Preparation (and Stress) for the Annual Progress Review
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The end of every academic year is always nerve-wracking for university students. There are many reasons for this: preparing for exams, graduation, dissertation/thesis deadlines or, in my and most other PGRs’ cases, the Annual Progress Review. Full disclosure: I’ve never had to participate in anything close to an APR – my previous degrees didn’t include a similar formal review process. So as I approach my first APR I find myself, understandably I think, a bit stressed.
Of course, the heads of my college, school and department as well as both of my supervisors have assured me that I don’t need to be worried. That the APR is in place just to make sure my research is progressing and that I do, in fact, know how to write a formal research paper. But in my experience we, as research students, have gotten where we are because we’re paranoid and meticulous, and telling us to not be paranoid about anything that has the word ‘review’ in its title only makes us more so. And yes, I’m sure that once my first APR is over and I’ve successfully moved on to my next year (everyone knock on wood because I don’t want to take any chances) I’ll look back at this paranoia and stress and laugh at how ridiculous I was. But until then . . .
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If you’re facing your first APR this spring and, like me, are a bit more worried than everyone’s telling you to be, here are a few facts and thoughts about the process that might help:
Every school has different timelines/requirements
Because topics are often fluid at the research level (especially within the College of Arts), I always find myself forgetting that some of the researchers I see regularly aren’t in my school. So when they started talking about how their APR documents were due at the beginning of April, I realised I had no clue when I was supposed to complete mine. I might have spent a few minutes panicking over everything I hadn’t done yet before my school emailed me the deadline, which fit much more nicely with my progress rate.
The same goes for requirements. Every school requires a different minimum word count, different documents, etc. So for everyone’s sake (especially yours and your supervisor’s), be sure to familiarise yourself with your own school’s requirements, which you can usually find on Moodle or by simply asking your supervisor or your school’s postgraduate convenor.
This is the perfect time to make sure your research . . . makes sense
For all intents and purposes, we are the experts on our research projects. We know our writing style, what we’ve read, what theories and methodologies we’re using – we know (roughly) what we’re trying to say. And our supervisors are usually experts on some aspect of what we’re researching as well. All of this familiarity is incredibly helpful when approaching and writing about our research projects, but it can also cause us to have a bit of tunnel vision. It can be easy to forget that our research is supposed to be attainable by and make sense to people who are not as familiar with our topics as we are. The APR helps ensure not only that our progress is on track, but that our approaches and our writing is clear to a wider range of people as well. So if you get a bit of constructive criticism regarding clarity, remember that this is the type of criticism you want to get now so you know what to do (and what not to do) for the remainder of your research – this is a good thing!
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It’s really not supposed to be that bad, but feeling a little stressed is ok
Even though I just said that telling researchers to not stress about something like the APR is counterproductive, it is important for us to remember that the APR isn’t a career-defining process. Your supervisor(s) will have prepared you as much as possible, so the chances of you completely bombing your review are miniscule. That being said, sometimes a little bit of stress is a good motivator. I personally work best under pressure, so allowing myself to have some worry about the APR helps remind me to treat it with high importance. That way, when I submit my documents I know they’ll be representative of my best work at this point in my research degree. And when I walk into my APR appointment a couple of weeks later, I know I’ll be comfortable with where I am (for the most part . . . no one said a research degree was easy, ok?) and ready to move forward to the next step. Is this an excuse to justify my stress? Probably. Here’s hoping it actually works! Good luck to everyone with an APR this year and a special good luck to all us anxious first-timers!
Are you a seasoned APR research student? Let us know what advice you would give to students going through the APR for the first time!