?

I’m going to apply for every presentation opportunity that comes my way from this point onward.
I’m going to host my own ‘Meet and Greet’ session through the professional institute where I am a member. I’m going to run volunteer tutorials for staff interested in research. I’m going to go back to my undergraduate university and seek alumni presentation opportunities. This way I can hone my presentation skills for different target audiences; professional management, clinicians, nurses, and general academics. I’m fully expecting to fall flat on my face in the first few tries but I am determined to ‘get the hang of it’ by the time I graduate. Next year I will formally apply to run tutorials as a casual staff member at my local university so I can finally put teaching experience on my resume.

I’m not going to let this issue define how the rest of my candidacy progresses. So, I will practice my presentation skills, I will communicate my research to stakeholders and interested parties, and I will graduate as a well-rounded researcher with a complete toolkit of all the skills required.
Research, literature reading, analysis and synthesis, academic writing skills, research paper publications, presentation skills, science communication skills, teaching, lecturing, interviewing, grant applications, ethics applications, research proposals, information pamphlets, conference abstracts and cold-pitch emails.

I’m going to get it done, and this problem-solving post is going to help me get there.




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