Giving and Receiving Feedback in your PhD

Giving and receiving feedback is a skill I highly underestimated I would be using before going into my PhD. I am not sure what I expected actually, was I expecting everyone to say, “this is fantastic” and me to fly through my PhD with ease? I think it mostly has to do with PhD students doing very well in their undergraduate and graduate degrees, rarely receiving in depth feedback because they are excelling and the students who need to improve, receive more of the feedback. This was my expectation for the PhD as well, and far from my reality.

But my journey with feedback hasn’t been so bad. I truly love receiving feedback because this is where I learn. The conflict I have with feedback is that it always stings a bit. I’ve talked about receiving feedback for my qualifying exam in this blog post, but currently I am working through revisions for my proposal. This process has allowed me to reflect on how others provide me with feedback, how I prefer to receive feedback, and how I give feedback myself.

I would like to start off by sending a big shoutout to my writing crew for sharing some of the strategies that help them. They were my inspiration for this post and the reason why I am able to reflect on some of these challenging aspects of a PhD.  

Here are some steps I consider when receiving feedback on my writing:

1. Receive the feedback then step away from it

Personally, after I receive feedback, I often need to take a day or two before actually making the revisions. As much as I believe this feedback will help me become a better writer, it doesn’t always take the sting away of where I missed the mark or where I need to improve. So, if you find it difficult to receive feedback, or receive feedback from someone who is particular blunt in providing the feedback, step away from it for a couple days. I also find that sweating it out through a workout helps keep my mind in a positive space.

2. Sit with your emotions

I find that I am unable to recognize my emotions right away because I am too far “in my feels”. Those few days where I step away from the feedback, I am able to let it sink in. Then, I spend time to naming what my emotions I am experiencing. It’s typically different every time and there are no good or bad emotions. For example, I’ve been frustrated that my effort wasn’t recognize. I’ve felt unheard in areas of my work. I’ve also felt discouraged and not good enough to actually be able to do the work. These are only a few examples that I have experienced. The point is for you to clarify what it is exactly you are experiencing, so that you are aware of what doesn’t necessarily help you when receiving feedback.

3. Reframe

It is really easy to fall into a negative headspace when your work is being critiqued so closely. I find that helping to reframe some of the negative thoughts that come into my mind can help. I also find that mantra’s (words or sounds repeated to help build concentration and focus) also help me. First, notice what negative thought you are currently repeating to yourself. Next, think about how you can reframe it in a better light. In the Scholar Refresh, we spend a whole day organizing and reframing our thoughts. Here are some examples:

  • Negative thought: My writing is not strong enough for me to belong at this level
    • Reframe: I am in my PhD for a reason, learning is part of the process
  • Negative thought: This person must think I am completely incompetent for making these mistakes    
    • Reframe: This person is helping me see what I could not. Now I will know for next time.
  • Mantra: I am learning. I am growing. I am capable.

4. Focus on gratitude

Writing down one or more things you are grateful for in this process is also helpful. Focusing on gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness, helping to change those negative emotions to more positive ones. It further allows you to go back to the person giving you feedback by expressing this gratitude and building a stronger relationship. Here are a couple examples:

  • I am grateful this person spent so much time reviewing my work
  • I am grateful this person is such an expert in this area
  • I am grateful in my ability to learn

5. Reflect on how you give feedback

If you didn’t appreciate how someone provided you feedback, take a minute to think about how they provided the feedback and how you typically give feedback. Are you providing feedback in the same way? In what ways do you provide feedback differently? How can you improve providing feedback?

Here are some examples of how I prefer to receive feedback and aim to provide feedback in this same way:

  • I like to begin by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to review someone’s work. I find I learn a lot from reviewing others work, it is truly an opportunity.
  • I always provide a summary, but frame it in a feedback sandwich; start with something you enjoyed, insert constructive feedback, end with what their work contributes to in the field
  • Within the actual paper I like to use the following:
    • “I wonder” statements, for example:
      • I wonder about where you land at the end of your quest to explore…
      • I wonder about the gap in the literature that you are seeking to address… 
    • Other exploratory comments, for example:
      • I would like to hear what you think about ____
      • I spent some time working through this section and I am wondering if you did too?
    • Instead of blunting writing, I disagree or you are wrong, I try to use a more gentle approach, for example:
      • I recommend you avoid ____
      • One of the things I worry about by overusing this is ____

It doesn’t matter what way you prefer to receive feedback, but I think communicating that with whomever it is providing you feedback, will make the process a bit smoother and less painful. I would love to hear your thoughts about giving and receiving feedback.

What do you think? Am I too much of a softy? Comment below.

Giving and receiving feedback is such a large part of the learning process in the PhD process. Let’s make it a more gentler and more enjoyable process, together.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Looking for organizational tips to clear your mind and space? Check out the Scholar Refresh here, a 30 day challenge to get you organized. Applying to grad school for the 2021/22 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

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