All universities structure PhDs slightly differently with different internal asessments and requirements. Currently we have an appraisal style assessment that we need to complete every 6 months; it is a form that asks if you have any problems and if you are going to finish on time (and if not, why not). I know that I am doing OK in my PhD, I have some good results and I am making progress. But what is good? Is good very good? How can I make sure I stay on track and improve beyond ‘good’? As I am at the end of the second year I felt that I wanted to get some constructive criticism from my supervisor, rather than just getting told that things are ‘good’. I felt the current asessment form is a little limiting and didn’t answer some of the questions I had. So.. I created my own list of questions (some I invented, some I borrowed from appraisal style forms that others had shared with me) told my supervisor what I wanted, then arranged a time to meet!
These are the questions I asked her:
1) Do you think I can finish in 1 year? Am I on track?
2) Is my PhD so far, ‘good’… – what would make it better?
3) What would make me more employable as a scientist?
4) What do I need to focus on?
5) Do you think I am performing to my potential?
Before speaking to her and while I was putting these questions together I carried out a little self assessment. Where did I think I was, where did I feel I could do better? I did this so I could target the discussion towards issues that would really help me, to be better.
I had the meeting this afternoon, it went really well. We had a very open, frank but relaxed chat about my PhD using the questions that I had asked as a guide. She liked the idea of the appraisal, felt it was lacking from the PhD structure and was pleased I had put these questions together. I gained an awful lot from the discussion we had and have pin pointed some things that I should focus on. Mostly though, this discussion helped me think clearly about how I work and about what I would like to do once I finish my PhD.
If you are feeling a little lost, confused or are just at a decisive point in your PhD (or anything for that matter). I would recommend arranging to have a discussion with your supervisor with some targeted questions and the idea of getting some constructive feedback/criticism out of them! Don’t be afraid of asking, or wait for your supervisor to ask you. A PhD is your own project and you, not your supervisor, has to manage it.