confirming the project

Last Friday week I presented my Statement of Intent (SOI) paper at a seminar open to all academic staff and my peers within the school of POLSIS and any other interested parties. This presentation is part of the confirmation procedure wherein you must explain the background to your research problem, why your research is important and how it will add to the body of knowledge, discuss any previous research of a similar nature and draw on established theory to provide a conceptual framework and, most importantly, discuss how you are going to conduct your research and come up with the answer to your question.

The most difficult aspect of this procedure for me, and I am not alone in this, was narrowing my research question to something that is feasible and doable. Like most people I started out on this journey with an idea that is of interest to me, but when I tried to articulate that idea it very quickly became apparent that there were major pitfalls that had to be avoided. So then came the stress of examining my basic idea and developing a research question that was concise. If you think it is easy to narrow a myriad of thoughts and ideas down to one sentence, then good luck to you, because I found it very difficult.

In the finish I drafted 6 versions of my SOI paper, although the first 2 were poor attempts, so I guess I really wrote 4 realistic drafts. Within that process I changed my research question many many times. Sometimes the change was merely a shuffling of words or a deletion of one word for another, but other times the question was completely overhauled, even though my basic idea remained intact.

I often found myself enthusiastically writing pages of material on one or two particular ideas only to realise that the path I was following was irrelevant and I needed to scrap that train of thought and dig into some other aspect Although nothing is thrown away of course, I may need to come back to some of these thoughts at some stage over the next year or three.

The confirmation procedure in POLSIS is for the paper to be given to a reader on academic staff who will make comments and suggestions after the paper is presented, and the candidate then has the chance to reply to those comments immediately. Academic staff and fellow students then have the chance to ask questions, make comments and provide suggestions to which the candidate should repsond. The SOI then goes before a review panel consisting of the head of school, the postgraduate co-ordinator, the academic reader and the two student supervisors to decide whether the project can go ahead in its present form or whether there are some adjustments to be made and the paper represented. More than 50% of SOI’s are rejected the first time around and for those who are rejected a second time a suggestion is made to either transfer to a Masters degree or withdraw completely.

So here I sit patiently waiting for the outcome of my statement. Not an easy thing for me to do but I just have to take a Zen attitude to it and remind myself that I’ve done the best I can up to this point, so what will be will be.