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What makes a PhD fail?

Some of the things PhD examiners hate:

- A lack of understanding of where your research fits in the broader picture. Why is it important? Why is it relevant? If you cannot answer this questions, then you have to think again.
- A lack of a critical literature review. In general a lack of critical thinking will get you in trouble.
- Sloppiness in your writing, figures that are not clear, a lack of a clear argument in the thesis. You can lose a reviewers in the first lines if you writing is poor, and never win him/her back.
- Not knowing what other people did, and is doing in your field. Your PhD is not an island, is part of the whole, and you must know where it fits.

I would advise you to look for a paper name "It is a PhD, not a nobel prize", or something like that. It exposes the views of different examiners, I find it very useful before my viva.

Best of lucks

Should I upload my PhD Thesis?

I recently concluded my PhD, and I am wondering if I should make my thesis widely available (for free) over the internet.

I am thinking on uploading it to www.scribd.com, so people can get easy access to it. What is your opinion? What are the risks (e.g. plagiarism?), advantages and drawbacks of doing this?

Many thanks for your comments

What is a Postdoc?

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I recently finished my PhD, and I've been hired as a Research Assistant at Uni. Is that a post doc? I meet a guy who says that a post doc is only when you apply for a grant to do further research. So, what is a post doc?

and.... is it worth doing it?

Thanks a lot for your asnwers!

almost fainted!!


I have not had that experience before, but my advice would be for you to talk with your supervisor. If you are already 2 years into your PhD, I can imagine you already have an idea of how much is enough data, and when you have enough data for your analysis. It sounds really weird that your supervisor can know, just like that, that you need two more years of data. What about the data you have now? Is that not enough for your analysis?

Dont do more than that, it is your Phd. Be aware that some supervisors love the cheap labour that PhD students provide. I've seen that hapening, and I can assure that after 2011 he will find something else for you to do. Better to be clear now. If the data you have now is not enough, then why? If it is enough, then move to another stage. Another advice, PhD's are not like undergrad assignments, dont expect your supervisor to tell you what to do. Threat it as a job, where you are the person in charge.

Good luck

PhD in a foreign language

My advice would be: read! Read as much as you can, academic and non-academic stuuf (e.g. novels, newspapers). The brain will do the rest, and sooner than you excpect you'll find yourself writing better than you thought you could.


Easy, type "phd completion statistics" in google, and the first link provides a document with completion statistics in England.

Finished!! It can be done!

Dear all,

I just had my VIVA this Tuesday, and passed with very minor corrections. Just want to post an encouraging message to all of you who some days find no meaning on the PhD, think about quitting, or are just demoralised once in a while, I went to lots of ups and downs too, the PhD is a roller coaster! but it can be done, and it can be finished.

I don't think there is a magic advice, or a formula that applies to everyone, but here are some tips that I think might help:

1. Writing up will take you longer than you think (I found that rule applies to almost everyone!). Don't underestimate the time you need. I would say a month per chapter (considering a 7-8 chapter thesis) plus a month for editing, checking, proofreading, etc. Dont underestimate the time your supervisor will take to read your thesis!
2. If you need help, ask for it! The PhD is yours, so dont expect your supervisor or other people to care for it more than you. If you are lost, or need help regarding something, ask for it! You'll be surprised by the willingness of some "experts" to discuss with you. Doing a PhD doesnt mean that you need to know it all, it also mean that you learn how to be a researcher, and that research sometimes involves collaboration.
3. Stick to it. Be stubborn, dont let go, dont give up. YOU CAN DO IT.
4. Exercise, have friends outside academia, eat well, travel, have a hobby.... in summary... have a life as normal as possible besides the PhD
5. Treat it like a job! With deadlines, with responsibilities, at the end, you are getting paid for doing it, right? Which job would pay you without results? If your supervisor doesnt put deadlines, do it yourself! How about finishing a chapter by the end of the month?
6. Talk with your supervisor. Even if you think you have nothing to talk about, try to write down questions, worries. Try to make him/her agree on a monthly meeting. It makes the road less lonelier.. and sometimes, you can be surprised that they actually know something!
7. Write your literature review while you are on the road. I hope I this did! For every paper that you read, write a brief summary, pros and cons, what is the key aspect. If you dont do this when you read the paper, you will, certainly, have to re-read it at the end, when you are writing up and when you have no time.
8. Dont worry about "novelty". Novelty is a a tricky concept in academia. Is not about discovering the cure of cancer, or nuclear fision, or a new interpretation of gravity. Novelty is about your own critical analysis of a problem, or a method. Novelty is something no one said, thought or tried before. But that something can be very small.

Good luck! Enjoy your PhDs! It can be done!

P.S. If doing a PhD really is hurting you.... quit! I've seen people reallychanging, and becoming depressed. A PhD is not all in life, a PhD lifestyle is not for all... and a PhD is not the only road for success. Quitting sometimes requires more bravery than staying!

What's the dress code for PhD VIVA

Here I am, my VIVA is in one hour.... I am wearing a suit, shirt, tie... black shoes... all very smart. My reasoning was: better to be over-dressed than under-dressed (e.g. if all the examiners show up wearing ties and all that, and I am in my cacky pants with a shirt).....in any case... I'll let you know how it went!

Thesis word count

Ideally each chapter should be around 8,000 - 10,000 words. Though, it is not unusual to have chapters with 15,000. Longer chapters are harder to structure. If your chapter is longer than that try breaking it into two diffrent chapters.

I havemnt heard of a minimum length, in physics and mathematics thesis could have 20,000 - 30,000 words and be less than a hundred pages. It depends on your area, try getting a few thesis of your area from your library (or just look online, there are some available), and see what is the usual length. At the end the minimum length is what has to be in the thesis, enough words to demonstrate that you made a contribution to knowledge, and to be a work that can be published.

Good luck!

when is a PhD finished? (for an International student in the UK)

Hello all!

I have submitted my thesis this morning (wooohoooo) and will have the feared VIVA in some weeks (wish me luck!), but the post is not about this, I have a more "technical" question:

So far, I've been working part-time (20 hrs per week) as my student visa puts this limit. Though, regulations say that I can work full-time once my studies are completed. A person in my university says that my studies are finished when I submitted my Thesis (so, I could work full-time from May), and a second person (in charge of contracts) says that my studies have finished once I have my VIVA, and this is approved by Registry (so, I could work full-time since July). Two months between full/time and part-time job are a considerably amount of money, (almost a ticket back home!!!!). So, I would like to know if anyone has gone trough a similar problem, or if anyone knows about any regulation that I could refer to.

Many thanks!

How long did your PhD take or do you plan to take?

I started in novemember 2005 and I'll have my viva in a month... that makes like 3 years and a half I think. In the UK I think it is common to submit after the third year and before the fourth. From the people that started with me, I am the second one having a VIVA (the other guy finished in 2 years and 10 months). I do know a couple of cases of people that finished in less than 3 years, but none in 2 years and 9 months. Though, it is doable, and I hope you can achieve it!

So, a small advice on saying always "yes": Your supervisor is as interested in your progress as he is in his own name appearing in your papers. Your PhD is your own, and you are in charge. If you want to finish it fast, make it your priority number one, and do only what is requiered for your PhD. Other taks are definitely interesting, challenging, rewarding, but if they lead you to a diffrent road, are they worth pursuing?

All the best!

Coming up to writeup time :S


I am at the moment finishing the writing-up of my thesis... and I was in your position some months ago. My advice is: it will take more time than yout think it would, so, give it at least one month per chapter. I assume you are doing a science/engineering PhD? start inside out, write your results first, and once you gain confidence the rest will follow much more easily. Do the intro at last, because you'll need to re-write that again. Also, I would advice you to keep each chapter separately (on something practical), and do you referencing per chapter, so you dont leave that to the end (when you already forgot who says what). Finally, dont give up! You are nearly there! Good luck!

For the one that thought that writing after the research is not a good idea, I think it is the most common way of doing it in engineering/science. First you do the research and keep track opf your results/progress on a log-book. Then you write the thesis, once you have something to say. Writing per se is not research, and wont get you anywhere if you dont have consistent results first.

first year review

I think it is certainly better for your state of mind to focus on success stories rather than "horror" stories.

I've never heard of someone failing the first year review.... So, if you've read a bunch of papers, have a general feeling of what is the problem you are tackling you will be allright.

PhD results & conclusions trivial?

Dear All,

I am right now writing the last two chapters of my thesis. But the further I go, the more trivial it all seems to me.... and I fear it might not be worth a PhD! Has anyone gone trough these feelings?


Quitting Question

Hey Gazzer, one of my PhD "classmates" (if there is such a thing) left his PhD after two years in it. He didnt have to give the money back, or any other penalty.. obviusly once he decided to quit his monthly stipend was suspended. I guess it depends on the case, and specially where your funds come from. In any case good luck. I think it is very brave to decide is not for you, and face supervisor's etc. I also think the first years is the perfect time to do know if your really want to keep on that road for the next two (three?) years, or you are better off. So, all the best!!