Nathan Coffey Reflects on the Colloquium Experience

Nathan Coffey’s PhD dissertation is titled Political Tension and Decolonisation: A Study of Tensions between Australia and the United Nations During the Decolonisation of Papua New Guinea.

Read his – The Brick Wall Called “Colloquium”

You spend your first 12 months of your PhD life running towards this brick wall that is looming in the distance. In the first few months of your candidature the wall looks small, so small in fact you neglect to really give it any thought. However, as you progress towards to wall and the closer you come to it, the words ‘colloquium’ become clearer. I began by thinking that the colloquium process would be fun, but through my own naïve positive thinking I was wrong. It was only when I grasped the true magnitude of this task that I began to quiver at my knees. I began to wonder how anyone could expect me to completely plan out 100,000 words worth of writing and research within 12 months, while still trying to grasp the current literature on my research topic, and justifying it in a 16,000-word document, at a time where not even I really knew where my research would focus. Don’t get me wrong, I had many of ideas, but I did not have THAT idea. You know, that one key focus where all of your other ideas can sit around, that central research question that will drive your entire thesis. How could anyone expect me to manage to achieve all this in 12 months?

To put a long story very short, I did achieve it, and I didn’t achieve it all on my own. I think surviving the colloquium process is a testament to the support that you have around you. For myself, I had my incredible supervisory team consisting of Helen Gardner and Christopher Waters, who constantly pushed me to improve my thinking and understanding. It was also a testament to those around me not in academia, my friends and family, who let me constantly attack them with whinges, complains and freak-outs.

Looking back now, the colloquium process was one of the most beneficial events I have gone through throughout my university studies. I now feel better equipped to deal with the tumultuous task of writing my thesis and I feel more connected to my research than ever before. Walking into the colloquium room was one of the most daunting experiences of my life – mainly because I was about to have 5 people criticise all the work that I had done thus far. I had, at times, pulled my hair out over this thesis and now it was sitting on a table for everyone to see and judge openly. This was my biggest mistake, to think like this. What followed during my colloquium panel was an open and supportive discussion of my project, that included invaluable feedback on how to make it stronger and sharper. And for that fact, I am eternally grateful for the colloquium process. What is next for this freshly confirmed candidate: the barren lands of research. It is time to get lost in the archives with no map, and to try and see what I can find!


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