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Friday, 19 April 2013

Thesis forum: Passing the APG Review


In March the thesis forum welcomed three speakers who shared their experience of passing the APG review. This was our first webinar (via Adobe Connect) and we welcomed over thirty off-campus students from Canada, Japan, Denmark, Luxembourg, America, and all over the UK. 

Pete (Physics)
Pete passed his APG in July 2012. He had to give a 20 minute presentation to the department and write a report for his thesis committee meeting.  Pete had already been working on a paper in his first year and this formed the basis of his APG report. This is often the case for people doing a Science PhD and is an advantage when it comes to writing up. Pete was mainly concerned about the presentation to his department but knew it was a good chance to improve the essential skill of speaking in front of a large audience. It is definitely an advantage if you’ve presented at a conference ahead of the APG. After the first 20 seconds Pete felt he relaxed and he received good feedback from his thesis committee on his presentation style. He was able to field questions from the department. 

Pete admitted he had initially thought of the APG review as something to just get through and pass, but afterwards reflected that it had been a useful exercise. It gave him a deadline and forced him to think about his research in a style appropriate for the departmental audience and the thesis committee. This all helped with the preparation of his first paper. Pete encouraged pre-APG students to look forward to it and not worry too much.


Nate (Education) 
Nate passed his APG in July 2012. He wrote a report which included a literature review and his methodology. He also gave a presentation at the departmental summer school. Preparing for his APG allowed him to reflect on the larger questions associated with a PhD. What is the purpose? Why this question? Why now? It was also a good opportunity to think about how to explain the research in terms that a mixed audience would understand. The summer school was like a mini-conference and Nate presented in front of fellow students, academics, and his supervisors. The nature of the audience meant that Nate was fielding questions from people who were very familiar with his work, but also those who were less familiar. The APG is an opportunity to get very in-depth feedback on your presentation style. Even if you get positive responses from your peers and supervisors there will be things you can improve. Choosing to do the talk in front of a bigger audience will widen the feedback you receive and Nate found this very positive.  

Nate found it very helpful to have the deadline of the APG review. It helped with the discipline of being a PhD student and made him more motivated. He emphasised that during this time there was room for reflection. His daily output wasn’t always measured in number of words because it can be a bit dispiriting if you realise you haven’t written anything. You should remember that thinking and reflecting is a very positive and productive thing, leading to a synthesis of ideas or clarification of your research questions.


John (Physics)
John passed his APG in October 2012. He had to write a report and give a presentation to PGRs and staff from his department. He felt that the APG review gave a chance to take stock and look at what he’d done so far. He emphasised that the APG shouldn’t be a scary prospect! It is a chance to take a look at the narrative of your work and think about the story you’re trying to tell, the hypotheses you’re trying to investigate. You should already be thinking about how your work fits into your field and keeping an eye on the competition. At his presentation he received very detailed questions from professors working in his field. He had to think carefully about how to answer the more unexpected and awkward questions from fellow Physics students. 

John suggested that if you’re worried before the APG, make sure you speak to your supervisor and thesis committee and ask for help and pointers. He also suggested taking every chance to present your work to peers, whether through your research group, wider-University initiatives (CafĂ© Research) or external conferences. Remember, there is no need to panic- the APG is not designed to catch you out. It can feel daunting and you might be nervous, but you’re the best in the vicinity at what you do.


Key questions to the speakers included:  work habits, journal clubs, presenting ahead of the APG, being funded, ethical approval, second supervisors, daily life, timeline to submission, what the examiners focused on, outline of the thesis, receiving feedback, staying motivated.

Leicester students can find an audio and video recording of the whole forum via the Research Essentials Online module on Blackboard. If you have any difficulties accessing this please get in touch

Our next forum will take place on May 14th and you can find full details on the Graduate School events page

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