How to Present "PhD Progress Report" to Doctoral Committee Members

The PhD Doctoral  committee is there to support and guide  you through  till  your final Thesis is submitted. The Committee will evaluate your progress and help to make sure that  you are on track to get your dissertation within a reasonable time. In the beginning of your research, their focus will be on making sure you have defined reasonable and achievable objectives. Later, they will help you decide when it is time to write your Thesis. Finally, they will be there at  your thesis seminar and defense presentations. Their support as mentors will likely continue as you move on in your career.

Doctoral committee meeting happens usually once in 06 months. Here it is expected that the research scholar has to present his work of the past six months. The  meeting should not be felt like an exam. The outcome should be a productive advice to you for your future research.

Let me  divide these “Doctoral Committee meeting” in to three stages namely

i) Before the meeting:   i.e. Once you start preparing the report for the meeting to  till the meeting begins.

ii) During the meeting:  i.e. From entering into the meeting hall to  till the meeting gets over and

iii) After the meeting:  i.e. From the time meeting concludes to till the  next six months before you really start preparing for your next meeting report.

Before the Meeting

Along with your supervisor go through the all the comments given  in the previous Doctoral  committee meeting. Discuss in detail with your supervisor regarding the work carried out for the past six months. If any issues are still pending have justification for not addressing  or partially addressing those issues.  Do not hide any details regarding implementation and pending issues with your supervisor.  This actually helps the supervisor to defend you and take inputs from the committee members regarding future course of directions.

A summary of progress and plans should be prepared and submitted to the  Doctoral committee at least one week prior to the meeting. Make sure that you have gone through  the report with all grammatical corrections and plagiarism checks. Send out the agenda to your committee members beforehand, but also remind them of the topics you want to cover before you begin the presentation. If you have any manuscripts published or accepted send your committee a copy of the same.

You should prepare a presentation (no more than 20 minutes without interruption) that includes brief background of your research , objectives and  the work carried out from last presentation to till date. Without fail discuss in detail the presentation slides  with your supervisor. In your presentation slides list all the previous comments and your response for each committee in the form of a table.

If you are planning to change the Title of your work getting consent from the committee members is essential. Have at least    04-05 Titles which you and your supervisor feel appropriate  before hand. This will ease the process of changing the Title immediately in the meeting and the committee can recommend the same to university along with regular suggestions.

The best way to ensure that your meeting goes smoothly is to meet individually with each committee member to discuss your results well in advance. If you cannot meet with them in person, share your results over email and ask for their feedback. If there are any disagreements, resolve them before the meeting by speaking with your supervisor  to ensure that the meeting goes smoothly.

During the Meeting

Before the start of the presentation  give copies of one-page summary to other faculty members who are attending the session. Submit the copies  of the complete report to the  committee members including your supervisor.
No need to present details of any published work. Provide a reprint or preprint, preferably ahead of the meeting. If your work is software based then keep the demo ready. If you do not have working module then show the video demonstration of the model. This will help the committee members to suggest future directions for your work.

During your  committee meeting, you should focus on the last six months work rather than background. Only spend as much time on background as is relevant to what you will be talking about.

There should not be any surprise slides/facts  to your supervisor during your committee meeting.

At your first Doctoral committee meeting, you will present an outline of your plan for your research. You can  build a detailed description of what you  plan to do ( literature survey to carryout,  algorithms or theorems to study,  experiments to carry out, software and hardware components to add , systems integration to perform, tests to accomplish ).  The plans can be represented  with  specific milestones and timelines with a  Gantt Chart.

Example: The sample Gantt chart below shows a set of activities planned for the first 12 months for the Research work. This can be extended to any length. This chart helps the committee members  to know how well the researcher has planned the research activities.

At subsequent meetings you should present a brief introduction (one or two slides) to remind the committee of your research area – don’t expect them to recall everything from the last meeting, but no need to go into great detail. Aim to put your work in context.

Show your current working objective  in the form of a block diagram. This will set the boundary for the presentation and discussion. This will help the committee members to focus on the specified objective. For example in the figure below the candidate is focusing on the “Wheeled mobile Robot” objective  in Robot Path Planning.

Figure 1: Robot Path Planning

Make sure you are comfortable moving back and forth among your slides.  Do not cross the Time limit. Add photographs of any field visits for data collection, conference presentation in your presentation slides. If you had any interactions with domain expert in your area then add interaction details with date. If you have visited any organization as resource person relating to your Ph.D. work  with your supervisor then add that details.

Seek advice from your committee members during the meeting. Note all the suggestions by yourself or ask one of your research colleague to note the same.  This is highly desirable, almost to the point that you should make it mandatory. Give a time line of your plans. What will you be doing over the next month, and what do you hope to accomplish before your next meeting in the next six months time.

Keep additional slides  along with your regular slides. Get  into additional slides detail if any clarifications are sought on any equations or algorithms etc.   Additional slides can be i) The equipment details you are planning purchase or currently used for implementation ii) The Algorithms which you have implemented or  planning to implement  iii) The mathematical model you have developed or  iv) Any slides that you think are important but do not have time to cover at the end of your presentation.

After the Meeting

End your meeting with a summary of what you have discussed, common points that you have reached and an action plan for next six months. Your action plan needs to have “actionable” items, specifically what milestones you will work towards after the meeting and approximate timelines. A written summary of the meeting will be prepared by the supervisor and the committee, and that will be sent to the University. You will receive a copy of this and a copy will be placed in your Research  file.

Send an email note  to each of your committee members through your supervisor  to thank them for their time, and summarize the action items or milestones you agreed to. This will give your committee members another chance to give you feedback or suggestions.

During the meeting you might have accepted to complete some implementation before next meeting, but you may run out of time or you may not get any ideas regarding implementation. In such situations, have discussion with your supervisor and the committee members and discuss the challenges faced by you. They may either extend the implementation time or ask you to change the methodology of implementation. Simply do not wait for suggestions from committee members till the next meeting. In order to build trust between you and your committee members, you need to take committee members and your supervisor into confidence before taking any major decisions.

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