I’m doing my Master’s in Sociology, so my experience with my research proposal may differ from other faculties and programs, but I’ve learned a lot from the process. I cannot emphasize enough that the research proposal is a process. It is not linear in that you write it, hand it in, and get approval. No. Your proposal is a process of submission, feedback, improvement, submission, feedback, more improvement, and a lot more reading than you’d ever expect to do.
Undergrad trains a lot of us to ignore feedback since it isn’t important and you have to quickly skip onto the next assignment, or the term is already finished. This completely changes once you finish classes in grad school. Suddenly, academia is all about the submission-and-revision cycle. I’ve come to learn that you don’t submit anything without expecting feedback: nothing will be perfect on your first try. Nothing will be without room for improvement – and that’s not a bad thing! Especially in Canada’s undergrad system, we’re taught that your product needs to be right the first time and that feedback means you did something wrong. This isn’t the case for your proposal.
Feedback on your proposal is vital and shouldn’t be seen as a failure. Your supervisor(s) want to see you succeed and want to help you craft an amazing proposal. The feedback that they give you isn’t to point out your errors, but to help you improve your writing and your research abilities. I was scared to hand in my proposal because I didn’t want my supervisors to think my work sucked – but eventually I bit the bullet and submitted it. The feedback was just what I expected I needed to improve on, but they also had incredible insights and offered me a plethora of new sources to read! Their feedback helped guide me to work on my weakest areas (aka lit reviews) because they wanted me to get better to succeed. Now I’m in the process of digging into more research and making the best literature review of my academic career.
Feedback is all about learning and your supervisor(s) having a chance to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. For example, I hate lit reviews. This is mainly because I think they’re tedious, boring, and filled with unnecessary information. However, one of my supervisors sat down with me and helped me plan out the form of my lit review and explained its purpose. She taught me that a lit review isn’t just a summary of research, but the place to situate your own research. She also explained that a lit review is more like a content analysis of the existing literature – that was something that I’d never thought of! Suddenly, it’s no longer a review of the literature, but a content analysis. To me, that makes so much more sense and now I know how to go through the literature to find themes for my lit review.
The submission-and-revision cycle of academia didn’t sink in for me until I encountered it for myself with my research proposal. It’s a process that you work through with your supervisors and mentors until you’ve learned enough and worked enough to make a good product. Your supervisors are your guide through academia and, from my experience, they’re happy to help and want to see you succeed. Eventually, they will have given you the skills and instructions that you missed out on in all the classes you’ve taken: they are giving you the final tips and tricks to help you become an excellent academic. Trust the process of doing your proposal and get in a decent version quickly so that you can start tackling the real work, which is the revisions to make it significantly stronger!