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Feedback from mature student who dropped out of phd

I think this *is* good advice.

I also think a lot of the problems stem from the fact that traditionally, a PhD was basically expected to function as an assistant to the supervisor. I.e. helping them with whatever task they needed help with. This is still somewhat the case at the top-end of the academic spectrum, where someone with minimal competence can do a PhD-by-numbers and be pushed through whenever the supervisor feels they can afford to lose an assistant as they're well-networked enough to guarantee a successful viva.

This contrasts harshly with much of the rest of the sector, where the PhD is an income source paid by the student (or a grant, to which the student is appointed); and the student, as a paying customer, expects to receive, rather than provide, a service.

The problem then is, the academic, particularly if they're of this older school, will be expecting the student to help them (they certainly don't get the fees themselves as a bonus!); whilst the student, paying fees, will expect the supervisor to help them.

In many cases, a functioning middle-ground is found, but this is not guaranteed, as seems the case with the OP. I say the OP is good advice as it's no doubt the case that many universities will take on PhDs without actual expertise in the subject area, because, more is better for senior management when it comes to fee-paying students. I would say, though, it's never really a case of whether a University, as a huge, mangled entity is engaged in research - it's more the case that the group, and field you're working in, and your supervisor are a good match. You can get terrible supervision at any University, and you can also get excellent supervision from any University, because it's such an individual thing.

It is also definitely smart to drop out when you realise it's not for you, and as early as possible - particularly if you're paying money to be there. Because it's so hard to fail a PhD, but very easy to waste 6 years of your life (and money) before giving up, it can be a real trap, particularly if you get into the mindset that leaving is a failure (it isn't).

Did you produce a powerpoint presentation for your viva?

The general advice I've given to students in the past, is to have one prepared, offer to present it, but don't necessarily assume the examiners will approve or request it.

It's better, if you're given the opportunity, to present your work and subsequently frame the argument in your terms. I've never actually seen examiners refuse the offer of a presentation, as it's typically helpful for all concerned.

The avoidable situation you don't want to be in, is to go into the viva with no presentation ready, and be immediately asked 'so would you like to present your work before we start?' because, if the answer is 'I didn't prepare anything', it doesn't exactly look like you've put 110% into your viva prep.

It's entirely up to the examiners if they want to allow you to present, but it is very much the norm, and whilst having no presentation should - in theory - have little bearing on the viva outcome, as I mentioned, to not be ready to present your research formally going into one can look bad if you're asked to do it and can't.

Is my topic for the research proposal good?


I'll be critical since this is what we do in academia.

1) "Analytical" - what does this mean? It's not really a clear basis for a method. It's too broad and generic, and sounds like an attempt to force across 'it will be rigorous science' without knowing what the rigorous science will actually entail.

2) You name a company specifically. How will you access this company? Will they willingly participate in the research? If you're just going to scrape certain bits of Youtube ad content but not have the full picture of the entirety of youtube advertising in India, how will you ensure your work is representative? This sounds like it would be a good topic if Youtube are onboard (or funding it), but a risky one if not. You won't have capacity to singlehandedly identify and collate every Youtube ad accessible in India, and should not try or claim you can (or base the proposal on the assumption you can) unless there's a link to the company that will provide that capacity.

3) Consumer behaviour is an easy thing to mention but a hard thing to measure. How will you measure this? Often a good research topic / question is firm on both sides - what will be measured (returning to 1, above), and *how* it will be measured.

As a proposal that will need revision over the course of the PhD to address the above points, it's not inherently flawed as far as I can see, but the further you can address these things above, the more likely it is to succeed as a competitive application.

Lectureship v postdoc - advice please

Here's a lengthy, complex, but at least experienced, response.

It's based on the UK situation. From my experience on EU projects, it's not limited to the UK, but my own experience is reflective of the UK.

A lectureship is stable employment. Unless your course collapses (which does happen, but is unlikely if it's not a niche subject); you have a job for life barring exceptional incompetence. This is often equated to tenure in the US, except...

...You should not expect to have research time on a UK lecturing post. The University will likely be using you to max the TEF statistics for 'teaching staff with a PhD', whilst actively trying to exclude you from research as 'non-research active' for REF purposes (fewer returns = better quality per return). Unless you're bringing in substantive grants, or producing REF-able articles without any funding support. If you ask at interview, they will probably 'blah' about the research opportunities, but unless that's a clear commitment from them in time - and resources - it's basically saying you're teaching unless you want to do extra work and get a grant, in which case we'll take the money, thanks, and you can do the work.

A postdoc, on the other hand, is absolutely not stable employment. It's probably a job on a funded project for ~3 years, and that's it. Less experienced professors or academics at a similar level employing postdocs often make mistaken promises that they will extend the post if funding permits. Always hear this as that the post will not be extended. It's not that it won't be, but that the person making the promise is basing that on future grants, which they have no guarantee of getting, no matter how talented they are. The benefit of a postdoc is you will have little or no teaching workload, and can focus on knocking out the REF-able publications. This may well involve herding cats on an 'interdisciplinary, intersectoral' consortium of people who, quite rightly, have much less interest in skiing through the slalom of UK REF criteria flags than you do.

In general, I would say if you have a genuine, work till 2am ~5 nights a week, passion in your area and what you do - do a postdoc. It is the route to traditional academic professorship based on field reputation. If you see an academic career as a fairly relaxed job for life, with long summer holidays, have a vague interest in furthering the field, and can value future promotion to an academic middle-management, rather than professorial role, accept a lectureship. Because of how the REF, league tables, and process shape academia, the logical middle-ground career - where you do a healthy balance of teaching and research - is incredibly elusive.

moving from doctorate into business, mid-career

I think the kicker is, business people tend to see through the academic waffle, so you need clear substance. Which is usually demonstrated by a track record of success. It's harder to have credential being a speaker on how to run a business having written an article on it, rather than having run a business.

I think the jump you might need to do, is to start a business and apply what you know. If that is infinitely too terrifying, the safe confines of academia seems the place to be. It's a tough call, but I think the dream you seem to have of just going in advising businesses of what to do with zero financial risk to yourself or practical experience is a bit of a stretch. Unless, of course, it's in a clear niche in which there's demand - which would be a thing you'd need to establish.

Postdoctoral position: is it too late?

I think a lot of people saying this is catastrophic are towing the typical line that an academic career needs to be 'perfect' to be successful.

Don't get me wrong; it will be hard if your pitch at interview is 'and I've just stopped researching to work in a school'. But I'd think many academics would be sympathetic if it's along the lines of 'I needed to support myself/my family/etc, but in the meantime I've been reading x, y and z, and have a really strong interest in proposing...'.

That said, the grass is not always greener. Academia does a trick of making you think arbitrary milestones (Iike getting a postdoc) are significant achievements, when in fact you may be more fulfilled (and certainly richer) in industry. I think you can get more from your PhD than you have done, and it sounds like you want to, so you owe it to yourself to try. If the goal is to return to academia, you should be spending the time between writing applications on revising and learning the field. If your goal is simply a more prestigious, well-paid role, you'd probably do well to look towards industry.

Do you use the Dr title?

I think in UK culture as we're typically very deferential and apologetic, it is easy for mention of a PhD title to come across as bragging, even if you follow it with a quick cliche ('but not in medicine, so not a real doctor') quip, can still be 'humble bragging'.

Definitely never use it when checking your car in for a service as they'll assume you have money ;)

I never bothered with bank cards, etc., as I don't see the point. I think in other cultures, there is a lot of pride and status associated, but in the UK, it's not really a cultural thing to be proud of what we do (we leave that for the parents to induce the cringe) - we'd rather get into a competition over who has the worst job down the pub, rather than who has the best. I do put Dr. infront of my name if corresponding / signing something at work, but then, I'm still in academia, so it's the obviously done thing.

I think Dr (like many professional titles), is most valuable within the 'industry' it's from - academia. In an academic meeting people will typically use and note it. It's an important distinction there as being research active/competent. If you've left academia, it is likely hard to use it and not sound pretentious - but there's an equal argument as to why *would* you use it, other than to sound pretentious. It is true that often, in industry, there are people with a heck of a lot of academic knowledge and talent that don't have PhDs, and it's not because they're incapable of getting one, it's that they legitimately see it as irrelevant. That said, it's obviously not great you have sniping team members, and I'd think that's not you doing anything wrong, rather your colleague is showing some of their own insecurity there.

Missed Deadline for Monthly Review at University of Birmingham


It's interesting they have a formal monthly review system - this is unusual. Normally, PhD progress is evaluated internally on an annual basis.

A PhD is - to use the cliche - a PhD. It doesn't have grading; it doesn't track what happened along the way. It just is.

As a consequence, the only way internal reviews will impact it, is if the outcome is the University refuses to allow you to continue to study. It is not in the University's best interests to do this as they lose the fees and prospect of a completion; it's generally done on an ethical basis that there is no realistic prospect of you completing, and therefore it's wrong to allow you to continue.

I would think you can rest easy that unless your research itself is way off-track (as judged by your supervisory team), failing to file paperwork will not be a deal-breaker. Many students also worry about training-credit style systems, or other hurdles the Uni implements. Ultimately if you're doing good research and can complete, they will let you do so.

It is still preferable to file paperwork where you can, as admin-types will get pent up about it, but I've never seen someone fail a PhD on the basis of a missed monthly meeting or training exercise.

Some updates after my last despairing post

That's great to hear. Whilst a PhD (or research in general) has always been a bit of an isolating experience for most people, it was hard to really appreciate the water-cooler/shared office conversations that reminded you everyone has problems until Covid took them away.

In research, you generally only get to see the peer-reviewed, multiple-times corrected, polished successes; you rarely see the rejections, problems, and struggles that it took to get them unless you're there first-hand.

Wishing you every success with the PhD, it sounds deserved.

Confusion after UK Humanities Viva - RnR given but sounds like a pass?

I've chaired and examined quite a bit over the years, and I've seen many ways RnR in this form gets decided and interpreted.

I've had students walk out of a majors or RnR and hug me, overwhelmed with their success. I've had others walk out of majors or RnR completely dejected. Appreciate it the way the first group do, because it's a major life achievement.

Behind the scenes, examiners sometimes kill with kindness. It's a commonly held perspective that a PhD is a PhD - it doesn't matter how long it took to correct it. Sometimes examiners think, because of that, it's better to give someone *up to* 12 months rather than 3-6 to get it perfect, to reduce the stress on them and to fulfill the potential they see. They then ask the chair if they can give 12 months for minors, and are told, no, the only way we can give 12 months is an RnR or majors, without external re-examination. Often the candidate interprets this as though they just got a 'D' when they wanted at least a 'B'.

You can legitimately say you were successful at viva and have corrections, which is the outcome for the vast majority of candidates that make it that far. There will be nothing stopping you submitting your corrections faster, if you want to put the work in, but you also have breathing room if you're busy and it takes longer. It will not hold you back in your academic career. I've never seen someone with a PhD asked at job interview 'what type of corrections did you get', but I have seen them asked with virtual inevitability 'what did you publish from it', and if this gives you space to get that book chapter out, that will also be a good thing.

Horrible external examiner-viva ruined my life

Your approach to an appeal is best focused on process and procedure, not academic judgement. If she cut off the viva early without warning, that's a clear grounds for appeal, because it's a breach of process. If any comments can objectively be put before a committee and argued as personal, biased, etc., that's also grounds, but you need to be careful of coming across as arguing that her opinion is wrong. Not that it's right, but it's often much, much easier to get a re-viva on the grounds some bit of paperwork was missed, than it is to try to argue the examiner was wrong with complex theory X, and you'll always be on the back foot doing so since you'll be perceived as the novice and they the expert. The problem in general with attempting to academically argue someone was wrong post-viva, is Universities will be keen to shut that down, since if it becomes common practice, everyone that gets an undesirable outcome will start wanting a drawn out, abstract theoretical debate they'll only walk away from when they win. A procedural failing is often unarguable, though, and a solicitor can help with that.

She may not fail you, though. Some academics are incredibly bad at interpersonal skills, but more rational and reasonable on the page. Nobody ever really gets meaningful training on how to examine a PhD (I got a sum total of 30 minutes for the first one I chaired, and 0 for the ones I examined before that). Most of us draw from our own personal experience, which for most people is very cordial, a bit scary, but ultimately fulfilling, but for some - like yourself - is sadly horrendous. Some examiners are of the perspective it's in the students' best interests to completely shred them, then accept the corrections, because it helps the student in the long run (after all, it did seem she made you make lots of effort!). This is changing as there's a more appreciation of mental health these days, but, particularly if she was an older examiner - or an inexperienced one - she may have approached it with this mindset.

Wait for the result. If it's a fail, look procedurally at the viva, consulting a solicitor if helpful. I can say, it's rare these days examiners behave like this, and highly likely you'll have a much better experience should you have to do another with a different examiner. This doesn't mean it won't be rigorous, though, and there's no 'pass by appeal' for a PhD - a successful complaint will not let you avoid a future viva.

[Edit - why do edits remove paragraph spacing! :( ]

Advice for my PhD advisor relationship

Probably you're asking your supervisor something they genuinely don't know. If you're 'confronting' them with this, you're effectively pressuring them. If you pressure them, they will likely get defensive.

It is completely reasonable for your supervisor to not know everything you will need to know to complete the PhD, because if they did, they wouldn't have needed you. The general concept is you should know more than your supervisor about what you're doing, because if you don't, it's an undergrad dissertation. This is not just the theory, but the practice of how to code in X language / operate Y device, etc.

I'm not sure why this is hitting you emotionally. If it's because you think they don't care or want to help - that's very unlikely, it's probably that they genuinely don't know and are trying to point you to someone who might. If you're thinking they're inept because they don't know how to solve every problem you hit - that's not something you should expect from supervision. A supervisor is there to look at the big picture in terms of whether your research is on track towards a PhD, not debug your code - or even know how to code.

Prospective supervisor removing name from first-author in grant proposal

Yeah, I'd agree. It's basically a reasonable thing that a group lead/supervisor/whatever PI's a grant on the basis they have the best (longest) track record, and therefore it benefits the success chance of the grant in highly competitive environment.

That said, there are people out there that unreasonably exploit this. However, I'd have take the salary-cut thing as the big indication this institution/group is on the wrong track, not the authorship thing. It is not unusual for postdocs and PhDs to do a lot of work for a PI for minimal academic credit, when the successful grant results in posts for them. It is highly unusual for a pay cut in whatever circumstances, as pretty much every university has a system where this isn't a thing.

On that basis, you're 100% right to get out asap, since they're either institutionally mismanaged or horrendously broke.

Revise and resubmit a PhD thesis: can be done in three months?

Honestly (as an examiner/chair) - yes.

This does not mean they will not be objective. The presumption you need to address when sending a written document noting the corrections/actions taken, is that you rushed them. Usually, when a panel issues majors (which would be typical, if you have 12 months) is that the conclusion is that there is a significant problem but it can be fixed within the timeframe stipulated, based on a normal working pattern.

The long and short of it is, you should be very confident you've addressed the points raised in the R&R fully, and with careful consideration. The vast majority of PhD examiners have no interest in failing a student, but if they suggested a 12 month correction period would be suitable, and you claim to have done it in 3, it will naturally attract more attention to whether you've genuinely addressed the problems or glossed over them.

Advice needed: External Funding for a UK PhD (Cambridge University)

Unfortunately what external funding means in the UK from a student perspective is a bank loan on a self-funded PhD.

The problem (and it is a problem) in the UK, is that PhD funding goes to established PIs, who are then expected to recruit students. Which they do on jobs.ac.uk, and often attach many strings, using the PhD as an RA, because they had to put in the work to get the funding.

Other countries, e.g. Canada, have a system whereby a prospective PhD get can funding, then 'shop around' the best Unis to see which can give them the best offer to deliver on it. Which imo is a vastly better system. The problem is the UK and other countries are stuck in that rut of having funding decided by councils that are swayed by established researchers who want the funding to go to them for CV/employment/prestige purpose.

It is, in some rare cases, possible to connect up with a professor and assist them with a grant on the premise that, if successful, you'll apply for and (theoretically) assume the resulting role. But this is rare and prone to failure (~5% of grant applications succeed).

The reality with 'find external funding', is they expect you to either, to use the vernacular, pony up, or find a mythical industry sponsor to write them a blank cheque.