Nobody knows the exact origins of the Annual Progress Review (APR). Legend has it that it began 1451 (the very year the University was established) as a means of cruel and ruthless entertainment for our professor overlords. But the exact origins aren’t important. What is important is that the practice continues today: each year, in the months of May or June, innocent PGRs are forced to battle to the death in front of a panel of ‘the accomplished.’ Only the strongest survive. The event casts a long shadow over our PGR community, with people beginning to experience stress and anxiety months in advance (just kidding!).
If I was to base this post solely on the look of despair that some PGRs give when you mention the APR, then you might think that the above paragraph was true (obviously it’s not). The APR is something that every PGR student has to go through but, as I hope you’ll see, it is nothing to be afraid of. As my mother always said: praemonitus, praemunitus (which is Latin for forewarned is forearmed… she actually never said that).
What is it?
Before we dive into the details, you should note that every college has a different approach to the APR, and this post applies solely to the College of Science & Engineering. If you are from a different college, you should check out the other posts in the series. Individual schools might also have slightly different approaches so, as always, if you are unclear on anything you should check with your supervisor or school administrator.
The APR consists of some preparation work (more on that below) and a review meeting. The meeting (which is somewhat alarmingly referred to as a mini-viva on the College of Science & Engineering progress page) is held with a panel who have not been directly involved with your supervision. This is for your own benefit as it gives you an independent channel to voice any concerns you might have. While the concept of a mini-viva might sound terrifying, it’s really just a way for you to converse with the University about your experiences so far—as well as to focus on what’s working, what’s not and to think critically about your research as a whole. Use it to discuss any challenges or issues which have arisen, but you cannot directly work out with your supervisors.
Although the purpose of the APR is ultimately to determine whether you should progress to the following year of research study, it’s more practical to think about it as your opportunity to show off your work. What have you achieved so far? If you answered NOTHING to that question, I can guarantee you’re being WAY too hard on yourself. Do you have any issues you feel are holding you back? Use the APR as a means of reporting them and working towards a solution. What are your plans for the coming year? The University would like to know. How is your relationship with your supervisory team? Take some time to reflect. How does the University think you are doing? Feedback is a positive thing. How do YOU think you are doing? The APR is a tool: use it to your advantage.
Who does it apply to?
The APR applies to all PGR students—whether full time or part time—in all years of study, until ‘thesis pending’ status is achieved. Don’t worry if you are part time, though, the University recognises that your progress path will be different from full time researchers.
What do I need to do?
You should receive an email with details of everything that you are required to do. As I mentioned above, there is some preparation work required before you attend the meeting. In the College of Science & Engineering this consists of:
- A completed Annual Progress Review form
- A detailed written report on what you have achieved so far
- A completed Training Needs Analysis form
- An online Staff Progress Report (filled in by your supervisor)
The Review Form
You should familiarise yourself with the Annual Progress Review Form before you have to fill it in. This is one part of the APR process that remains consistent throughout each year of study. It has a section for you to complete and a separate section for your supervisor. It asks for an overview of your written report, a self assessment of your progress, a list of training you have undertaken and other, related information. Once you have completed your section, your supervisor needs to give it some attention and, if they are as busy as my supervisor, this can take MONTHS. It’s best to pass the form to them early.
Your written report should be prepared in consultation with your supervisor and contain the following information:
- An overview of your field
- A critical look at related published work
- An account of the work you have undertaken
- An evaluation of any results
- A list of objectives for the next 12 months (approximately five)
- A plan for the coming year, including a GANTT chart
Depending on your year of study, the exact content and word count will vary slightly.
- First year students have a word count of approximately 4000 words (but the School of Physics & Astronomy specifies 5000 words, so make sure you check) and should outline the research carried out so far
- Second year students have a higher word count (8000 in the School of Physics & Astronomy) and should outline the research carried out so far. You can think of this report as a bare-bones version of your thesis. In addition to the above information, the second year written report should include the list of previously made objectives and a brief outline of how these were achieved.
- Third year students have a lower word count of approximately 2000 words (phew!) and should outline the research carried out since the previous Annual progress review meeting. In addition to the above information, the report should include an outline of your thesis, including chapter and section titles.
The Training Form
The Training Needs Analysis form is based on the Researcher Development Framework and is a way for you to identify areas you would benefit from some extra training. This could be anything from technical skills required to complete your project to improving communication skills or writing techniques. Jade previously wrote about Researcher Development within the College of Arts and, although it isn’t aimed at people like us, at the College of Science & Engineering, it contains a lot of useful information. You should complete your Training Needs Analysis form after discussing it with your supervisor.
The Staff Progress Report
The Staff Progress Report is something that your supervisor fills in online about you. You need to sign it off, though, so make sure that you read and agree with everything before committing it to record. A PhD is all about management: management of research; management of time; management of supervisors. You might have send some gentle reminders to make sure that your Staff Progress Report is completed on time.
The APR comes with a multitude of deadlines and it is your responsibility, as the student, to make sure that all of those deadlines are met. The deadlines differ slightly from school to school but you should receive an email or presentation outlining everything that you need to do. Make sure that you read such emails and attend any presentations. It will make the whole process much easier to complete.
That’s it! Everything you need to know about the APR in the College of Science and Engineering (apart from all the important stuff I either forgot or don’t know about). Have you been through the APR before, or are you gearing up for your first? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter. If I have forgotten something, or your school does things slightly differently, then feel free to shout about it: sharing your own experiences will benefit other readers.