Figuring Out the Feedback

In most institutions, your literature review, once you have whittled down the word count and submitted your efforts, would be evaluated, or at the very least, you would be offered some feedback. The feedback, depending your supervisor/mentor/ promoter, might be disappointing, encouraging, or even devastating.

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

The feedback may be disappointing for any number of reasons. It may speak but say nothing because your supervisor/ mentor/promoter lacks interest in the topic, is afraid of offending you, or simply does not have the time to think too deeply about how your research might develop. It may be encouraging for any number of reasons, for example, the supervisor/mentor/ promoter engages with your topic, offers insights and direction, and lets you know you have made a great start. It may be devastating for any number of reasons, for example, your approach is met with skepticism or your focus brushed off an irrelevant.

Whatever the feedback, use it to your advantage. If you are disappointed, find an external sounding board against whom you can bounce your ideas. If encouraged, bless the universe and use the energy to forge ahead. If devasted, address the issues or develop an argument that shows your supervisor/mentor/promoter that you considered the options to which you were alerted and convince him or her of the relevance of the focus when making your corrections. For example, perhaps you have to read more and integrate another perspective or ensure your rationale as more explicit and convincing. Alternatively, you might have to argue that a suggested extension to what you proposed is beyond the scope of your study. In either instance, your work will be strengthened by considering and integrating the questions raised by the feedback.

For example, one of my external examiners noted that during the period I was writing up my PhD, a new theorist had emerged that I should integrate. I ended up not only integrating that theorist in a way that supported my approach to the topic but also wrote another chapter that brought the research to a conclusion in a more thorough fashion. Sure, I was devastated because I thought I was done, but then I was challenged to present an improved product, which I did. Sometimes our thinking is not finished when we meet the deadline to submit, and the extra time given by the evaluation when receiving a pass with conditions can prove a blessing in disguise because that time allows for an even finer distillation of the sliver of truth being offered. 

Whatever the quality of the feedback, you ignore the feedback at your peril. There is nothing worse for a busy supervisor/mentor/promoter locked into a publish or perish world than to invest effort in a student and see no fruit. So, regardless of the quality or nature of the feedback you receive, use it strengthen your offering. See it as a problem to be solved on the way to resolving the problem that motivated your initial research question.

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