Hello everyone and thanks for your interest in my research.

I can’t believe I’m 9-months into my research already, although I got a timely reminder of just how quickly time was creeping on when I was required to go through the process of differentiation. ‘Differentiation’ seems to have magical qualities that can reduce undifferentiated PhD students to quivering balls of stress at the mere mention of the word. Of course the experience in no way justifies this response, but when you’re anticipating your own ‘call to action’, no amount of reassurance from differentiated students can help and the looming threat of expulsion from the university is the only thought occupying your mind.

In fact, the process of differentiation is designed, not to expel unworthy students, but as a safe guard to guide a students research and give students the best possible chance of success. For anyone unfamiliar with the process, or at least how it’s done in the School of Modern Language at Queen’s University Belfast, students in their first year are required to have their research tested by independent academics in the school. This is done by the student submitting a sample of work, along with a number of other documents, to panel members in preparation for a short presentation and interview to be conducted approximately a week later. The panel consists of a chair person, and two other academics, one internal and one external to the student’s department. Or in my case, two externals as both internals were in my supervisory team.

The panel will pose questions based on the material submitted and the presentation in order to test the thesis validity, the student’s understanding of their research project and the likelihood of completion to a suitable standard.

In my case, I was just as anxious as anyone else but having survived, with not many psychological scars and I can now proudly waste my breath, reassuring the next cohort, proclaiming, “I survived!”*

*I’ve been recommended for differentiation by the panel which then needs to be approved by the Post-graduate committee before I can claim to be officially differentiated. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for now!

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