The Colloquium Document

PhD Workspace
A focused workspace?

As part of my PhD candidature I must complete a 10,000 word colloquium document and present at a colloquium within the first 12 months of candidature. From my perspective it is partly a ‘gate-keeping’ procedure to ensure candidates are progressing and focusing their project, and that the research is on balance likely to make a ‘substantial original contribution to knowledge’.

My colloquium presentation is unlikely to take place until February 2013, but I thought I would start drafting the document now, given that I have already undertaken a lot of reading about the subject matter (a scholarship of teaching in practical legal training), and toward developing a theoretical framework for the project (at this stage I am drawing on Bourdieu’s theoretical tools, and de Certeau’s concept of practices in everyday life and ‘le perruque’). I have decided on undertaking a qualitative methodology, combining policy research (looking at the law and policy underlying practical legal training) and narrative inquiry (learning from PLT teachers’ narratives about how they moved into practical legal training and what they have to say about scholarship of teaching). I have also been reading up on grounded theory approaches to research and the Glaser/Strauss debate about ’emergence’ and ‘forcing’ of theory from the data. I have undertaken some training with the NVivo computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS), with some more advanced training timetabled later in August 2012. I have to say that I have found NVivo very interesting to work with, and I will write a separate post about this soon.

I have found that working on my colloquium document this week has been a very useful exercise. The process has helped me to get a sense of ‘where am I up to’ since starting the candidature on 31 March 2012, and it has highlighted several strengths and weaknesses in my work and reflection undertaken so far. ‘Strengths’, in reminding me just how much reading and reflection and note-taking I have already done, and how this has contributed to my knowledge. ‘Weaknesses’, in identifying gaps and blind spots in my theorising, and also in the ‘logistics’ of my research.

I am now thinking that I should have started drafting this colloquium document much earlier and used it in conjunction with a reflective approach of memo-writing, so that the document provides a focused ‘space’ for my work. That said, I am pleased that I have started it now, 4-5 months into the candidature, rather than later. I guess that some might say there is a danger of feeling ‘locked-in’ to what is in the colloquium document, but I think that if I remind myself that it is a dynamic document in every aspect, then that should not be a problem.

So, if you are a PhD candidate, what is your approach to the colloquium document? Do you think that starting on it early as part of a reflective approach is a good idea?