Progression viva, conferences, plane tickets

So, the last month has been very busy with wrapping up my year 1 paperwork and doing a couple of presentations – alongside getting the logistics sorted for my research trip to South Australia.

First was the Breaking Boundaries interdisciplinary humanities and social sciences post-graduate conference at my home institution, Cardiff University. I sent an abstract in to this conference proposing first a presentation and secondly as a poster regarding the different Cornish notions of patriotism in South Australia which I have been working on this year in preparation for my fieldwork. Happily I was invited to give a presentation, so I set about preparing something which was specific enough to be interesting and show what I’m focussing on, but friendly to non-specialists outside my discipline. I had 15 minutes to talk with 5 minutes or so of questions, so I prepared my script and slides, and a musical example. I personally find public speaking a real challenge so I practiced my presentation on my partner and a couple of friends a number of times to check I was within the time limit and it flowed smoothly, and would guide the audience through my topic without losing them. On the day my musical example actually worked! Hurrah! (My musical example didn’t work at the last conference I did; I managed to get a laugh out of it but I was wary of it happening again). Despite the horrendous nerves, mouth going so dry and throat seizing up so much I actually started mispronouncing my words (totally normal for me) once I started speaking I was happy with how I was coming across, and at the end of the presentation the questions were interesting and insightful. Another great feature of the conference was a keynote from anthropologist Kate Fox, who gave a fantastic speech titled ‘Popping The Academic Bubble: Risks and Rewards of Writing for a Popular Audience’. This is worth a blog post all of its own so I’ll get thinking about it!

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Next up was my end of Year 1 progression viva with my supervisor and Director of Postgraduate Studies. Having chatted about it a couple of times with previous PhD students, both in my school and outside it, I was given the impression that having done a fair bit of writing this year that I should be at least on track. However, as ever I did manage to work myself into a bit of a state about it. ‘What if they ask me tough questions about theory and method?’ ‘Should I be armed with numbers of analogous traditions and communities to compare and contrast?’ ‘What if they spring a question on me that takes the legs out from under my research?’ These are all things I was worried about happening. However – in reality it was more like a friendly chat about what I’d done so far and the issues I’d uncovered, and how I saw my research progressing. Not as intimidating as I had convinced myself, but I would always much rather over-prepare than under-prepare (this does result in me spending too much time on simple things which could be dealt with quickly and easily though. Swings and roundabouts).

And finally, yesterday I took part in my School’s own post-graduate study day. This was also a one-day conference with a number of PhD students of various stages giving a paper on their research. There are two of these a year, and it’s compulsory to attend one. I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s research, from the ancient etymology of lute-naming, to the emancipation of Roma peoples and their role as musicians in Romania, to the changing gender roles in the panegyria, religious and music tradition in Greece (here’s a link to the PG students in my department). I had proposed to talk about a different aspect of my project to the previous conference so it wasn’t simply a case of giving the same speech over again. With the viva and preparing for the research trip I didn’t have much time to prepare a script that I would read word for word, so although I had an iPad with me that I had prompts from, the presentation wasn’t exactly ad-libbed, but I wasn’t reading from notes either. As a result I felt that I used far less formal language than the others; but I think showed what I was doing and managed to answer the questions well enough.

However, the stand-out event of the day was the mock lecturing job interview. A student in the final year of his PhD volunteered to be interviewed by a panel of three lecturers. He had prepared a CV for a recent job advert for a musicology lecturer, which were both handed out to attendees so that we could see how he had responded to the criteria. He left the room while the lecturers took us through the process of how interviews at universities in the UK tend to work and discussed the types of questions which they would ask. He was then called into the room and the interview lasted about 20 minutes, beginning with gentler questions like ‘tell us about how you came to research your subject’ and then more direct questions along the lines of ‘how do you see yourself contributing to REF 2020 in this institution’, ‘how would you implement research-led teaching in your role’, ’what is your understanding of equal opportunities’, and ‘can you outline a dream module you would teach’. After the interview was over, together with the ‘candidate’ and the lecturers we discussed how well he had responded. A lot of key issues coming out; not just in terms of interview technique and presenting your strengths and skills, but also the types of necessary knowledge about the department you’re applying to, their aims and goals and the broader academic environment. If there are any other PGs out there reading this, I highly recommend doing an exercise like this at your own institution if you can find willing lecturers!

And in amongst all that, I *think* I am up to date getting all my forms in to not only my own department but to my funding body so that hopefully they will approve me to continue to the second year. And making sure I have ALL THE THINGS ready for the research trip – passport, plane tickets, visa, driving licence, passport, AV kit, computer, adaptors, passport, correct luggage for the allowance, lists of archive material to look at, passport … you get the picture.

So this probably all reads as either terrifying or tedious – that’s kind of how I view conferences and form-filling respectively – but both are definitely necessary and useful. Comments and feedback all welcome – anyone got experiences of progression vivas or internal conferences to share?

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