Last Wednesday, I finally sat the RCM transfer exam. Called an ‘upgrade’ in other institutions, it is a means of ratifying your progress and your suitability for PhD study. It consisted of a 30-minute public presentation, 10 minutes of audience questions, and a 30-minute viva with an internal and external examiner, and an internal chair. The exam was based on the submission of a 10,000 word sample chapter and 5,000 word research proposal. There were essentially three possible outcomes:
- Approved for full registration to the PhD;
- Work not satisfactory for PhD level study, and approved for submission of an MPhil;
- Work not satisfactory for either MPhil or PhD submission, and registration terminated.
For various reasons, I should have upgraded at the Institute of Education in the summer of 2015, but this coincided with my supervisor’s move to the RCM. The RCM transfer exam should really have taken place in the summer of 2016, but again, for various reasons, it wasn’t possible to arrange it. As you might imagine, now in my fourth year, I’m therefore very late making this transition.
There was a lot riding on this exam, and I guess, I didn’t really realise this until it finally came around: it’s been a long time coming! When you’re in your fourth year of your PhD, you really don’t want to be told that your work isn’t good enough, and be either demoted to MPhil or chucked out.
In the week leading up to the exam, I really couldn’t decide how I felt. I went from feeling fairly confident, to feeling I had no idea what I was doing. By the day before, I’d got to the stage of thinking I’d done all I could, and whatever happened, would happen.
The presentation was to take place at 1:30pm. I had time to meet with my supervisor before the exam, and also to set up the room for the presentation. It was good to meet the examiners and chair too in advance. At 1pm, the examiners had a pre-meet, having already completed their preliminary reports. At 1:30pm, the presentation started. About seven people came to listen; a handful of students and a couple of members of staff. The presentation seemed to go well and, much to my amazement given there was no clock in the room, was exactly to time. Afterwards, there were no audience questions (a mixture of relief and disappointment…I should have planted some!).
Following the presentation, the panel met briefly before I was invited back in for the viva. The viva is fairly hard to prepare for, as there are so many potential things which could be asked. As it happened, the primary focus was on the methodology and my use of Grounded Theory (which was predictable). I personally didn’t think I did very well, and didn’t seem to be able to put across what I wanted to with any confidence. I guess, like most people, I came out feeling disappointed. After a brief break, I was invited back in to be told the outcome of the exam.
I’m pleased to say, I passed, and am now a fully-fledged PhD student. It’s a big milestone and it’s ratification that I’m at least going in the right direction. I think that post-exam, I felt a little shell-shocked. There’s a lot to take in. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I wasn’t happy, but I think it’s such a build-up, then over so quickly! There were a lot of comments made and it’s only since I’ve had the marked-up work and report back, that I’ve really been able to digest them all. On balance, I think a lot of useful comments have been made, and over time I’ll need to work through them all. Much centres about being clearer in my definitions, and fleshing out the mthodology. I also need to be more critical of sources and data used (I was described as being ‘too nice’!)
All in all, a positive experience with a lot to take away. A well-organised exam with friendly and constructive examiners. Much to be taken away now and considered further.