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mortgage, rent and finance?

Thanks Sneaks.

Well, we've dropped the price twice, and can't go any lower without getting into negative equity. I completely redecorated the place about five months ago: new carpets, kitchen tiles, magnolia walls etc.

There are two problems with the flat:

1) It's a first-time buyer property. We bought it on a 100% mortgage -- which no longer exist -- and very few people, if any, have a deposit right now. Someone would need £10-15K going spare, which few first-time buyers have.

2) It is in an area with a depressed housing market: a small commuter town with no large employers. There is also a saturation of available property in the town, as there was a large housing development completed just at the start of the recession, so the market is already saturated with unsellable homes.

All in all it's a bad combination. Only four people have looked at it in a year. We did have someone put an offer in about six months ago, but they were turned down for a mortgage in the end.

mortgage, rent and finance?

Thanks both of you. I'd thought about the Rent A Room scheme but the flat is only one bedroom so I don't think anyone would fall for it.

Council tax exemption on an empty flat is only short-term. The flat has already been vacant a year, so we didn't have to pay council tax for the first six months, then it went to a reduced rate for the next six months. Perfect timing being what it is, it goes back to full rate next month, which is a bugger.

I'm just frantically trying to figure out exactly what my deficit is, and whether I can make up my costs with teaching or applying for grants. If it's a hundred quid or so a month more than we can afford, the situation might be annoying but manageable. If the costs go way over, it's going to become serious pretty quickly.

My bank has already refused an overdraft extension (but they have made HALF of my existing overdraft interest-free).

Just when I want to devote all my attention to EndNote and Web of Science...

mortgage, rent and finance?

Hmm, just wondering if anyone had been in a similar situation really... I've just started my PhD after working for three years. I bought a flat with my husband a few years ago. We moved away from about a year ago (because of work), and we put our flat up for sale. We were lucky enough to get jobs in the same city and doubly lucky that we had relatives to live with rent-free whilst we waited for the flat to sell.

Unfortunately, the flat has been sitting empty for a year now and is very unlikely to sell. Thankfully my PhD is in the same city as my husband's work so we've decided to a) rent out our old flat, and b) rent a new place for six months and see how things are like then.

So we found a new place, signed a contract, spoke to our estate agents back home, everything was fine... until this morning, when our mortgage lender refused to let us rent out our flat.

This is pretty disastrous... it means an extra £500 a month paying the mortgage and council tax (no student exemption on an empty flat), plus paying rent on somewhere near to Uni (even if we hadn't signed a contract on our new place, it would be impossible to live with family any longer). Even with us both getting paid, that's more than half our combined income just going on accommodation. Doesn't even cover travel costs, etc.

Student services stared at me blankly and handed me an Access to Learning Fund form, which I will apply for, but that means telling my supervisor I'm in financial difficulty because he needs to sign my application. I've only been here three weeks!!

I'm not asking what I should do, I just wondered if anyone else had been in a similar situation with finances, hardship and accommodation? I don't really want to tell my supervisor but I suppose I'm going to have to. I really don't want to be seen as a "problem" when I've only been here a few weeks.

How should I start?

I started my PhD about three weeks ago after a long break from academia. Not only had I been out of science for several years but I also changed from a rather qualitative to a heavily quantitative science. You won't know everything you need to know on your first day: if you did, why would you need three years? One thing that has helped me loads has been project planning, thinking about workflow and how to find the information that I need, how to structure my literature review, how to prioritise my background reading etc (especially with trying to learn a new way of thinking within a matter of weeks). The project management structure has helped me stay calm and feel that I know what I'm doing -- I might not know everything about my topic, but I feel like I understand what is expected of me, and I have a definite system for building up my background knowledge.

Keep calm and carry on :)


I'm getting worried about how I'm going to manage a heavy workload and several steep learning curves. I'm currently looking into different productivity techniques and software: I'm already using FreeMind (mind mapping software) and have a Gantt chart on Excel 2007. I've also been looking at GanttProject.biz and the Pomodoro technique (which I have used with great success before in a slightly different form). I'm very much a goal-setter so I've been wondering if there is software for managing endless sets of daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists (I suspect that file sizes would soon become unwieldy in Word 2007).

Of course, the trouble is then trying to manage lots of different productivity software in lots of different formats... especially when that is time I'm not working. I already have background skills in science and programming to catch up on very quickly, plus a huge amount of writing up (draft literature review in three months?) so I need to focus on that old chestnut about working smarter, not harder.

It also feels like years since I wrote a scientific essay or did a regression analysis so I'm going to require additional time to build up my confidence in simply being a scientist again.

What software / techniques have you employed, especially in the early stages of your PhD? Did they work? Any hints / tips / pitfalls / advice?

Applying problems during degree

Hi there,

My story: I had bad personal problems in the final year of my undergrad degree and just missed out on a 2:1. Because of only getting a 2:2, I had to go and do a Masters to "top up" my grades. On my MSc, those problems (also a combination of mental health issues and personal problems) continued for the whole year. I scraped through with a low pass and abandoned the thought of academia. I worked for three years which built up my confidence and suddenly, just when I thought I'd never go back, applied for my perfect PhD. Unfortunately the supervisors wouldn't accept industry references, only academic ones. My heart really sank: both my MSc and BSc supervisors wrote references saying that I was intelligent but my grades didn't reflect my ability at all.

During my PhD interview, one of my supervisors asked me to explain the comments on my references and I had to stop myself from actually crying in the interview. I said that I had dealt with my family and personal problems (which is true), and that they made me stronger, and made me far more committed than if I hadn't been through them (again, this true), and that I agreed that my grades don't reflect my ability at all.

I came out the interview and burst into tears. A few hours later they phoned up, and offered me the place.

All in all... what I went through really didn't hold me back. I'm glad I was honest with my supervisors in the interview, they didn't judge me at all. On my first day they both alluded to various difficult times they've had in their professional careers. I'm glad that I could be honest about it and see that they picked me, flaws and all, for my perfect project... and that I never have to hide anything, or be afraid of what they might find out: I can just get on with my work and feel safe. They aren't going to judge me. Not only that... I'm even glad of everything that's happened to me because it's made me certain about what I want to do, and bad experiences in the past have just made me stronger and more committed to the research I want to do. I also know that I can survive anything, which I suspect I'm going to need to draw on over and over throughout the next three years...

PhD or work?

I'm not an engineer but I worked for three years after finishing my Masters. After I graduated I didn't know what I wanted to do; after working for three years I knew EXACTLY what I did and didn't want to do. I have far more motivation and personal commitment to my PhD, it means so much to me. Working gave me a lot of money and confidence to just live my own life for a few years. After that, I knew that I couldn't let my dream of research go because although I was pretty successful at work, the roles I was taking weren't "me." The work experience has been invaluable on every level, increased my commitment and motivation, and perhaps above all else it means that I'm not worried whether or not I'll get a job at the end of my PhD, because I know the market and the kinds of jobs available and the skills needed for them. My PhD is building on my career to date and I am very glad I've had that time in industry. Just do what you think will be best for you. Where do you want to be in 10 years time?

The Future of UK universities?

At my University, international students are offered a provisional research place for three months, if they can fund themselves. Many of them arrive on campus to start a PhD with no idea of what that PhD is going to be in. They then have three months to design a project and show to the supervisors that they are competent and suitable for postgraduate study.

Regardless of social and ethical debates, I simply feel a lot of empathy for any student who leaves everything familiar behind to start a new life for three years, with cash in hand but no idea about what they are going to be doing. This isn't a scientific argument, but it seems a strange way of conducting research.

This becomes even more of an issue when government-funded research, particularly in science, is facing criticism about not being commercial enough. So, I think a few people think it is unfair that home students are going to find it harder and harder to study non-commercial branches of science, whilst a student with a large wad of cash can appear and study anything they want...

...of course, the reality is that science funding cuts is going to affect not just students but facilities, and so those self-funding overseas students aren't going to be "replacing" home students in cutting-edge research, but perhaps there is more of a risk of those external candidates being shoe-horned into more commercially viable topics and therefore being treated more like unpaid research assistants than PhD students.

I have focused this on postgraduate research, whilst I know that the topic of your thread concerned undergraduates. I don't think I am particularly well informed on this subject, but this is just my particular opinion. I would be interested in hearing other viewpoints on this.


So I got Matlab installed today... I feel a bit stupid. I used it for a semester about five years ago and I have basic programming experience, but I have no idea what to do. I don't even seem capable of analysing relatively straightforward data! I've never used time series data before and I just can't get anything to work. I have no idea what to do with these datasets, even though I can see quite clearly that the solution must be quite straightforward. My supervisor says that the whole point is for me to figure it out on my own, which I agree with, but I am freaking out a little that there is probably a straightforward answer, but I just don't know how to find it. Argh! First week is over... time for the real work to begin...

Decisions, decisions

Well, in my field, graduates can get into a PhD with a 2:1 or above. I don't know what field you're in, but since you got a first, there is much less of a necessity, unless you are aiming for a very specialised field or aiming at a top institution. Masters can be seen as being targeted more to industry than academia. Also, research assistants can also be registered for PhDs, so if you worked as a RA for a year then it might be possible to get a second job as an RA whilst completing a PhD (often resulting in better pay, and it wouldn't necessarily take you longer to complete). A friend of mine worked as an RA for two years then had his PhD funded by the same institution; essentially he ended up doing that job / research for five years. And it was very specialised research.

Then again, I'm only saying this because I hated every minute of my MSc and once I finished I was so heavily in debt, and had lost out on so much experience, that it took me there years of working in the "real world" to get a PhD, and I swear I only got this studentship because of two unpaid months of fieldwork. Without them, I'm sure I would now be on the civil service reduncancy scheme with the rest of my ex-colleagues...

Whoops, sorry. That probably isn't very helpful. Honestly, get a copy of the graduate destinations from your MSc and see if any of the ex-graduates have gone onto do anything that you like. If not, DON'T DO IT. If there are large amounts now doing cool things you would love to do, then that is a good indication that it might be a worthwhile investment of time. And definitely make sure your supervisors know exactly what you want to do your dissertation in, and they fully understand, and that it is definitely possible (in my experience quite a lot of MSc students end up doing something they don't enjoy because the promises made to them before they signed up just never come through).

Oh, and I've made the assumption that it's a taught Masters. If it's a Masters by Research, just ignore what I've written. It's taken me a long time to get back to where I want to be after doing the wrong MSc.

standing at the base of the mountain

Doctor Soul --
I doubt it. One thing I am programming into myself already is that I'm not going to be consistently productive for the next three years. Even over the summer, preparing for this PhD, I went weeks without picking up a paper. In fact, I spent at least a whole week playing video games. Do I regret that? Of course not -- I can already look back at the prep work I did do and feel as though I understand the background work. I was having a real confidence crisis yesterday morning but I went and sat in the library. I keep having to remind myself that I'm new, this is normal, and I need to get into a pattern of work that I'm comfortable with. It's not easy for me to go easy on myself, if that makes sense ;). Sounds like it's the same for you.

Algaequeen --
That really helps. I suppose the steep learning curve in new fields and methods is part of the process of any PhD, unless you're doing the exact same thing as your dissertation (and even then there will be loads more things to learn).

I can't quite believe I've finished my first week (okay, it was only three days). I don't know how that happened! I seem to be alternating between calmness and complete panic at regular intervals.

The most awesome (fictional) supervisors...

Dr. Manhatten. Definitely.


I've suffered from this all my life and I suspect it will get worse over the next few years... my problem is that I can't articulate my thoughts at all. I can write them down fine but I've been in conferences for my old job and someone would ask me a question, I would generally just stare at them and come out with a tangled answer of word spaghetti. Or I won't answer the question properly, I'll say "no" instead of yes (or vice versa) or "I think so" if I didn't hear the question properly. I get lots of odd looks, so embarrassing...

Still, I can write my thoughts down just fine, which is incredibly frustrating for someone wanting to have a sane, in-depth discussion about an interesting piece of written work or ask a follow-up question in an interview.


standing at the base of the mountain

Quote From algaequeen:

If it helps, my PhD is in an area that I had absolutely NO experience in beforehand, so much so I wonder how I even got accepted. I don't even have chemistry A level cos I hated the subject, and here I am writing a thesis on the wonders of mass spectrometry and analytical toxin detection.

Ahh... did that take a while, or did you pick it up quite quickly? I'm moving from relatively soft science (my work background is broadly environmental policy, though I have an ecology degree) into a very quantitative subject. I've been honest at every stage about my motivation and experience but I'm already stuck with a bunch of questions about practicalities. Right now I'm stressing over whether I should start with LaTeX / BibTeX or Endnote and Word. I suspect LaTeX is more intuitive for me and better for my purpose (I'll have equations and models to add) but it's another learning curve and it's probably more "normal" and compatible to just have a Word document, but the thought of trying to write out aerodynamic formulae in Word two years down the line doesn't appeal much.

But. I have THREE YEARS. Must keep reminding myself. I've already achieved a lot in three days. I take a lot of notes from the papers that I'm reading and as I typed them up this afternoon I felt pleased that I already understand a lot of the background "depth" to this topic, even if the science skills seem a million miles away...

And I'm definitely going to implement all the project management stuff that I can, because I'm a list-writer by nature and I know it will just help. My main supervisor is lovely. I just don't think I've got my head around the fact that I've actually just started a PhD, something I'll be working on for the next three years of my life. But then, I haven't really slept this week, so I'm sure it will hit be over the weekend.....

People say the most annoying things

Haha... I've been on my PhD for a whopping three days and I've already heard a large percentage of these, but the main ones are:

"What's a PhD?"
"Why are you going to University again? You already have a degree!"
"Will you get paid?"
"What are you going to do at the end of it? It's hardly going to get you a job..."
"Er, your PhD is in what? Have you ever even been interested in that?" (After knowing me for eight years and failing to see the professional membership, part-time study, travel, and constant conversations about how awesome I find my research subject...)
"WHY are you doing this PhD? No, seriously... WHY are you doing it?"