October 07, 2015

Discussing the Upgrade Process

The preliminary year (as I call it) of the part time Ph.D. has been completed and in all it has been a success, so it’s now time to move onto the Upgrade Process. The Upgrade Process is a key part of the earlier stages of the part time Ph.D. up to the early part of year three, or a time that is decided before the research data actually commences. The upgrade process is a formal, major, key opportunity to receive constructive feedback on the proposed research questions, methodology, general design and methods of the research; gives practice for the major Viva assessment at the conclusion of the Ph.D. and also is the stage where it is determined whether or not a Ph.D. candidate can transition from Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy.

It goes without saying therefore that it is going to be an extremely busy time, but thankfully as I have been reading through the Upgrade Process materials I realise that I have been working towards completing this process from the beginning because I have been continuously thinking about my methodology and methods. I have more or less settled on a general ontological perspective, a research methodology and the methods that shall be used to collect and analyse the data, so it is simply (or not so simply) a case of learning about them more extensively and develop convincing arguments as to their suitability over other research methodologies and methods. The materials that shall be completed during this process therefore include:

  • A completed first draft of the literature review

  • A completed first draft of the methodology chapter

  • A completed Upgrade report

  • A completed Upgrade presentation

  • A completed and approved Ethics form

  • Optionally: a conference paper and a published research paper

The culmination of the Upgrade process is the Upgrade presentation where I am expected to present an overview of my proposed methods, methodology, research questions, key issues and concepts (and so on) followed by a serious of questions from the expert assessment panel, which could take a fair amount of time. The result of the presentation, the Upgrade paper and assessment of all other documentation shall lead to either of the following outcomes:

  • Expert panel agree to upgrade from Masters of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy

  • Expert panel request a resubmission of the Upgrade paper so that upgrade can be reconsidered

  • Expert panel agree that the project is suitable for Master of Philosophy level

  • Expert panel advise that the project will not result in a research degree

According to the University materials, it is common for the expert panel to request a resubmission and some Ph.D. candidates have felt rather deflated at that point because they perceive it as some sort of a failure, but the advice is to treat this as a positive learning experience and practice for the main VIVA examination.

What do I feel about that? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m hoping that I don’t fail! I don’t think I will fail because I know that I will put all my effort into the Upgrade paper to ensure that I do upgrade successfully from Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy. Does it really matter to me if I do get upgraded? I would love to, and I will do everything that I can to be upgraded. My ideas and directions have not been criticised so far: the feedback has been generally positive and have been told that I am onto something.

I know that I will put as much effort as I can into being upgraded, and I know this because I have genuine passion and enjoyment of writing, the research process, of exploring and developing my own ideas and pushing this as far as I can, as well as having a genuine interest in research methods within Education.  I believe that this shall drive and maintain my motivation and enthusiasm over the next four years. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy; it won’t, and quite frankly, I would be a little disappointed if it were easy. I continuously want to improve and develop myself personally and professionally, and the Ph.D. offers the brilliant opportunity to do just that.

A decade ago I never thought it would be possible for me to have a published research paper, a Master’s Degree, and be working towards a Ph.D. Twenty years ago, I never thought I was capable of doing an undergraduate Degree! Sometimes, you just have to take that leap into the unknown and believe that you have what it takes to achieve and to be that success that you want to be, and have the faith that you have what it takes to achieve and enjoy the journey, and if other people feel inspired and encouraged by the journey that you take then that in part makes it all worth it!

Enjoy the Ph.D. ride!

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