One of the greatest nightmare of final year project students is actually facing their project defence panel. I don’t know why that stage freight is always present no matter how well you prepare yourself. This is because the panel is always expected to grill you until the best comes out of you. So, a hidden function of the academic panel is somehow to bring out the best in you.
An academic panel is a group of persons consisting of lecturers selected to sit for the purpose of assessing the work of a research reporter.
The major function of an academic panel is to check a report for consistency and conformity with laid down standard, quality of report, formatting, and to correct any other possible error that may be found inside a report/project/thesis.
Over the past decade, I have studied panelists behaviour and the result often comes out in unison. For instance, in the early part of the last decade, some research works which I got involved, the topics were wrongly approved. I knew the topic would not pass the panel. So, what I did was to condition the panel (through the work) to think in a particular way (in line with a near topic). I would write the content of the work to suit a particular topic which the panel, upon reading the content would likely adjust the topic to. Same topic, but little adjustment, then everything is fine.
So, from the time before, the panelists’ interest is to see that the work is well structured at all cost and when this cannot be achieved, they simply change the topic.
Panel have been instrumental in the conduct of research works. They help reporters see the better picture and help build a community with brighter and more insightful researchers.
A Shift In Panelists’ View
This Pull Him Down (PHD) Syndrome have drastically affected many Departments and Faculties in Universities. Two lecturers will have problems, they will use it to face their supervisees. This is inconceivable. How can you have a problem with a fellow lecturer and you face his supervisee in a research report defence? This is unimaginable.
Again, lecturers these days also use the panel as a medium to deal with students they feel are not obedient to them and to teach them a lesson. The University is indeed becoming something else. Panelists then sought for the good of students and how each student can be helped to become a better person. However, now, they tell you your nice topic is bad and you go and write again. All in a bid to teach you a lesson. Who approved the topic in the first place? Was it not you yourselves?
To add insult to injury, I will like to chip in my PG experience with my panel. Prior to my defence, my current HOD, Department of Vocational and Technology Education have called his henchman to inform me that if I do not buy his textbook of N2,000, I will be disgraced in my defence. Wow! E shock you abi? E shock me too self! Anyway, I proceeded like that to the defence because I was having no money. I just paid N20,000 for the defence while other Departments defend at no cost.
To defend your work in my department, you have to pay N20,000. This is outside the N70,000 defence fee acknowledged by the University. In departments such as political science, PG students do not pay a dime, I mean they pay no dime to defend their project/thesis. It seems only the grade of Jesus Christ lecturers are in Political Science because from undergraduate till date, Political science Department have maintained same stance. I guess Prof. Ibaba must have been one of the causes. Thank God he is now the Dean of Postgraduate and we are feeling his presence. However, we in Vocs could not be so lucky like my colleagues in Political Science. So, we always pay with our nose.
But why will I not buy my HOD’s book to avoid issues you may ask. Well, my experience with many lecturers’ materials is very poor. Plagiarized materials, heavy copy and paste, errors here and there and most painfully, no author’s concept. Any material I write, I always write because of a concept, idea, etc. So, after reading, your soul is uplifted academically. However, some of these materials only come to set me aback. So, I have banned the purchase of lecturers’ personal materials. The only ones I cherish are pure research materials and many lecturers do not dare write on research, not on the analysis aspect at all. Osaat (2014) and Nwankwo (2016) are very good reference points.
On That Fateful Day
And so, I found myself in the panel on that fateful morning. I was already aware of a possible drama (possibly to be disgraced for not buying a N2,000 HOD textbook) but never to the extent it got. There seemed to be chit-chats and eye contacts here and there in a way suggesting ongoing plots. We were 3 in number expected to defend. The plan was to even ensure I am not allowed to defend my work. The only Ph.D student defended successfully. When it got to the two M.Sc students to defend, members of panel rose that – that is the end of the defence. People were surprised. Was it not 3 persons that paid N20,000 each to defend today? Some persons murmured.
Brief meetings held here and there, thesis coordinator was confused as the panel was divided into 2 if not 3. I later learnt that it has been concluded that my work will never pass through. Since the pressure from all sides made the cabal unsuccessful, they later came back, sat and allowed the first M.Sc student to defend. After that, I was called. Of course I represented myself. But drama soon started when it seems I was doing well, a panelist (who promised me disgrace) urged the projector controller to fast-forward me to Chapter Three when there was still time. I later discovered it was in Chapter Three they intend to fire me. Lols.
According to my supervisor, against all odds, I remain the best defence student that day. Best dressed student that day, neat work, and good defence. According to him, these are enough to move me to the next stage after necessary corrections. But no, a cabal was bent on ensuring my topic was changed. Which topic? A topic you people approved?
However, a panelist whom I later learnt (unconfirmed) have a qualm with my supervisor started assessing my work. His attempt was to pull down the topic by stating is it unrelated to my area of study. This I objected to as the chairman of the panel had taught me same thing from undergraduate.
Unsuccessful, he went on to criticize my Scope of Study which was also trashed by my supervisor. Then my Hypothesis. There was however, basic errors in my hypotheses. My hypotheses did not match/synchronize with my stated objective and consequent research questions. I had done the right thing in the original manuscripts. But because of corrections here and there, I was made to do a different thing. But since I trust in panelists corrections, I did not bother much since I believe panel will correct it back to the way it was in my original first draft.
My hypotheses was a major setback because instead of correcting it, they used it against me. But I cannot defend myself that it wasn’t my fault. Take note of the panel error here. They were supposed to correct it not use it against me. Then, it was clear that it was a panel against a defence student – a situation that needs the intervention of management.
Then, from my hypothesis to review of literature. The way the observing panelist was reading my work, I was asking him inside my mind… “was this how you were reading and they awarded you a Ph.D degree?” Lols. To me, his reading was meant to jettison my work, conditioning the listening audience to believe that I did a bad work.
What they did not know is that most of the works I assisted in previous years, I was reliably informed that they were secluded as best works in those set even by them. Again, studies I sent abroad to Universities with high quality research practice, whose undergraduate studies are tested for plagiarism returned with superior comments of commendation. So, why local supervisors (local supervisors here means supervisors within) believe I did a bad work is inexplicable or at best, an attempt to Pull Him Down.
In any case, I do not believe I can do a bad work because I am familiar with the Department standard. In my final year alone, I conducted and assisted a hundred and one (101) studies. Up to 60% of these studies are personally researched works while the rest are merely assistive. Those who understand research practice will know that at such level of operation, I have become an academic monster or deity of some sort. So, I do not believe I can do a bad work. At best, corrections may be inevitable and not trashing my work altogether.
In my Chapter Three, there was another issue. I have been so familiar with many research standards across various research communities that I feel my Department/Faculty should be acquainted with and possibly adopt. I have in recent past submitted various proposals that were trashed. For instance, I argued in one of the proposals that why should a researcher write the significance of his study in Chapter One when he/she had scarcely found anythng? Meanwhile, Significance of Study simply refers to the hypothetical benefits (Nwankwo, 2016) the findings of a study will have for its target audience. If this is correct, why not wait till Chapter Five? After findings, you conclude, imply and signify? I guess this would be more logical.
So, just like previous cases, I used my these as a channel to bring some of these standards up. For instance, in many studies, there is what we call “Ethical Consideration”. A study may offend a management team, staff, community, beliefs, religion, etc. A recent case is the rift between Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and Pete Edochie over their recent upcoming movie where the IMN accused Pete Edochie of portraying the movement as a terrorists group.
To avoid a similar occurrence in an academic community, researchers often seek the permission of management, departments/Faculties, governments, etc. to check if their research topic will trample on the sensibilities of any group, and if not, they approve it. They also give a stamp of approval that forms one of the appendices in the relevant studies.
So, to bring this up to my Department for seeing and possible adoption, I added the title “Ethical Consideration” to my Chapter Three. Instead of striking it out as usual that it will not be accepted, it was used against me that I was forming my own standard. I was also accused of not meeting with my supervisor but doing things at will. But what they do not know was that some errors they are correcting were supervisory errors. In the end, I was not told what to do but just criticism, criticism upon criticism – very unlikely of a standard academic panel.
The Most Part
It was a reminiscence of previous event where King Henry VIII, King of England from 1509-1547 plotted to kill Sir Thomas Moore who went against the nullification of his first marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Both Sir Thomas Moore and Archbishop John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester were tried and found guilty before they were asked if they had anything to say in their defence.
In like manner, my panel, already having a plan to trash my work, gave no heed to any possible quality thereoff, rather did all it could to trash the work despite being acknowledged as the best work for the day. My panel put away its mandate to critique, correct and uphold but chose to pull me down. I was not even asked to do anything since they have achieve their plans. I was supposed to be told to go and make necessary corrections and come back but was not told to do that. I believe some panelists will still believe my topic has been changed, something I have earlier trashed.
No Support for the Oppressed
In what seemed to be a total victory for the oppressors, the panelist members who where not part of the plan were never allowed to talk. Only an observing lecturer who stood up and commend my work and made a contribution. But the real research lecturer who should have been the number 1 person to observe was not allowed to say anything because she may talk in favour of me. It was indeed a well thought out plot. The hall was filled with murmurs and displeasure, soured faces of persons feeling bad but cannot talk. They said the money we paid (N20,000) was for food. They shared for the remaining two students who defended, but they never gave me. One student who got, felt bad and gave me her own.
Why The Plot?
Sometimes, it baffles me how I managed to gather so much enemies. During my under G, I wasn’t having any enemy. But now in postgraduate studies, it is like some persons just want to see you down. Well, the causes for having so much enemies may not be far from the fact that I am a reporter and many of my publications, including this one may have been offensive to some persons.
Some of my argument in class, some acts of lecturers I frowned at and some of my statements too may not have gone down well with some lecturers. A fellow student brought a book that I must buy. I told him when I have the money, I will come for it. He went and said I told him I will not buy. It was another student that gave me a story of what happened backdoor. Plots to deal with me.
There are also third parties plotters and agents. People you seldom know but are dragged into an offence someone else pick up with you. I am aware of a notable female lecturer who supervises me everywhere I go. She is a friend to another lecturer I had issues with. I had written a letter to the supposed offended female lecturer on funds issues on the need to make funding on a project statutory rather than giving me money as the spirit leads. This sparks offence. I had pleaded, knelt down, begged – all on a deaf ear. So, the lady I perceived following me up and down may be a third party offended agent from this source.
One of my panelist as I was reliably informed had issues with my supervisor. From his assessment, you can tell that a grudge brought him to the panel. Very unlikely of a standard panelist behaviour. It was indeed a panel of plotters and schemers under whom I will never go anywhere unless there is intervention from management. But while it last, I could only hope for the best.
All along, I have played like a never-do-well, an idiot who have no helper. All to ensure that the oppressors calm down and guide me through. I am still in that mood, not sparking any confrontation, hoping that all will be well. Until then, I keep on observing and investigating until this cup passes by.