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:
- Know your administration staff and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
- 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).
- 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!
- 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!
- Plan for unexpected forms!
- 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!