For most first year LSE PhD students, the PhD upgrade viva is right around the corner. In an earlier post I talked about the PhD upgrade viva as a whole and what the experience can be like. As a refresher, the PhD upgrade viva is an oral examination at the end of your first year where you must defend your proposed dissertation and the upgrade portfolio you submit in the Summer Term. But in this post, I want to focus on the upgrade chapter component of the dossier, which for many PhD students is the core of the portfolio.
The PhD upgrade chapter is where you can shine the most. For the chapter, you put together an original piece of work based on your own research. The purpose of this is to show you can do the advanced work required to put together a dissertation and complete the PhD. Therefore, it’s really important!
When you set out to work on your chapter, the first thing you should think about is what you can put together based upon the available materials or sources you have at your disposal. Before the pandemic, it was easier to collect data, but since the onset of COVID-19, that has become a lot more difficult. That’s required us to get innovative about how to collect data, but that data availability is going to dictate what you write your chapter on. It’s vital you keep that in mind when thinking about the feasibility of your upgrade chapter.
From there, read up on what other folks have written on the topic and think about how what you’re going to say will be different. This of course depends on your discipline, but usually that level of originality is important in assessing not only this chapter, but your overall dissertation. This is something you’ll want to start thinking about early on in the process.
Related to this, it’s important to try to anticipate what your upgrade examiners will say about your chapter. Think about their potential critiques and try to have counters ready for them. It’s crucial to have those rejoinders ready to show you’ve thought about possible objections and why you’re prepared to answer them. This will show your examiners you’ve thought about your research from all the possible angles and are engaging with your field in a nuanced and thoughtful way.
Devising and writing the PhD upgrade chapter is a challenging, but rewarding experience. If you engage the process in a deliberate way, you’re going to crush it and have a great time. You have the skills to accomplish this and write a fantastic chapter. You got this!