More reflections on AR

This year, for the first time, my annual progress review involved an independent reviewer. Initially, I was unsure about what it meant for me personally, e.g., I immediately thought, is there something wrong my research progress so far? And, of course, panicked, thinking there might be… Also, I didn’t really know what the new format might entail in terms of the actual procedure. Was it going to be an exam-like grilling? How detailed would my report have to be? What was the role in it of my supervisors: Richard and Charlotte (my co-supervisor)?  

Richard reassured me saying that it was now standard practice designed to bring an additional point of view into the ‘researcher plus two supervisors’ triangle. An external participant in the supervision/monitoring process could offer fresh insights, ask new questions, etc. – as he or she has not dealt with the topic of the study before. So, the researcher’s job was to explain their work as clearly and succinctly as possible to someone unfamiliar with it, who would nevertheless ask pertinent/probing questions and propose critical comments. This would also be good in terms of preparation for the viva.

Dr Zeynep Onat-Stelma was invited to be my independent reviewer. During the session which lasted about an hour, Richard and Charlotte did not ask me any questions, but the conversation was really centred around Zeynep’s queries. I had to describe my research context, present the theoretical framework of my study and methodology. I also outlined my ethical premises and the procedures I undertook to respond to the complex challenges related to the ethics of my research which I conducted in my workplace.

Despite my initial anxiety and apprehension, I found the experience really helpful and fruitful.

First, it made me revisit my research questions (and one can never revisit them enough) which I had to present to Zeynep and justify my progress in terms of its relevance to them. Also, I had to explain the personal/academic motivation driving my research and the context in which it was being conducted. Zeynep asked me about the theoretical and methodological sides of it and we talked about ethical complexities of my teacher-researcher position.

Talking to Zeynep made me realize which aspects of my work I had not yet fully considered and what issues I might still want to explore further. Certainly, continuing/expanding relevant literature review is one of the never-ending tasks, but this year I will also focus on data organization and analysis, as per my schedule and study plan.

At the end of the review, Richard and Charlotte joined in the conversation and it was during that exchange, as a result of a question about the proposed title of my thesis, that I had a flash of revelation – I suddenly saw a very interesting possibility of a new and original direction that my study could go to; a new angle for me to take; a new perspective to use. It’s still fresh and delicate and not quite ready for public articulation just yet, but it’s there alright, a green shoot of a promising new thought. I am thinking it over now and discussing it with my supervisors, but I think it was partly the new format of the annual progress review that may have resulted in this epiphany… 🙂

After the session was over, I felt reassured that I was going in the right direction (although I am still about half way through the process). I found Zeynep’s questions relevant and useful – they helped me take stock of my own work, giving me a more ‘distanced’ view of it; a sharper perspective on what I have done and still need to do. So, her input was beneficial in terms of evaluating my progress from a ‘disinterested’ point of view of an external reviewer, as well as allowing me to organize my own thoughts about my research progress.

All in all, my annual progress conference conducted in a new format with an independent reviewer was a very positive experience.

Magda Rostron

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