Is it always this difficult to propose?
The third milestone1 in the PhD process here at Imperial College is to submit a research plan. Similarly, once a supervisor has been agreed, the funding body supporting my PhD studies requires that a proposal be submitted.
The plan for College does not have to be terribly long (four pages); there will be substantial overlap between the plan I write for college and the proposal sent to the funding body. A number of people has assured me that it is likely that my plans will change during the PhD, such that the planned work in the proposal is not that which I end up submitting.
I am extending some work which formed part of my MSc, and as such, my supervisor and I have talked at reasonable length about what work I will do over the next three years. We have met with my second supervisor and talked about applications of the methods we will develop.
Then why is actually getting the plan down on paper so hard?
According to my student handbook, the research plan “should demonstrate a sound understanding of the research to be undertaken”.
So then for me, the difficulty arises when I attempt to explain with some degree of fluency the background to my study. I am new to the field of statistical genetics, or at least, the statistics part. When it comes to the concepts relating to genetics, I feel at home; however, and I am not a statistician. Trying to express with some degree of fluency the statistical concepts which do not (yet) trip off my own tongue feels laborious.
I was advised to
write a lot of waffle keep the proposal general and non-technical. With my biologist’s mind, I interpreted this as “do not put any maths in”. However, if my PhD studies are going to cover statistics, I can see that learning how to waffle using mathematics express basic concepts clearly and succinctly is going to be a necessary skill, as it is likely that I will have to write the background to my study many times.
The current draft of the proposal reads like a hotch-potch of other people’s descriptions of what I am going to do, where I have taken a line from the introduction to a paper here, a series of equations presented in a textbook there. My handling of statistcal concepts feels clumsy, and I plead with my supervisor to proof-read my work carefully because the errors might not be obvious to me.
At the minute, putting together a coherent proposal feels extremely challenging. At different stages of an academic career, I imagine that the that the difficulties are different. As one gets more familiar with the field that one is proposing, do the challenges change?
fn1. The first being register with college, the second being register for an MPhil.