Confirmation of Candidature
Confirmation of Candidature is the most significant milestone in the first year of your Doctoral Candidature. It's purpose is to determine whether or not the Doctoral research project indicates a strong likelihood to result in a high quality thesis and/or be completed in the required time.
Although it is of benefit to your project and candidature, the Confirmation of Candidature process can be challenging and sometimes stressful. For many students it provides their first opportunity to formally present their research proposal to peers, colleagues and superiors. It may also be the first time you obtain critical feedback on your work.
On initial enrolment in a PhD, students are given 'probationary' status. Candidature is 'confirmed' after the student presents a satisfactory, detailed research proposal to their School - in both written and oral forms.
The process of presenting your research outline and work to date is referred to as 'confirmation'. It is undertaken after 6 months full-time candidature or 12 months part-time candidature.
Note that the Confirmation of Candidature policy advises that the specific aims of the policy are to:
- Identify early in students' candidature any support and guidance necessary for their proceeding successfully to the next major stage of their research;
- assess progress to date and the academic preparedness of the candidate to complete their degree (or course);
- provide an opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate written and other necessary research skills appropriate to the doctoral level of study; and
- achieve more timely and successful completions.
To be completed in the required time, the project must be well-matched to the candidate's abilities and the School's resources.
All of these factors will be assessed through confirmation.
Confirmation is to be arranged to take place at 6 months from enrolment for full-time candidature and at 12 months of candidature for part-time students.
The following 4 sections outline some of the steps you should consider as you begin to plan for confirmation.
We recommend talking with your supervisor 3 months into your candidature about the confirmation process in your School. You might like to ask:
- How is confirmation handled in this School? (for example, does the student or supervisor schedule the oral presentation?)
- What word length is expected for the written report (closer to 3,000 or 10,000 words)?
- When and where might you give the seminar (oral) presentation?
- Who is likely to be on your Confirmation Panel and when will you be advised of its membership?
- Does the School have any additional requirements for confirmation?
- Is your supervisor able to show you copies of later-year students' confirmation reports to give you an idea of the appropriate format and level of detail?
- Is it possible to attend other students' confirmation presentations - when and where are they held?
Be sure to establish a rough timeframe for your own confirmation - one that takes into account any holidays or leave that you and your supervisor may have planned.
Your written report or research proposal, must meet the requirements of your School. Ask your supervisor about any School guidelines for preparation of the research proposal.
To satisfy the Confirmation process, your report must include:
- A concise statement of the research question(s)
- A critical summary and analysis of relevant literature
- As appropriate to the discipline of study, an explanation of the conceptual framework to be used and/or a summary of experimental methods and equipment requirements
- A summary of progress to date including preliminary data, resources developed etc
- An argument for the relevance and importance of the study
- A proposed schedule and timeline for the phases of the study, including a date for submission, which should be on or before the date determined by SGS
- A brief bibliography
- A list of publications produced or presentations made during probationary candidature.
UNE has provided a guide to writing a confirmation of candidature proposal which may be of assistance when you start on this path.
We'd suggest that when you begin to write your report you use these requirements as preliminary sub-headings. If you reorganise the material later, check that you have provided the information necessary to satisfy each requirement.
Items 7 and 8 are pretty straightforward. A brief bibliography usually means 1-3 pages of the main studies and papers that you will be drawing on in your project. The list of publications or presentations is often only a couple of lines - your confirmation presentation included.
Item 6, the timeline, needs to show that you have thought through all the requisite stages of your project and allowed a reasonable amount of time for each major task.
All probationary candidates seeking confirmation are required to give a 20-30 minute presentation on their research proposal.
As an undergraduate, you will have had extensive practice and experience with written assessment tasks. But how many tute presentations or class papers have you given? How many senior departmental staff were present when you gave them?
As a postgraduate, the ability to speak formally about research proposals and findings becomes increasingly important. By the end of your candidature, you'll be expected to deliver seminar and conference papers confidently and succinctly - so it's well worth investing time in the development of your oral presentation skills early.
There are a number of excellent guides to preparing and delivering oral presentations that you may like to explore.
- Giving an Oral Presentation (from the University of Canberra)
- Oral presentations (from Princeton University)
The following sections of this module will also help you to prepare for your confirmation presentation.
Handling of the 'verbal defence' varies significantly from School to School and Faculty to Faculty. In some Schools it is relatively informal, like a chat between project colleagues; in other Schools the candidate will be formally questioned, much like a job-interview.
Ask your supervisor what you can expect and how to best prepare for this element of confirmation.
Generally, however, you can expect pointed questions about your skills, your plans, even your personal situation. It is, after all, the Committee's job to assess:
- The 'feasibility, format and resource requirements' of the project
- The ability of the candidate to satisfactorily complete the project at the required standard
Also expect Committee members to offer feedback and make suggestions - for example, about questions you might like to follow up, studies or papers to read, a technique you might like to try.
This is part of the Committee's job, so don't feel that suggestions necessarily indicate deficits in the way you have approached a task or your work to date.
Consider all advice and suggestions carefully, but don't feel bound to implement or pursue every point. Just be sure that you could justify the decisions and choices you make - as always!
What are some of the things you can do to help settle the nerves?
- Discuss your confirmation meeting with your supervisors
- Learn a bit about the people who will be at the meeting
- Have a dummy confirmation committee meeting with fellow PhD students, where they can question you about your project
Your Confirmation Committee will make 1 of 3 recommendations. It can recommend that:
- Candidature is confirmed (with possibly some conditions applying); or
- Candidature is not confirmed on the basis that progress is unsatisfactory.
In special circumstances, the Chair of the Confirmation Panel may apply to the Higher Degree Research Committee to extend a student's probationary candidature period (up to 3 months). This may be done, for example, if the candidate is required to revise and resubmit their confirmation report.
If the Confirmation Committee were to recommend termination of a student's candidature, it would need to have strong and documented grounds supporting the action.
For this reason, termination of candidature should never come as a complete surprise to the candidate. Most commonly, the student will have been informed on several occasions by his/her supervisors, HDR Co-ordinator or Head of School that there were concerns about the project, the progress of the research, the candidate's abilities or some other significant matter.
Where pregress is deemed by the Panel to be unsatisfactory, the student will be given the opportunity to respond to a 'show cause' letter from the Dean of Graduate Studies. Students must respond to the Dean of Graduate Studies within 21 days of receipt of the letter.
The Higher Degree Research Committee will review the show cause correspondence, will notify the student of the Committee's recommendation, and in the case of an unfavourable decision, inform the student of the appeal process.
The decision on unsatisfactory progress is final, barring the exercise of the right of appeal.
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