The P in PhD should stand for Paperwork

If you have read the title of my post it might be pretty obvious what I will be discussing today: paperwork. I’m going to give you a brief overview of my own experience of post-confirmation paperwork and some general advice. I passed my confirmation in July, so while I was very excited and happy to have passed that milestone with very positive feedback, one thing loomed.

The dreaded ethics application. As a result of my honours project and some research assistant work I have previously completed ethics applications. So I was not overly concerned about my ethics application, as it was something I have experienced before. However, I wasn’t prepared for the leg work that is involved. For my honours project my supervisor helped a lot with the ethics application, by finding the peer review, organising the head of school declaration and creating the ethics application itself in our university’s software. It is only now I realise how much assistance I received for that application.

For my PhD ethics I was given much more space to learn. I found the ethics application software myself and transferred all of the questions to a word document. I would recommend this as a way to send drafts to your supervisors. Once I had some clarifying questions and edits from my supervisors, my various consent and PIS forms, it was time for peer review. This was the first step I had not encountered before. Who did could I approach that wasn’t already tied to my project? This is where my tips about treating your PhD like a job come in handy.

I approached someone I knew! Now, I currently tutor on a course for this person, but the way we met initially was through interactions on twitter and by me being present on campus. I think it is very important to develop relationships with the people who you share a hallway with. Peer review is a key example of this especially if like me, you feel awkward emailing people you don’t know out of the blue. After my peer review came back, with a few minor edits, it was time for the Head of School declaration. This one was a bit harder, I felt very awkward cold emailing someone I have met a few times – questions loomed in my head, does he know who I am? Have I ever introduced myself? etc. But I realised that this was part of the process and I had to just send the email and hope for the best. This also came back relatively quickly!

Following this I submitted my ethics application and gave a sigh of relief. However, this was only the first step towards my fieldwork which is planned for January 2019. I quickly realised my faculty has deadlines for funding related to international travel (we are allocated a certain amount per year for research funds). This meant finding two forms, one for approval of funds and the other for approval of international travel. I also had to create a travel diary in excel that showed what percentage of my trip would be personal or business. It was whilst doing one of these forms I remembered there was a process I had forgotten about: safety clearance. I quickly submitted these forms and began the process of safety clearance.

This is where my post may get a bit frantic, in reflection of my feelings. After realising I needed to apply for my safety clearance I began to search in the university website to find the correct form. To my frustration it wasn’t clear which form I had to fill in but eventually I found the first form. I began filling it in, when half way I was directed to also fill in another form. At this point, I thought ‘Okay, two forms isn’t so bad. Even if these two forms seem to have pretty similar information.’ After completing the first form I began on the second form. But to my dismay, it directed me to a checklist. This checklist advised me to fill in another four forms. At this point I was lost, I had 8 different forms (as I had somehow found another two forms related to international travel) open in multiple different formats and across multiple screens (web browser, pdf and Microsoft word). I felt very overwhelmed. Luckily, we have a good team of administration staff who are in my building and always willing to answer my questions. I confirmed with them I in fact only needed two of the forms. Now, after some time of stress and feeling overwhelmed I have the following clearances/things organised:

  • Safety clearance
  • Approval for international travel
  • Approval for funds to be spent on international travel.
  • Travel insurance: not included in the post, but it did involved filling in a form for every day of my trip – 98 days – about my location and what I would be doing, very tedious in itself, this is seperate to the excel spreadsheet but identical information.

All that’s left is ethics! Now my advice:

  1. Know your administration staff and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
  2. Learn the policies of your faculty, especially if you are planning overseas travel (for my university these can be found online and in the student handbook).
  3. Plan a few months to organise your ethics application prior to submission. Getting the relevant signatures takes time; as does making sure your application makes sense to someone not involved!
  4. With your supervisor make a plan for submitting all of the paperwork needed, as sometimes their signature is required. You don’t want them to be away on a trip while you desperately need a signature!
  5. Plan for unexpected forms!
  6. If you need safety clearance you will need to think about the risks involved with your travel. This can be tricky.

I hope these tips help make your own process smoother for completing all of the post-confirmation paperwork!

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