A couple of weeks ago, I completed and passed my PhD confirmation, hooray!
I haven’t had much time to write about it since, and today I didn’t really have any excuses not to (Must. Stop. Watching. Breaking. Bad), so here I am.
In order to successfully “confirm”, I had to write a literature review and project plan and then present it to a confirmation panel, comprised of external and internal markers.
I wasn’t too nervous about the presentation, because I’d already (successfully and confidently, I might add) presented my data at a local medical research conference just a couple of weeks previous. However, during the week leading up to my confirmation, I had volunteered to go and talk to a class of undergrads about my experiences with bioinformatics. I’d done the same presentation twice before for the same course, and I knew it “wasn’t a big deal”, so I didn’t spend much time preparing. Who can guess what happened next? Yup, I bombed. I stumbled through my slides, couldn’t remember how to say what I needed to say, and got extremely self-conscious. And thus I set myself up for a world of terror for my confirmation.
I knew that all I needed to do to get better at my confirmation presentation was to practise it as many times as physically possible. This was a bit difficult, because the day after the bioinformatics talk, my parents arrived to stay with me for the week. They were REALLY good at giving me space to practise when I needed to, but still, the temptation to go out to dinner and drinks etc. with my parents (who I only really see once or twice a year) instead of staying in to study was pretty overwhelming.
In addition to the constant battle of willpower, every time I did sit down to practise, it was a mission just to make it through the 15 minutes of me talking to myself without stopping to have a panic. Even though with every rehearsal, the words did come easier, I wasn’t any easier on MYSELF. I found myself subconsciously repeating one of my running mantras: “This was never easy and it never will be.” This way, instead of responding to my internal struggles by punishing myself for finding things difficult, I try to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with something being difficult…and that there isn’t some better version of myself who “should” find things any less difficult than they are.
My friends and colleagues were extremely supportive with helping me to prepare. The time came and, aside from talking a bit too fast at times, everything actually went great. No one booed me off stage or even insinuated that I had no idea what I’m doing. I could answer my questions.
In the interview section, I was taken off to a room with my committee, where we discussed my project plan. I started off by trying to answer their questions as though I was in a job interview, but then I got the feeling that they were really just asking me things out of interest, as opposed to checking up on me. Not long after this feeling sunk in, one of the markers asked me what my publication plan was, and why I hadn’t included it in the confirmation document. I knew that I was supposed to include one, and I had known all along. I just chose to ignore it because, as I told the examiner,
“It just doesn’t seem very likely that I’ll get anything worth publishing.”
At first it kind of pissed me off that this this surprised them. What kind of world were THEY living in, where a normal person, like me, would be capable of writing a paper? I actually got quite defensive. They kept suggesting all sorts of interesting experiments I could do. I agreed, “Yes, that does sound interesting,” whilst at the same time being sure to remind them that, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do that though.”
At the end of the interview, I was asked to leave so that my supervisors could comment on my progress. A couple of minutes later, I was called back in to finalise the confirmation process.
I apologised for my document being so long, and thanked all the markers for their time and patience with me. I was told, in return, that actually my document had been interesting to read, and very well put together. I was told that I clearly had a good comprehension of my material and possessed many of the skills which are important for being a researcher, such as pre-empting questions and being able to ‘sell’ my work. I was told that my research was “novel and important”. I was told that it needed to be published.
I was told that I needed to stop being so hard on myself.
I looked up from the table where I had been fidgeting with my USB from the presentation. My supervisors both looked so proud, as they grinned idiotically at me. Obviously I started to cry. Because that’s what I do.
But, I promise…I really am trying to be more positive!