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Need to vent

.....feel like I have wasted my time. It will be interesting to see what my supervisor is like when we have the committee meeting ... it may not be as straight forward! But for now, life is a little better.

Need to vent


First, a piece of advice for anyone who finds that their supervisor no longer wants them to carry on with their PhD – go and find someone to talk to. A graduate school tutor, the head of graduate school or someone similar. Your supervisor CANNOT just decide when to end your PhD. There are rules, regulations and protocols to follow. Yes, they are entitled to their own opinion, but they certainly cannot decide when they feel like ‘kicking you out’ when you’re not producing the ‘right sort’ of results. This is what I did, and I feel like an entire world has been lifted off my shoulders by confiding in my graduate tutor.

But first, I’ll backtrack a little. After having the brief and brutal discussion with my principal supervisor about my ability to take on a PhD a couple of weeks ago (see first post), I went home feeling shocked, miserable and exhausted. I was, in short, a wreck (perhaps understandably). For the first time in quite a while, I put myself first and visited my GP. With her advice, I decided to take a break from the lab for a short period to rest as I was suffering from stress and exhaustion. I relayed this information to both of my supervisors, explaining the situation, apologising and asking for advice. This email was sent on Wednesday the 6th July, I have not yet had a response. I was not expecting them to be ‘over the moon’ with this email, but I am shocked, confused and a little angered as to why they don’t feel it necessary to respond. Not even an acknowledgement was sent to me.

Still, an informal meeting was arranged with my graduate tutor, so that he can gain my opinion in the matter before we took this situation further. This happened today and I have learnt an awful lot about my principal supervisor. It seems that he has a reputation of ‘sticking his head in the sand’ and ignoring situations. He also has been known not to accept anything except exquisite results, and has no tolerance for anything less. In short, he cannot process that there is a learning curve involved in a PhD. He has also had his wrist slapped for his ‘managerial’ skills with past PhD students, and his inability to be fair. It was reassuring to know that I’m not the one with the opinion that he is unprofessional can make life as a PhD student a living misery.

There are two outcomes that we have decided can be salvaged from my current situation, and these will be discussed in the near future with a committee comprised of myself, my supervisors, my grad tutor and other tutors in the faculty. The first is that we try and repair the damaged relationship between me and my supervisor. Purely from his lack of response to my email and request for help, and the fact I have had to go to someone outside the lab for some advice, I feel that this may not be a plausible option. I fear that even if he is all ‘happiness and smiles’ at the committee meeting, that he may revert back to his negative, unsupportive attitude within a few months. The second option is for me to write up an MPhil thesis with the results I already have coupled with an extensive literature review and to get out of the lab as soon as possible. This seems like the most likely options I will take. What will happen after? I’m not sure. I may try and apply for another PhD or a job (although the job market is pretty damn scary atm) but at least I will be out of that lab. And one thing’s for sure- this year would not have been a waste. I was so scared that my only option would be to leave with nothing. What on earth would I put on my CV? But my grad tutor has assured me that I will not leave the university with anything less than a MPhil.

So that’s where I’m up to so far. It’s certainly not where I’d thought I’d be 8-9 months into my PhD, but these sorts of things are highly unpredictable. But now I have talked to somebody, the stress and pressure has definitely been lifted, (a problem shared is a problem halved – and all that jazz!) I now have a way out of this, and I don’t

Need to vent

Thank you both for your advice.
I have had a little time to cool off and am thinking through my options.
I have asked both my graduate tutor and the head of the graduate school for some clear advice on what I can do now, which (as it is the weekend!) has not yet come my way.

But for the time being, my thoughts are still the same; to leave this PhD with an MPhil and go back to a technical or support position for the time being. I'm beginning to think that I wasn't ready for this particular course, and that has been clear in my unhappiness for the past 8 months. This was confirmed when my supervisor declared his lack of faith and satisfaction with the results I had produced so far, on Friday. He has always been a perfectionist (according to his colleagues that I have been talking to) and if you don't produce publishable results, then they're not worth anything, but yes - perhaps a tad unprofessional in discussing this in front of others.

I have always been under the impression that if he wanted papers out quickly, then he should have applied for funding to hire post-docs for his lab, not three inexperienced and new PhD students.

As for the other two students, fortunately, they seem to have missed this particular dissatisfaction. As far as I know (and we are all quite close, so talk about our projects regularly) they haven't produced anything more than me in the way of results, and I am just being singled out in this case.(This has been pointed out by them, not me. I'm really not one to whinge!)

We have always thought that there was a lack of support in the lab (post-doc wise) but we're unsure on how to bring this up. If there is a lack of funding for a post-doc/technician, then there isn't much we can do. Perhaps it was foolish of our supervisor to not consider that we would need more help. Even though I have had experience in another lab (this is also true for one of the other students), there are always going to be new protocols and techniques that you have to learn, practice and perfect. For the most part, we've had to do this ourselves (sourcing protocols from papers and adjusting them to our particular needs), and we received little external guidance. In the long run, this may make us a more accomplished scientist, but then when I'm told that my results aren't good enough and my project isn't doing so well, is perhaps a little unfair.

At the end of the day, my confidence has been greatly shaken by my supervisor's comments. The fact that he didn't offer any advice, any encouragement to try and get me through the upgrade or any direction at all, really shocked me. Even if I muddled through, and managed to produce a report worthy of an upgrade, and convinced a panel of examiners that I could complete my project in reasonable time, I honestly don't think I could work with this man anymore. It is quite obvious that he doesn't feel that I am worthy of his lab, and should stop wasting his time. Perhaps this is my true failing in the PhD - my lack of drive and motivation, and determination in proving him wrong. But when the only person who is meant to guide you through this process completely shuns you, then you can understand why I wouldn't want to put myself through this for the next 2 years.

I'm not interested in pursuing a career in academia anyhow ... so no great loss really!
But thanks you for your advice, and any other opinions/similar stories are very welcome :)

Need to vent

I'm not sure if anyone will read this, but I feel like I need to vent and writing it down in a PhD forum seems like a good idea.

I'm a first year PhD student and I'm not sure if I want to do this for the next three years. I work in a lab that has three new PhD students (myself as one), a rotational student and our supervisor (yup - no in-between level such as a PostDoc or technician).

This morning I came to blows with my principal supervisor, which ended up with me running to the bathroom to cry my eyes out. PhD students at my university are on a well-known 'upgrade' system, where you are registered primarily as an MPhil student until your upgrade meeting 12 months after you start.
This morning, my supervisor (in front of my work colleagues) declared that realistically I wouldn't upgrade as I "haven't had a good start in my project", said he was "sorry", smiled, and went back to his office, (cue the waterworks).

OK, I'm not the brightest student. I'm not the best researcher, I have never claimed to be, and probably never will be. But my god have I tried my best this year. For a first year to regularly take work home in the evenings (or work late), and always work at least one day of the weekend (home or at work) must count for something. But apparently, in his eyes, effort doesn't outweigh publishable results, (I forgot to mention that he expects us to be producing a paper by the end of out first year - unrealistic? I think so).

I have been thinking about just leaving with an MPhil, and going on to a technical position (I worked as a research technician before I started the PhD - which I loved, but I had to move to London, and the opportunity of a PhD came up, so I took it), and I think my supervisor has just confirmed that for me. But what an awful way to go. Even if I did manage to upgrade to PhD level, there's no way I would want to work with him for the next two years, when he has so little faith in my research. He isn't supportive, rarely gives any valuable technical advice on protocols or techniques, and fails to give out any positivive comments or encouragement.

There, rant over. I'm not sure if I feel better. Has anybody else felt the same?