Signup date: 18 Feb 2015 at 4:39pm
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In my experience it's very rare for funders to stipulate requirements; typically they fund the PI and it's the PI's job to find a suitable candidate.
It's really HR where degree classifications stick since for the pencil-pushers there, a quick sift on measurable criteria is a time-saver. Many academics could be completely persuaded by someone with a 3rd who makes a compelling argument as to why that happened and shows passion and knowledge in the topic of the PhD. Call the admissions department and ask is not bad advice - but also bear in mind the admissions department will likely be an HR person who might just be following the rule they want a 2:1; not an academic who would consider the situation. Wherever possible contact the academic/PI, not the HR department.
I would not let the 2:2 hold you back at all. Frankly, I'd be inclined where you can to just indicate you have a degree then explain if asked at interview, because if HR are just sifting this might get you infront of the interview panel to explain what you know and how much you care about the topic. Absolutely do not forgo opportunities just because they say on the form they want a 2:1 and you have a 2:2 then an MSc Distinction - you'd be deliberately excluding yourself for no good reason.
It's absolutely, completely normal in the first year (never mind few months) of a PhD to find the literature completely overwhelming; have no idea where to look; and be terrified you'll never get anywhere or that you actually care about the topic.
What in my experience separates successful from withdrawn (because true fails are rare) PhDs, is not that you breeze through this, but that you work on it in the face of what initially seems impossible. Importantly, don't just read the findings of papers, but read their method, and consider that, in many cases, that experiment would be a PhD.
The real goal, is that you hit year 2 with a good research question and method. Year 1 might have some reporting requirements, but these can basically be thrown in the bin later on; it's that you take a year to understand the what, how, and why of your proposed PhD. Think of it as an elongated, detailed proposal stage. If you nail that proposal you will sail through the rest of the PhD because you know exactly what you'll be doing.
The risk, really, is that you hit that brick wall and instead of banging your academic head against it, reading papers and taking notes, you give up. If you put the effort in, it will come; if you admit defeat and coast, the worst case scenario of a dragged-out PhD where you're still not sure what you're doing in year 3, take 6 years, and end up with a PhD that might pass but offers little job prospects, starts to rear it's ugly head.
It's super easy to say this with hindsight, but thinking back to myself back then I know the impossibility you feel of what's ahead. But it's not, and it's not a case of being smart, serendipitous inspiration, or anything other than the hard work of reading papers, taking notes, and reflecting.
There's a difficult transition in a PhD from being told what to do, to identifying what to do and leading on it.
It is often tempting to think a better supervisor would simply tell you what to do and you'd go paint-by-numbers and get a PhD. This is not necessarily untrue, in that especially in lab-experiment heavy fields - ironically at better Unis - PhDs can be treated as technicians then discarded with the bit of paper but no real skills or prospects beyond pushing buttons on a machine and writing down results.
Irrespective of field, you'll have better prospects as an academic if you can develop the skills to lead on investigations with your PhD, since in a postdoc role you'll be expected to lead on grants, papers, and projects. A supervisor telling you exactly what to do might feel more comfortable, but is not necessarily in your best interests.
It is better to lean on a supervisor for their general experience, rather than specific 'do I test hypothesis A, or hypothesis B?' type questions, since the nature of a PhD means you'll be expected to become an expert with a better answer to that question than they would have. I realise this might mean it seems like supervision is poor, cheap, or lazy; but in general it's the norm for you to be expected to identify what you want to do and go do it, with the supervisor providing oversight of any obvious errors rather than explicit direction.
A good reason to move is you see more funding/networking/career opportunities with the group you're moving to. Supervision alone is, imo, a bad reason, since supervisors can leave and, irrespective, ultimately you need to take ownership and leadership of your research.
A quick google and it's kinda interesting.
For me, this is the extreme of someone who's good at being a student but cannot move beyond it. I have seen this before (admittedly to a much lesser degree!), often with students later in life doing PhDs; they have the aspiration of the qualification, but not actually a plan or desire to move beyond it.
It's not actually that crazy because, if you think about it, it's much easier to live life in a series of clear objectives, deadlines, exams, courseworks, and requirements (c.f. that classic Lisa Simpson 'grade me! grade me!' bit). Really the hard bit is after you graduate (at whatever level), and need to go beyond doing what you're told. It's not that surprising that someone with the means and desire could just do, and pass, degree after degree. But for me it's not academically or intellectually an achievement, it's just a Guinness-book-of-records pitch.
It's selective or purposive sampling and it's generally considered bad, in the context you're seeking to generalise, since you're 'cherry picking' the participants that will give you the most feedback but there's an inherent bias.
Obviously this depends on what your fundamental research question is, if it's completely and reasonably separate from any attempt to generalise; or any attempt to ascertain the effectiveness of the teaching method/style/pedagogy, then it can be argued as valid. You may want to look at phenomenological analysis or critical realism.
I tried to write a reply to advise, but I realised I cannot, realistically, do that in a useful or informed way in terms of what to do, so I just want to reassure you this is not normal behaviour on his part and not acceptable at anywhere I've worked.
This is also not normal across academia, and not something you should expect, or be afraid is, the norm. This person sounds like a horrible human being, and perhaps this is a reminder academic qualification does not imply he is any better than any other sleazy guy at a bar.
Definitely, then, a tricky choice.
I'd wish your supervisor all the best in negotiating a transfer of funding, but I know from experience there will be a layer of management in the Uni that will, at the very least, resist this, and if it's not permitted by the funder they've already won. For someone external to the academic aspects, and viewing it as 'do we lose a PhD student and funding' vs 'some academic argument', it will be really unlikely for them to do anything but resist.
For you personally, if you look at it financially, the ~15k you'd lose is a significant amount of money. But it might be offset if having the PhD at the more prestigious uni means you get a job immediately, rather than in 6 months, after graduation.
Cynically, what you'd perhaps want to look at is the connectedness of the various institutions and supervisors. What % rate do their PhDs go on to postdocs? How many postdocs in the group also did PhDs there? There's a counter-argument that this top-tier prof is hoping to poach a 'free' completion on the back of someone else's funding and effort by leveraging their university status.
It may make sense to stay in your current post, and stay well connected with the new institution, with a view to moving to a postdoc there once the PhD is completed. If they're enthusiastic about you transferring there and working/completing for free, but have no idea what will happen after then, it's a warning sign. In my experience at the top unis there's a curious 50/50 split of fundamentally excellent researchers that don't play the game, and fundamentally terrible researchers that are excellent at playing the game. I could argue that someone of the former category would be far more interested in co-supervising you effectively than formally moving your registration. As an emerging expert in your field you'll be better placed to assess this in your own case than I am. Ultimately a PhD is good research or not; if you're getting excessive pressure you should move somewhere, I'd suggest carefully evaluating if you're getting told that because it's in your best interests, or someone elses. As I say, it's a tricky question with no straightforward answers, but as you're currently on a stipended PhD that's going well, you're in a really good place - just make sure if you trade, you trade upwards.
I think honestly the best thing you could do would be to become a friend and colleague to her.
This will be painful. Possibly duplicitous. But in my experience every academic I've seen who's been collaboratively minded, has walked all over academics that are competitively minded. Competitively minded people make enemies, and you only need one enemy you've made in the last 2 decades on a panel judging your grant application to nudge it to unfunded.
You may also realise she's a human being that was scared about losing her job. That's not your problem, but generally, purely evil people are pretty rare and if you can seek to understand why someone is behaving as they are, you can sometimes make a friend, colleague, and someone that will go out of the way to support your grant applications for life.
This is incredibly wooly, unreliable advice, but I can firmly advise that I've never seen a formal complaint in academia work out well for anyone concerned.
In the UK, it does not generally work in terms of you finding an advisor to help you. You need to competitively apply for a post, or apply self-funded explaining what you're proposing and why.
I have to confess if I get an email along the lines of 'can you help me' from a prospective PhD, I'll provide a bit of loose guidance then cut communication as otherwise (from experience) it becomes an unpaid mentoring role - which, rarely, is ok if the applicant has dramatically clear potential, but not something you could reasonably have time for from everyone that asks.
The fact you seem to want to do a PhD but not know what in is a bit of a warning sign to potential supervisors. You need to cultivate your interests and be coming in with 'I'm extremely interested in x... and have been reading a lot of y, and z'. An experienced supervisor will know it will be your passion for the subject that will get you through the late nights, and if you don't come across as knowing specifically what you're passionate about and just want the paperwork, you will be on the back foot from the start.
I think nobody can tell you what you're interested in, or passionate about. But that's really the essential first step to a successful PhD.
As Rewt says, a big chunk of this depends on where your funding comes from.
If your current supervisor/university went to the effort to secure the funding, and provide you with a stipend, then it would be a generous supervisor (they do exist!) who'd happily put your interests first and accept what 'the University' would view as a failure (you didn't complete with them), to support your own best interests.
Funding rarely transfers; if you're not self-funded you should expect the University to walk over your supervisor and cut off any funds if you're not directly registered as their student.
If you *are* self-funded, this is a clear win and I would not hesitate to move your registration if you have sufficiently impressed not only your own supervisor, but a leading expert in the specific field at the best University for the topic that you're an asset.
It's a much trickier question if it's stipended-post here vs non-stipended post there. But in general do not be worried about 'offending' people in academia as a PhD or postdoc. The vast, vast majority or academics know the bad deals that are given to PhD students and Postdocs and will immediately wish them well if they find a more secure, or more well-paid post.
You seem a bit of a victim of the covid impact on postdocs. The problem your examiners have is a PhD viva is, very traditionally, an examination of whether you have done an independent piece of research of sufficient value to merit a PhD - end of. It is not an exam where this judgement could be passed with a clause like 'considering the circumstances'.
A viva can't excuse students for shoddy treatment by Universities - whether this is poor mental health support, lack of supervision - or even misdirection, lack of equipment, etc. They purely look at the scientific merit of what's presented by the candidate. This is how they should work; but I've seen a lot of shoddy treatment from Universities on the back of Covid.
Whilst they bent over backwards for Undergraduates, at the 'expense' of staff time (that cost them nothing), when it came to PhD students who actually cost them stipend money or 'completion timer' targets, they've been in general much less forgiving. What should probably have happened here is the University paid for you to do those 8 months you lost due to Covid; what they instead did is stuff you into a viva hoping for a positive outcome on the cheap.
This is not your fault, and I can say as a positive, that thinking the fact you got major corrections is an academic stigma is a myth. I have appointed many postdocs, I don't ask or care if they got corrections, what I care about is their research and what they would bring to the group. The phenomenon I think stems from PhD students being so used to work being graded, they think of a 'no corrections' as a first. It's not the same thing, and at the point you're applying for Postdocs what you want is a good thesis after corrections. The actual worst case scenario is a thesis that passes (perhaps without correction!) but is obviously flawed, leaving you with a PhD but very limited employment prospects in any decent group.
There's quite a few important things here:
1) A panel that really grills you is better than one that doesn't, as they're ultimately looking ahead to the viva, and if they've asked the really mean questions at the panels you'll not only be prepared for them, but likely find the viva relatively easy as it's unlikely (but possible) these super-mean questions will get asked. The fact they passed you is the important thing, they did the right thing by rigorously interrogating even if it was likely from the outset you'd pass, because this is ultimately more useful than 'looks good'.
2) In the transition from undergraduate/masters to PhD, you lose the regular pat on the back of a good exam or coursework result. This is preparing you for academic life, where you will pretty much receive nothing but critique. It is a hard transition, particularly for a straight-A student who is used to studying hard then being told they did a good job when they get the feedback or exam result. Unfortunately the world doesn't work much like this, and academia is no exception. You will as a researcher (or employee) often study and work hard and be told simply that x could be improved.
3) The depression and your well-being is obviously the most important thing here. Don't lose sight of that. My consistent advice is speak to a health professional; then speak with HR; then speak with the supervisors. It is important you do this, because you are unwell, and deserve support and time to recover. The #1 mistake students and academics with depression make is to not report it and try their best, because then you're seen administratively as someone who's fine and doing a bad job, which in turn makes things worse and can result in a spiral. This has implications for expected completion dates - it's better to have had 6 months off formally sick, than be struggling for extensions towards the end of the PhD because you were unwell but there's no record of it. If work helps with the depression there's nothing stopping you doing it while off sick. I'd generally suggest speaking to HR before the supervisors; because it's less personal, and they will (hopefully) be more trained to respond and advise than an academic, who will likely be extremely sympathetic but have had zero training in how to help.
This is interestingly close to the crux of how the general public see data vs how researchers see data.
In many glossy lifestyle magazines you'll see 'eating more (or less) red meat reduces cancer risk'. This often refers to a study in which there's a correlation. But as per the cliche collelation does not equal causation; the way a researcher views this data is skeptically (what if people who eat more red meat are also more predisposed to smoking?) .
It sounds a bit like you've been set up with a PhD tied to this intervention to evaluate it. From my experience, this might well mean you have a board of public sector stakeholders who won't go so far as saying they want you to show it did, but probably will be more critical of evidence that shows it didn't. You will thus learn early on navigating these waters as a researcher, which is not an easy task, but a valuable skill. If in the same situation, my first line would probably be to explain that, due to the cofactors, it's not possible to empirically show it 'worked'; but the significant value of research would be in the qualitative, critical realist approach of understanding that for the small sample who it did, how and why this happened. It's not that dissimilar to the idea of managing expectations as a consultant; what they might want is a golden seal that empirically it's fantastic, but to keep your integrity intact you need to work along the lines of researching the positives (which will exist, is a reasonable thing to do, and will placate them), whilst avoiding saying it's possible to evaluate it empirically or, especially, that such evaluation will give them the result they want.
You can trivially look at openly available crime statistics to show if it dropped or rose during the intervention. This might placate stakeholders who want this form of empirical evidence it 'worked', but scientifically it's bad evidence (which is often enough for politicians!). I'd sincerely doubt you can look at the macro-level and empirically reach a conclusion that holds up scientifically. Realistically, it's unlikely a statistically significant number of offenders accessed the intervention, never mind reacted to it.
If you really want to understand if this intervention worked, qualitative really seems the only viable route to reach meaningful conclusions. Thing there is the intervention might not have changed 1,000s of lives, but if it cost £100k and kept a single person out of prison for 10 years, it's actually much more than cost-efficient! This of course is less clean, easy, and perfect than a simple ANOVA of 'yes it did p=', but if it was possible to assess behavioural interventions so cleanly and iterate them we'd be a zero crime, carbon-neutral planet.
In an examiner's position, if they give minors then fail, they're effectively throwing 3+ years of work in the trash, in the likely event there's not a window open for them to ask you to correct the corrections. It's sometimes the case there is, but at many unis there isn't, and that's not necessarily a bad thing when you think how it might end up in an endless cycle of iteration towards the unicorn that is a 'perfect' thesis.
If they have a simple choice of pass/fail, it makes it very unlikely they'd fail. The 'perfect storm' that would enable this is a student that does little or no work on the corrections, and resubmits the same thesis, coupled with an examiner who's sufficiently aggrieved by the fact they've taken none of their feedback onboard to proceed to fail.
You can't control the latter but can control the former. It's dangerous to think minors will never fail, if you then work on this assumption and do absolutely nothing to address them (even if accepted, this means it's likely a weaker thesis). But it's also the case that if you put clear effort in, a fail is bordering on the impossible. It sounds like you have worked substantively on them, so you should have very little to fear.
That said, it is not uncommon for examiners to take several months to approve. You, generally speaking, should not be emailing them, email your graduate school and get them to harass. They are being honest saying the ~50k words you just landed on their desk ontop of teaching, grants, and the whole mess of covid is not a priority and they will get to it when they get to it. I'd be more worried if they turned it round inside a week that they'd not bothered to actually read it, which might seem a good thing if you still pass, but you'd probably want to pass based on a rigorous review and some useful final comments, rather than on the back of a 'yeah, whatever'.
They will definitely consider you.
Whilst you've been away from academia, it has shifted a bit towards a buyers' market for masters. It is still not simply a case of having the cash to get into a good uni (such as Edinburgh), but it is perhaps less meritocratic than it used to be (but still, certainly, just as nepotic).
As a result, do investigate the course when applying. It might not be so much that you're passionate about career opportunities afterwards, but you will likely want good quality lectures, discussion, and support from the academic staff. Academia has grown exponentially, and this means whilst it used to be somewhat a guarantee as a student you'd be taught by a lecturer knowledgeable in the subject, it may now be the case that a cover or less-qualified staff member handles a masters as they, particularly 'conversion' masters (where little or no a priori knowledge is assumed), are sometimes cynically viewed as high-turnover, highly-profitability operations.
Also investigate the 'staged' approach carefully. It may be helpful to you; it may also cost more. It's sad when we're in a day and age when you have to consider if a University is basically attempting to fleece you for as much cash as it can get, but it's sadly sometimes the case.
It's hard without knowing you to understand if you're taking on too much. As a middle-aged academic I've had several PhD students much older than myself and whilst they might not have had great methodological or exam-based know-how, they did have much more wisdom and life experience than me and it really was a mutually beneficial experience. There is a great benefit in people with a lifetime of knowledge wanting to apply the rigour and method of academia to translate this knowledge into something objective, and this can be immensely rewarding individually and societally. Academia does not go out of it's way as much as it should to facilitate this, but it also (in my experience) is open to it and does not close doors.
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