reflections and advise on proposal writing and examination Recent blog posts

reflections and advise on proposal writing and examination

In my moodle Research 101 I am trying to give advise to student and researchers and be realistic.  Here are mu insights

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Finishing your proposals - Check list becfore submitting your proposals

by Alon Serper - Friday, 10 October 2014, 8:14 AM


As requested by a number of participants who are submitting this week

 A number of people are submitting and are working the final draft to be evaluated and defended in an oral presentation

Make sure your methods are very clear – stated, identified, explained and described briefly and rationalized - justify their use

Methodology - philosophical orientation

methods - the tools - look at the lessons I displayed here on that are in the archive

Your timetable feasible – if empirical on people – triple the time you think is possible - show that you can do the work calmly, think about it, give your supervisor time to be, in the time allocated for the degree duration and with time to spare

Avoid self-reflection unless it is part of the methodology.  The work is for a field, subject and knowledge.  It is not for you to get a job, think about your life, your past, present and future, who you are, where you are, why you are 

Make sure what you are doing is very clear, succinct and readerly (stated for the understanding of other people who can easily follow it and understand what you are doing, why, how and what are your claims for your knowledge, standards of judgement and unit of appraisal )

Aims - what you want to achieve by doing the work

Objectives, intentions

Contribution to field – though this is more PhD work that needs to an original contribution  to a subject, area of knowledge and field


Make sure your first sentence takes the reader in and states what you are doing and why.


Show understanding of the debates and arguments in the literature and the field land locate and identify your work in them. Similarities, criticisms, original claims, replications, differences. 

references are clear and done academically and scholarly - complete list and name and year in the body - see the lesson on referencing in the archive here


Make sure it sounds feasible and that it looks that you know what you are doing.  And your have a clear path, plan and way to go and do the work in a specific timing - every week, month, quarter, semester and year.


Display confidence, assurance and calmness and that you are ready for crises, failures, insecurities, issues and disasters and can handle them and think them through on your own or in discussion with other people.  A discussion   that you shall lead, identify and prepare questions, possible solutions and things to run with other people, thinking aloud with them.  Show that you are persistent, confident, able to learn quickly, reflect and change, direct and redirect. Show that you have material of a scholar, a researcher and that you are inquirer.  But also show the materials of a student who can get critiques, feedbacks and act upon them.  "Listen carefully and act and redirect.



The proposal examination is really the last chance of your department to make sure you and your supervisor know what you are doing and can do it in the time prescribed.

Accepting your proposals means sending you off to the world to do your research - with a supervisor that "owns" you is the department's job as the "responsible adult" and host and environment and awarding/graduating place -.  It is the department's chance to "control" your supervisor.

Relationship between supervisors and candidates are very special.  The supervisor has the power and control.  The candidate is weak.  Even though he/she is also the client who pays fees to the institute and indirectly to the supervisor for the supervision.

The proposal examination is the only opportunity for the department and institute to probe the research, supervision, your relationship and ways of working with your supervisor, and offer more input. 

Thus, even, and especially,if the supervisor is excited about or approved what you proposed, the department/unit/institute must still take the proposal apart, look into your research from fresh, uninvolved, eyes/perspectives, contribute and ask lots of questions of all sorts.

Remember - a supervisor can always come to the department/unit/ institute and blame the candidate for failure and appear as a hardworking and dedicated supervisor that nothing is ever his or her fault.  Even when the reality is that he/she does not care, does not like the student or his/her work and just wants to be shown to be doing things and supervising grad students.

Often, the department/unit/institute will join in and accept it.  An institute is judged by success and many and often institutes/departments/units have developed ingenius ways to brush failing researchers and candidates off under the carpet and pass the entire blame on to the candidates.  Politics rule, economics/money rules, history rules. 

Students can also be difficult, fight the overworked supervisors, think they know everything and not listen or heed suggestions and feedback.  The supervisors can be too kind to report or dismiss these students.  It is very difficult to do as it is unkind and affects the reputation of the supervisor as a human being and a mentor/academic.

A proposal examination is the formal and official ways for the department to become aware of things, probe and ask questions, help students and supervisors and make sure the student is on the right track. 

After that, the students and supervisors are on their own. 

It is considered a very bad practice for staff to interfere with supervision and supervisors, and students/candidates-supervisors relationships.  Unless it could be well rationalized that damage is done, the future is non-existent and success cannot be achieved, and fought for. 

We do not like other people to interfere in our relationships with our students and our supervisions.  And we do not want to do to others what we do not like to be done to us.  And we do not want a reputation and bad relationships with our colleagues.  Politics and power reign also.  Very much so.

The proposal examination is a way for the department/unit/institute to identify and look for warning signs and bells.

If your department does not ask you difficult questions about your work and let you respond - rather than your supervisor - then it is not doing its job.

The supervisor must be made insecure and be probed.  Is he/she in control? Does he know what is going on? Is the research a MA or PhD research, not more, not less, that could be completed in time.  This is the one opportunity to probe the supervisor.  After that, there will be no opportunities for that.  Unless in severe emergencies. 

I am known to be extremely strict in proposal examination and think of your research in all its stages.  A proposal reviewer must think of the future.  This is the main difference between a proposal examination and the thesis/dissertation examination.  We must envisage the future as if it is the here-and-now.

I am taking the students' side and am not afraid to challenge the supervisor heads-on.

Students have been wishing that I'd get a 24 hours flue in their proposal day.  Many  supervisors also.  And I explain that whilst I seem harsh and even sadistic and look very carefully at details that the candidate is trying to hide - I am trying to do my job.

So - you will do well to invite critical feedbacks and for your proposal to be taken apart completely and for every stage, second, moment, day, week, month, year and phase of your research scrutinized and problematized.

You will do well to separate yourselves from your supervisors, to be your own persons, and show that you can be independent individuals.

Can you do it in the prescribed time? Is your stated schedule realistic and feasible? Is your methods well chosen? Do you understand your chosen methodology and methods? Do you understand the field? Can you do the work on your own, getting feedback and reviews and suggestions from the supervisors?

Again - please use this forum to raise and ask questions about proposals writing, submission and examination



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See this post in context

Posted by Alon Serper on 10 October 2014 11:40:52

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