A Dream Upon Waking (writing a PhD proposal, pt.1)

God it’s hard to write a PhD proposal!

After reading about the topics of Digital Literacy and teacher development for a little while now, attending and presenting at conferences, talking to colleagues and taking lots of notes, I was hoping that writing up a research proposal wouldn’t be such a difficult task. Well, I was wrong.

I’ve just spent the past week trying and articulate what it is I would like to research about and it feels a little bit like trying to remember a dream at breakfast: the more I think about it and write about it, the vaguer it seems to become. I’m sure I had a pretty good idea to start with! Where is it now?

The good news is, people tell me it’s normal, and if I feel like I don’t know anything anymore, it’s a good way to start. I just wish I’d been through this 3 months ago. Time is ticking fast and PhD programme applications deadlines are looming nearer.

Anyway, thanks for reading – any comments appreciated. Please share your experience with me!

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10 responses to “A Dream Upon Waking (writing a PhD proposal, pt.1)

  1. Thanks for sharing your blog – it reminds me of when I wrote my research proposal for my EdD degree. It was definitely a journey into the unknown. The more I researched into my area to write the proposal – the more I realised I actually knew very little about ,y area of research. I ended up writing a proposal on what I ‘hoped’ to be able to research. As I started my degree it was only when I started to gather and analyse the data and the themes emerged that I actually really understood what it was I was researching. I am now in my final year and still have flashes of ‘what is it exactly that I am trying to answer here?’. It’s an ongoing process, albeit, an enjoyable one. Best wishes on writing your research proposal and starting your degree.

  2. Write a paragraph or two (no more) that summarises your research ideas. Send that to potential supervisors and ask for their feedback. A research proposal is based on your ideas, but it has to reflect to some extent what the supervisor, institution or funding body is looking for. If you involve the potential supervisors at an early stage you will have more success in applications and you get some free guidance at the start.

  3. The good news is that it *is* normal! And it is most likely be stress-related: your idea is still there, but you’re likely intimidated by the stakes involved and the looming deadlines (but are they really looming so fast?)

    I think that you might find it helpful to to re-conceptualise the task into something somewhat less daunting. Rather than thinking in terms of a ‘research proposal’, just try to write down in the form of a single question what it is that you want to research. It doesn’t have to be very specific, not at this stage, and it shouldn’t be designed to impress. Just ask yourself a genuine question: what is it that you want to find out? And follow up with: is it useful? is it feasible? I think that you will find that once you’ve got that one question right, everything else will flow easily from that.

    For all it’s worth, here’s a copy of my proposal: http://achilleaskostoulas.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/researchproposalkostoulaspublicaccess.pdf
    Note that this is the formal research proposal that I drafted after I’d been in the programme for a while. The original version, which actually got me in the programme, was such a terrible mess that I’d rather not share. But if *that* document got me a place in a PhD programme, then there’s really no reason for you to worry.

  4. I’ve often thought that writing a research proposal is an exercise in convincing people you’re an expert in a subject that you’d like to study so that you can become an expert in it. They’re very frustrating and time consuming things to produce. The best thing you can do, I think, is to view a proposal as a collaborative process that you engage in with your potential supervisor. Think about your methodology, demonstrate awareness of the literature and where you fit in it, give an indication of what you will argue, and show why your research is needed and how it’s original (the review of the literature will help).

    • That’s the feeling I’m getting – I feel like I am supposed to know all about my topic before I’ve actually started the course. Although, really, like yo say, it’s about demonstrating an awareness of the literature (which I hope to have, at least to some extent) and show that my idea is original and contributes to knowledge in some way.

      I have made contact with potential supervisors, I hope they’ll be able to give me feedback on my idea and provide some guidance with the methodology.

      Thanks Steve!

  5. Hello Benoît,
    Just remember that you’ll be working on what you have proposed for quite a while, and might be developing the ideas after your Ph.D. for many years, so do something that you really connect with instinctively.
    I agree with the comment about writing something quite loosely at first. Don’t reference too much. Put down your idea really freely. You’ll have a couple of years to hone it in. Your supervisors should be able to detect what is most relevant to you, and help you select your main idea.

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