PhD Diaries #4 : My First Progress Review

Last week I had my first Thesis Advisory Panel Meeting (TAP). At University of York these happen every 6 months, and are a chance to review progress, set goals and get feedback beyond the supervisor. It includes some written work that is submitted beforehand, and then a half hour discussion.

Who was on my progress review panel?

On my panel was my supervisor, my internal examiner, a member of the admin team, and the progression panel chair for my department. I hadn’t met my internal examiner before, but he had read my research proposal so had an idea (and hopefully some interest) in my research. The chair sits in on all the TAP’s, so he has a broad understanding of the PG research going on in the department but isn’t involved with mine particularly.

How did I prepare beforehand?

The nature of my research is very discovery based. I really struggled in the first few months with understanding and accepting that- unlike other research I’ve undertaken, there is no clear plan with exact dates and to do’s. It’s instead more exploratory, and although I have a direction I’m heading in, that may change as the research evolves. It was therefore difficult for me in this first TAP to know what to submit. I haven’t written anything yet, and although I’ve done a lot of reading and researching it’s been a process of exploring the field rather than building and confirming theory. I ended up submitting three things.

The first strand of research is a literature and practice review. For this I submitted a reading list, split into topics, with a small summary at the beginning of each section, synthesizing the sources and detailing what I found interesting or useful with each. Topics included ‘ethnography’ (exploring what other researchers had done and detailing a few methodologies), ‘Site- based work’ (briefly detailing the history of this, current trends, and debate around what makes a performance site based) and ‘Audience / Performer/Composer’ (sketching out the relationships between the three and exploring how we got here). I have also been compiling a list of the practices of others, to understand what makes a performance alternative in 2022. I’ve been building a database of this so that I can understand the current landscape. To show this I submitted an Excel doc of this research, with an explanatory analysis showing how I build the table, why I chose to do it in this way, and ranked common characteristics by popularity (e.g. out of the alternative performances documented, 52% took place outside of the concert hall). I also noted how this research could influence the direction of my own practice in the performances I choose to explore, either by choosing to look at common things that always happen, or gaps.

For the second strand, my own practice, I submitted a written overview of my first performance project, which takes place in April/May. It was mainly an introduction to the performances, and included a justification for why I’ve chosen the piece I have, my relationship with the composer, and a summary of what I’m researching within these performance- what questions I’m trying to answer. It also included an outline of the methodology, with an indication that this performance is serving as a pilot to test the approach.

I also had to fill in a form which included a description of the work I was presenting, and comments on my progress over the last 6 months/immediate goals. There was a section to note down any training, which didn’t have to be formal, so I wrote about flute lessons, conferences, rehearsals, and internal training sessions I’d attended. My supervisor also had to write a report on my progress and engagement. This part was valuable for me, as I haven’t had much feedback since I started, so knowing that I was doing well in her eyes and she was happy with my progress made me feel more confident (hello, people pleaser here!)

What happened on the day of my TAP?

The TAP took place online. The chair was late (to be fair he has been sitting through a lot of TAPs this week!) so we started off with the discussion section, which mostly took place between myself and my internal examiner. He had clearly read the work I’d submitted, and even looked at videos of my performances on YouTube which I hadn’t mentioned, so I felt like he was really engaged with my research. He asked me questions that made me think, but I never felt attacked, and I found the environment supportive. In my submitted material I really highlighted that the methodology was evolving, and the database of performances was for my own use and not for publication. I did this on the advice of my supervisor, who was trying to predict potential concerns examiners might have with the research. I have been very lucky that my supervisor is experienced and so can predict possible issues in TAP’s – speaking to another researcher who’d done their first TAP the next day, she hadn’t been so lucky and had been grilled on issues she hadn’t even begun thinking of yet. Unfortunately, no one had advised her to stave off those questions by addressing them and shutting them down before they could be asked.

At the end, the chair did his introduction(!) explaining what would happen and the purpose of the TAP. He highlighted a few things that would be needed for the next progression meeting, included some more formalized writing and an analysis of the first performance. My supervisor had been taking notes over the meeting, so very quickly afterwards there was a document signed by everyone with a brief overview of the points raised in the discussion, and a list of research objectives to work on for the next TAP.  

I was really nervous about this meeting and put a lot of pressure on myself, but it was OK and I felt like I knew what I was talking about. As a perfectionist with very low self-esteem, I was expecting the worst; aggressive questions I wouldn’t be able to answer leading me to get kicked out of my program.  But I sometimes forget that I know this research because it’s mine, I’ve been deep in it since my Masters, and the things I don’t know yet give me directions for where to look next. This is a reminder to myself for the next TAP- this is an opportunity for growth and advice.

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