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Preparing for the PhD Upgrade

The PhD upgrade is the first significant assessment of your research and so can loom large as a daunting hurdle to be jumped. However, if you are adequately prepared it should prove to be straightforward, and an excellent opportunity for constructive feedback. As an example, I will use the Warwick University process for the PhD upgrade in English and Comparative Literature, which requires full-time students to upgrade in the third term of their first year.

Although this may seem like a long way off when you first start, time will fly by. Find out what is required as early as possible and begin collating the material you will need to submit. Always keep a saved copy of any work you do, including your initial research proposal as you will probably be able to use parts of it in your report. Typically, a PhD upgrade requires an abstract; a list of chapter titles; a timetable for completion; and a sample chapter.

The abstract can be largely drawn, with some development, from your proposal. You should also have discussed the structure of your thesis at an early meeting with your supervisor. The chapter titles can be developed from this initial discussion, and may also have formed part of your research proposal. Similarly, you should discuss a timetable for completion with your supervisor. Make an electronic copy, which can then be included in the upgrade report. The sample chapter should equally be little problem provided you start writing from the beginning of your PhD studies. Make sure you allow your supervisor enough time to give you feedback and for you to revise the work accordingly.

The Warwick upgrade includes a 30 minute interview to discuss your project. To prepare for this make sure you have a good grasp of your overall plan and how the sample chapter fits in. Try to think of counter arguments to your claims and work out what you could say in response (note these down as you may want to include them in your thesis as it develops). Finally, ask your supervisor for a mock interview.

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