PhD Student Lauren Robinson’s Colloquium Experience

Lauren Robinson is a current postgraduate student who has recently completed her colloquia. Lauren’s thesis will focus on women in the Yarra Valley region of Victoria during 1850-1900, and their relationships to the environment. Lauren reflects on her preparation for us to share:

Thoughts on Surviving Colloquium

The appeal of working towards a PhD, for me, had always been in the quiet moments of reading and writing, and in personally grappling with concepts not previously reflected on. Naturally then, presenting these thoughts to a panel of academics was certainly not an enjoyable prospect! For many people, presenting can be a daunting prospect, especially presenting to high profile academics and other specialists in your field. From talking about this with fellow post-grad students, it seems clear that many of us have some sense of being an ‘imposter’ – feelings that we somehow faked our way into the course, and will imminently be exposed for the illiterate idiots that we are! Of course, given the requirements for entry into this program, objectively we should realise we are fairly competent students, but often it can feel otherwise. Colloquium amplified these thoughts of inadequacy for me, so I wanted to write this blog post to attempt to assuage the fears of other early stage students.

As Nathan Coffey wrote in his reflections on his confirmation, during the first year of study you are exquisitely aware of the looming deadline of colloquium. It can seem simultaneously close at hand and distant at the same time. Personally, I found that preparing early staved off (most) feelings of panic. My supervisors Joanna Cruickshank and Tiffany Shellam were absolute superstars. They helped me to plan out a timeline and structure for approaching the colloquium document, focused my attention on important books and theories, and assured me repeatedly that, no, I wasn’t falling perilously behind schedule. They advised focusing my initial efforts on collecting enough primary evidence to support my claims. A few months before colloquium was scheduled, I then began working on a statement of problem and a section on theoretical approaches and frameworks. I had been working on the literature review for a few months previously, and found it the hardest to pull together. But as is often the case, thinking about writing was a lot scarier than actually just sitting down and writing. My supervisors suggested tackling each ‘section’ of the document separately, which helped to make the task as a whole significantly less intimidating. I was very lucky that I had a flexible part time job that allowed me to reduce hours significantly for the month prior to colloquium, and that I was only responsible for myself, which meant that eating leftover pasta for a week straight was (almost) acceptable!

As most post-colloquium students seem to say, confirmation was actually an incredibly helpful and confidence boosting experience. I found I genuinely did know a lot about my project, was not faking my way through a degree, and received invaluable advice from seasoned and knowledgeable academics. The panel discussion was not nearly as nerve-wracking as I had built it up to be, and they were all friendly and engaged with my topic. I came out with a long list of new authors to read, new ways to think about the themes of my work and helpful advice on how to tailor my project to make it more workable.

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