Confirmation reviews: the road to becoming a real PhD student

As part of the progression from the first year of PhD research into becoming a fully-fledged PhD student, candidates are required to undertake some form of confirmation review to ensure that both the project aims are achievable, and that the work completed so far is appropriate (in terms of breadth and quality) to allow the researcher to achieve said aims. This all seems very reasonable in terms of ensuring funding for research is being used in the best possible way, and ensuring we make the most of the skills we are bringing to the project as candidates.

I guess the process is slightly different at the various institutions, but here in Sheffield it goes like this:

Step 1: Do a 15 min seminar (+5 mins questions)

Step 2: Complete a 10,000 word report containing project justification, literature review, programme of work plan, experimental work completed to date (with results and discussion), and some preliminary conclusions.

Step 3: Successfully navigate a confirmation review of the report through viva voce examination.

If all goes smoothly we can successfully continue on our way to study for our PhD, safe in the knowledge we haven’t got completely the wrong idea about what our research questions are.

It was down to business with the first stage of this process on Monday the 3rd of April, when myself and the rest of the Sheffield cohort completed Step 1 in the above list. The remit for the seminars was to summarise the background and outline the objectives of the research project, and to present any relevant results. It has been a little while since I saw these folks present their own research – probably about a year in some cases, and it was really pleasing to see how comfortable they are explaining the intricacies of the literature in their fields and how they plan to fill in some of the gaps that remain.

In brief, we had a whistle stop tour of hot isostatic pressing for the immobilisation of high alpha wastes from Amber, Michaela introduced us to thermodynamic modelling of HLW glass (and some of the intricacies of the Thermocalc software), Joe explained about the surface finish of steel and how this relates to the performance of nuclear waste canisters, and Sarah outlined how she is using high temperature ammonolysis to discover novel uranium oxynitrides (…phew).

Initially I considered 15 minutes to be quite a long time to talk for, but it would seem that you can fill that time fairly easily! So much so that my presentation was a minute over, however the rest of the group had much better time keeping skills than me. Of course it is always the question section at the end that is dreaded, and whilst there were a couple of tough questions asked nobody crumbled under the pressure – in fact quite the opposite.

Once our sessions were over it was back to the lab and regular activities for us all, with a strange feeling of relief but trepidation (no feedback yet, and no idea of when feedback is to be delivered – the self-doubt finds a way to creep in). It should definitely be noted that for Amber and Sarah this was just the beginning of a week of presentations – both were off presenting at different conferences / symposiums / competitions who will have had their socks knocked off from the performances we saw!

Just a casual 10,000 word report and marginally terrifying oral exam to go now.

 

NB – Sorry, I forgot to take any photos. But imagine a lecture theatre and you’re pretty much there.

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