Transfer viva? Only 10 000 words(!)

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com

 

Preparing for your transfer viva – a mere 10 000 words and a separate 500 abstract.

After a bit of nudging from a few staff @HSC-BU, I thought to write a short on how to prepare for the transfer viva. I had mine in Dec 2012 and these are few things at the time that helped and a few I got the hang of post-viva. By now you should have done an RD6 and 1 Annual Review. These forms, available from your school administrator, help you put down what you are going to do for the next few years (sigh) and how you will ‘physically’ do it (double sigh). When I started my transfer viva, I took (i.e. copy and pasted) a lot of what was in my RD6 research plan and used it as the skeleton in order to write the 10000 words. I then looked at the BU PhD bible  – Code of Practice for Resarch Degrees booklet and borrowed a transfer viva from the school admins. The older ones  helped me for structure and format. And the same rules apply, be concise and write you abstract last.

The timeline for transfer from MPhil to PhD is usually a  year/and a half after you start (or submit your RD6, 24-36months for PT), once you hand it in, after your supervisors are ‘happy’, you will have a month before your viva. Have a chat with your school admin (for HSC, it is Paula Cooper and Sara Glithro), and your supervisors as they will read it, then look for examiners (2), an independent chair and a supervisor (if you wish; I asked mine, you don’t have to, so as to gain feedback, as he also took notes and could comment on my ‘performance’; all towards the final viva). There is a one page form that you and your supervisors need to fill in, hand in duplicates of form and of bound thesis and done. Not quite.

Take it very ‘seriously’, I took it for granted once written and discussed you would carry on the PhD (this is not always the case read the BU PhD bible), the quality of the document and performance in the viva voce matters. It should ressemble as much as possible the ‘final product’. Once you hand in your 10 000 words, read it the week before or the night before. I was really nervous but the best piece of advice I got was ‘go in and talk’ – you know your work the ‘best’: so pretend like you want your best friend to understand your work. A few things I could have done better? Better writing, made sure I did not repeat myself and written it more as a ‘story’. Using power point where each slide helps you plan what you will write. For me the viva was the best time to say this is my work and to gain (brutal) feedback from people from a similar field as it gives you time to plan your final product. One major thing I realised I needed to put my study in context and what it means to ‘science’.

Essentially it looked something like this:

  • Title page (Name, Title, Supervisors, School, University)
  • Acknowledgements (Thank you to your supervisors, school, funders…)
  • Abstract (500 words)
  • Table of contents (in a table with invisible borders)
  • List of Abbreviations (in a table with invisible borders)
  • Introduction (which is your literature review)
  • Research Plan: Methodology and justification of method(s) used (your literature review will help here)
  • Aim and Objectives – which are drawn from your research question
  • Progress to date: Research contribution to the field (a PhD means a new contribution to the field or new tools); Findings (Here – I only included the findings that I had ‘cleaned’ for the final table and I was sure I would be able to discuss if asked) and a discussion of your findings.
  • Ethical considerations (Ethics body and in the appendix letter of ethics body);
  • Conclusion & future work (what I infer from what is done so far and how it will lead to the next stage).
  • Reference list
  • Appendix (Tables, survey questionnaire, letters…)

Start with the ‘niggly’ bits, making sure your endnoteTM lets you insert during cite and write (the librarian can help you with this if you haven’t done the course, Emma Crowly for graduate school). So that it should only take a click to insert your bibliography as BU Harvard. I chose headings in the layout so that when I write my final thesis it will be a matter of adding heading and sub-heading titles. So for the table of contents: Use a table from excel or use Home>Headings, e.g. Heading 5. Abbreviations can be sorted with the function ‘sort’ in WordTM.

A few useful resources for writing:

Good luck!

HSC Student receives Graduate Scholar Award at University of Berkeley Conference.

 

Sheetal Sharma, HSC presented at the Science in Society conference (SiS) at Berkeley University in November 2012 where she received a Graduate Scholar Award http://science-society.com/the-conference/graduate-scholar-award

As a PhD student presenting it’s an opportunity to practice for the inevitable viva and a chance to reflect on your work, as there’s always a question you do not expect. For instance, I had a few questions on cultural aspects of my PhD mixed-methods evaluation. That helped me prepare for my transfer viva, where I was asked on the cultural context of the health promotion intervention, specifically in a country context, run by Green Tara Nepal: http://www.greentaratrust.com/ The plenary was the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues http://www.bioethics.gov/cms/node/778 on ethics and morality of science.

Conferences can be competitive, in the sense, you need to be accepted. Secondly you also can compete for a ‘free space’ and in this instance you were able to compete to be a chair. At SiS, graduate students were invited to, through a very formal application process, to be chair of session. Although it means you won’t attend certain talks, the trade-off is worth is as one is forced to think of questions or how to manage, and be critical and aware of several issues of research.

Being ‘forced’ to be critical led to my planning more what aspects I want to present to the audience. This conference was concerned with the science of health, its epistemology and helped me think of how to discuss the development of theory. As in a PhD viva one might need to answer ‘new knowledge to the field’ how the theory or models proposed are better than competing theories.

I was also lucky to visit Howard University, where I spend time researching cultural ‘appropriateness’ of health programmes, specifically should postnatal care be done again at 40 days. For my PhD evaluation of the Green Tara Nepal that the cultural sensitive aspect led to its increase in health services uptake. I encourage those interested to visit their work as they are ranked school in the top 20% of social work programmes. The World Bank and USAID frequently have invitations to talks, the ones I attended highlighted the focus of women in development, what role programmes can play to develop rural areas; as it is women in Nepal who ‘stay’ in the villages to farm and care for the family as men migrate abroad or to the capital city Kathmandu.

This experience helped me begin the reflection of what my evaluation means, whether in a policy context or the epistemological context; on my return I spoke to my supervisory team. Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen, Prof. Vanora Hundley, Dr. Catherine Angell and my external supervisor Dr. Padam Simkhada (University of Sheffield) who encouraged me to on this basis strengthen my writing for my discussion on what the research done has meant.

 

HSC PhD student from HSC presents in London at Society for Social Medicine

Posted in BU research by ssharma

Sheetal’s SSM poster can be viewed here

Sheetal Sharma a PhD student at Health and Social Care at BU was lucky to be accepted at the Society for Social Medicine (SSM) September Conference in London to present her poster on my PhD research: Mixed-methods evaluation of a health promotion intervention in rural Nepal, complete with a photograph of the fieldwork involved in villages in Nepal! This year was particularly tough getting accepted as conference organisers commented that 360 abstracts were submitted, of which just 159 (44%) were accepted (including 3 as plenary presentations, 96 as parallel presentations, and 60 as poster presentations). And further stated that that at another SSM conference, an abstract awarded a poster presentation would have been given an oral presentation.
“My BU supervisors Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen, Prof. Vanora Hundley, Dr. Catherine Angell and my external supervisor Dr. Padam Simkhada (University of Sheffield) supported me to submit an abstract with our Spanish and Argentine academic partners, early this year”. I really appreciated the free place as universities have limited budgets to support their students in presenting at conferences; I doubt I would have attended had I had to meet the costs myself. So a big thanks to BU and SSM for supporting me! After my experiences at SSM 2012, I would encourage students and young researchers to attend SSM, as the research presented is stimulating and the feedback obtained is invaluable, the conference is really well organised, the support team and volunteers are really friendly and helpful! I hope to be a part of the ECR committee based on this conference.”
Sheetal mentioned she particularly enjoyed the workshop session on Evaluation of complex public health interventions, the concepts and methods practical guidance on “how to do it” and the applicability of different study designs, particularly the role of qualitative research by Mark Petticrew (LSHTM), James Hargreaves (LSHTM), and Steve Cummins (QMUL), as it relates to her evaluation on a health promotion intervention that aims to improve childbearing women’s demand of health services.
Sheetal felt it was great to see what research is conducted from institutions across the U.K. and globally, in a dynamic setting specifically the welcome address by Dr Piot who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976, the Pemberton Lecture, 2012: Ethnicity and health by Peter Whincup. Sheetal feels research students should be encouraged to present as it motivates them to publish and network. Attending the conference in London also gave her a chance to visit the King’s Fund and dine at Lincoln’s Inn in the 19th century Great Hall with a view onto a fresco of Moses and Edward I ending with a guided tour of the Wellcome Collection.

The Graduate School story part I…

Posted in BU research by Julie Northam

Professor John Fletcher founded BU’s Graduate School in 2002. Here he reflects on what life was like before the Graduate School and where we have come to so far…

This blog is a reflection of the BU Graduate School story so far as the first incarnation of the Graduate School makes way for a new vision. When I was asked to set up the Graduate School in November 2002 as 0.2FTE of my time, it was in the wake of two RAEs where BU had been criticised for its lack of institutional support of its PGRs and a stream of complaints from our postgraduate researchers via the Student Union.  The first step was to examine the processes and systems in place across both campuses which quickly revealed that the seven Schools had seven different sets of processes and systems and, even more challenging, it transpired that we had somewhere between 80 and 147 PhD students but nobody quite knew how many.  When looking at the qualification rates at that time BU was only managing to get 11% of its PGRs through within 4 years and some researchers had been registered for more than 13 years!  Eight years on the Graduate School has implemented a Code of Practice and a set of processes that are now common across BU’s six Schools, overseen the introduction of new and innovative doctoral programmes and help improve our qualification rates. The systems that the Graduate School has put in place were deemed to be so effective that members of the panel that came to BU for the institutional audit contacted the VC to ask if they could adopt the BU model for their own institution.  BU was also one of the first handful of universities to introduce a credit bearing training programme for its supervisors, something that is now becoming commonplace across the sector. 

The support provided by the Graduate School to our PGR students has reduced the isolation and the complaints received from PGRs but there is still a long way to go to ensure that we have the correct systems in place to create a best practice research environment.  The introduction of myBUILD as an online research student log and compliance system met with considerable resistance but was innovative at that time and BU was one of the first institutes across the HEI sector to introduce an online log.  The lack of resources has meant that it was not possible to continue to develop the platform as the numbers of researchers increased but even though myBUILD has probably long gone past its “best before” date, it is vastly superior to the varied and somewhat unusual mixture of record keeping that was found in the individual Schools. There is an urgent need to redevelop the online system to make it more intuitive and better integrated with the other platforms across BU.

BU now has well over 300 PhD students and the qualification rates, particularly those of our part-time researchers, is vastly superior to that of 2002.  The Graduate School introduced the Annual PGR Conference which has been enormously successful and was an integral part of the Special Audit of PGR programmes, a working member of the EUA’s programme on improving the quality of doctoral programmes across Europe and was the hub for BU’s application to ESRC and AHRC for doctoral support bids (the former falling foul of the spending cuts but the latter achieving success). It is hoped that Graduate School will move from strength to strength as the importance of the postgraduate segment of our student body becomes more significant as we move forward in the 21st century.

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