Sunday, June 14, 2009


Well, now that I've experienced one type of proposal, I need to worry a bit more about the other type: the PhD proposal! I've decided that it's not as scary as it seems. True, you are putting your work and ideas out there to be critiqued and questioned, and you are defining what the remainder of your PhD will contain. But still, it's more of an opportunity for you to get feedback before you try to defend the dissertation, and it's really there to make sure you are on the right track.

I'm rather excited about proposing, which will happen this August. I've had a general view of where I want my thesis to go for a little while now, so it's great to finally get that out there. I wish I had done it earlier, and I wish I understood more about what a proposal is a few years ago. So here is my attempt to make a short list, that at least applies to my own department:

  • Propose as soon as you can! - My advisor was suggested to me that I propose before I was really mentally ready to think about, and it so it was put off for a few years. Looking back, I probably could have done a reasonable proposal LAST summer, which would have been great for making sure I went in the right direction this past year.
  • Think of it as an opportunity - Like most things, it's both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that you will be totally stressed out unless you are never stressed out about anything. The blessing is that it's a great time to take a step back and make sure you're going in the right direction, to get great feedback from successful professors other than your own advisor, and a big step at really defining the core of your thesis.
  • Don't spend forever on the writing - Our department just changed the expectations (de facto requirements) for the proposal: it should be less than 20 pages, and not look anything like a thesis. Those of us who are the first string of people to propose under these guidelines are extra stressed since our proposals may not look like what people are used to, but really it's for the better. A shorter proposal might actually be read, you can spend less time on the writing, and it makes the presentation much easier to put together. This is not a published document, so don't waste lots of time! (I'm still having trouble following this piece of advice)
  • Schedule early - I scheduled my August proposal defense in May. With 4 professors needing to have the same time slot free, don't wait until the last moment. My fiance almost had a fiasco because he waited too long to schedule a time, and everyone's times were conflicting during the month (yes, the entire month!) he wanted to have his proposal during. He fixed his problem by doing the first day of the following month. But the point is still valid: plan early.
  • Propose in the summer - I'm not sure if this is good advice yet, but so far I like it. There is less pressure during the summer, so it is easier to work without feeling stressed out. Hopefully your professors will be easier to schedule for the defense as well, since they won't have teaching and office hours as conflicts.
  • Listen to your advisor - This advice holds for most things. They are faculty already for many reasons, they won't (generally) lead you astray. If they tell you to wait to propose, they probably have a good reason; hopefully your relationship with them is one where you can discuss why you should wait. If they tell you to get a move on, there is probably good reason for that too (probably).

If I come up with any other great suggestions as I work on my proposal, I'll post again. Hopefully I will still be feeling optimistic in a month or two.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I agree that proposals are pretty exciting. I actually really liked writing my proposal (at least the first 80% of it or so, finishing it all up gets to be a pain). It is nice to step back and see what you've accomplished and (hopefully) how it all fits together.

The propose in the summer point can be tricky since a lot of people disappear for longer chunks of the summer. I was scheduling my date about 2 months ahead of time, but still had trouble getting a date that worked for everyone. So if you are trying to schedule for the summer, be sure to plan extra far in advance!