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External cancelled my viva :(

I have heard of cancellations happening before. When I was post doc-ing there were three separate occasions.

The first was because the examiner became extremely unwell and, in the end, had to completely leave his post as a senior lecturer. This was really sad for all involved, as he was a much loved in the academic community. The PhDer was slightly inconvenienced, but totally understood and sympathised. It was all handled really smoothly and they vivaed just month or two later.

The second case was it was cancelled because the candidate was in no way ready to really submit but had gone against my old PI and submitted it despite repeated concerns being raised. I had read the draft thesis and it was, to be brutally honest, incoherent and sloppy. The external cancelled it in advance, because otherwise they would have to have failed it outright, but there were a few discussions behind closed doors which led to this. The only reason I ever found out about this was because my PI was away for a while and I had to step into his shoes for a bit, so was privy to some emails that I would have otherwise been completely oblivious to. I don't know what happened in the end for that candidate, but they were still redrafting by the time I left the team.

The third case seemed the most shocking, as it was the external not at all taking his responsibilities seriously and booking a holiday at the wrong time. This angered the whole team, which was quite a feat considering we had been through quite a bit of drama during that time already.

In summary, although infrequent, this sort of thing does happen, and it won't be the last time.

Boomerang Generation

There is a New Yorker magazine cover drawn by Daniel Clowes called Boomerang Generation. You can see it here.


It was simultanously chilling and hilarious and perfectly captured the sense of post PhD come down.

Any thoughts?


Battery life is about 10 hours+ for me and that is listening to my iTunes playlist whilst reading my PDFs. (Okay, Okay and some video too).

I turn the backlight down to about 30% and it doesn't cause me any eye-strain, well no more than reading paper copies. In fact because I can zoom right in, it helps in that regard compared to those horrid A5 booklet size reprints you get sent. It also helps save the battery.

Plus I have started finding out well thought out add ons, such as with my eBooks there is a built in dictionary and direct links to Wikipedia entries so if I don't understand something I can get an instant explanation of it (If only I had this while I was doing my PhD I would have saved SO much time).


I have recently been given a 32gig iPad which I mainly am using as an ebook reader.

Tbh I was initially sceptical about ever using it (writing it off as an overpriced toy), but boy I was wrong. Now I heartily recommend it especially as PDFs look beautiful, are easy to navigate and zoom. Plus I am starting to get cheap ebooks at both Amazon Kindle store (which run on iPad) and ibookstore, and I am thinking of using it to replace my filofax.

Paid to do a PhD

The DClinPsy (clinical trainees) get paid £26k because they are officially classified as NHS employees. They pay tax on this, but are still eligble for student discounts, council tax etc.

PhDs may not consider DClinPsy's real doctors, but if we compare my ex-girlfriend who has one and is currently on a permanant 40k salary at age 32 (with room to move up), compared to the route I had to take in academic psychology as a post doc (28k with no security) I know which I would rather prefer.

I know one lucky sod who trained with her even managed to get a lecturers post at Oxford Uni on the strength of his DClinPsy, a year and a half after handing in his thesis.

Is there any point applying for jobs now?

Its difficult for everyone at the moment. The company I am working for has had to cut quite a lot on recruitment (and we take on lots of MScs and PhD grads). Its important not to take this personally.

Most likely outcome- Major corrections

If a supervisor is feeding back that major corrections is the likely outcome I would listen to this carefully. Generally, anything you don't do now you will be asked to do later as a correction.

The fact that they have not come on heavy with comments about failure suggest that they are not doing it out of spite or because they don't like you. It is because they want you to be in the best position you can be in before going in there.If people are pointing out flaws and need for rewriting its because they are pre-empting your examiners. They have as much to lose as you do if you fail as it will affect their future grants and standing in the academic community.

If I am being honest it sounds like you are being oversensitive. This isn't about who has done a bigger project or threatening to walk. Its about doing what needs to be done in order to get through your viva. If you feel unhappy about getting feedback when you have a possibility of changing things, how is it going to feel when you defend your 3 years work in a setting where it is meant to be evaluated and ripped apart?

If you don't get into academia, what do you want to do?

Cheers folks.

One of the books that really helped me, I recommend for anyone thinking of leaving academia is "So What Are You Going To Do With That?: Finding careers outside academia" by Basalla and Debelius. It has a lot of ideas, but more importantly gets you thinking about a job thats good for you, rather than a generic good job.

@KB. Clinical psychology is something lots of psychology PhDs think about. The only problem is that you do need quite a lot of clinical experience and even to get an assistant's job is supercompetitive (200 applicants per place for one I heard about from my friend, and they tend to go to people who are already assistants). Also from my friends who are qualified in clinical psychology world, their jobs are also getting scarce, salaries downgraded, more temp posts etc (i.e. its becoming a lot like academia).

If you don't get into academia, what do you want to do?

I am not sure if it is relevant for you, but here is what happened to me.

After leaving my post-doc (psychology/neuroscience), I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do, rather than what was obvious. I knew that I hated the politics and uncertainty of academia, but I quite liked the research, writing and teaching parts.

From there I followed up a few leads, and was able to put together a portfolio career that include sessional lecturing in my area of speciality (undergrads but some MSc courses), writing articles for non-professional audiences and something completely non-academic (working for a friend who is starting their own company). My job split right now roughly leads to a day a week lecturing, 2 days doing writing and the other 2 working at the company.

I find I am a lot happier and less stressed than I was as a post doc. Initially I was worried that I would not have the reputation or prestige of being a post-doctoral researcher at an elite university, the split of work, and worrying about making enough money. These doubts went quite quickly, when I found I was about as well off as I was on my post doc wage, and was a lot more productive. Procrastination is no longer an issue because of the structure of what I have to do.

The only thing I do find irritating beyond measure is my former colleagues/ supervisor who do come up with things like "Well your PhD/academic training was wasted" and have a condescending attitude. Increasingly I do realise its just perception, what they regard as failure, many of us will see as success. Presumably, there is an academic supervisor that looks down on Bill Gates as a failure because he dropped out of graduate school to start Microsoft, and didnt spend 7 years in a lab somewhere looking at obscure computational modelling.

Besides, from the gossip I hear I am better off now in many ways. While they are all paniced about the HE funding cuts and increasing student numbers, work load, I just shrug and say "Not my problem". Its hugely liberating, and the only thing I now feel sorrow for is why didnt I leave years ago.

Awkward situation with team-mate!

@KB: This is a really tough situation, and you have my sympathies.

You haven't done anything wrong. On the contrary you have tried to extend every method to try to resolve the situation in a professional and kind manner. The fact that the other man is behaving in an unprofessional and childish manner while unpleasant for you, is not just your problem anymore -it is actually in danger of becoming a HR issue of potential harrassment/ bullying.

I had to deal with something like this when I was a postdoc and interim manager of my team. My advice is to

- log all your contacts with this team member (notes preferably with dates time and comments).
- Let someone higher up know (supervisor, but also HR/Admin). This is vital if this guy is gunning for you and accuses you of something, and you havent declared this prior incident.
- Do not get drawn into any arguments, politics or tit for tat retaliation, especially if this guy tries to poison other team members against you. Remain calm, professional and polite at all times.

This is based on my own experience, but I really feel you need to let your line manager know and keep them updated. I was kept out of the loop until WAY too late, and then had to untangle everything. After I went through all the "he said-she said" stuff, it was clearer, but it would have been easier to contain the situation and provide advice earlier. The victim in my situation actually made things worse for themselves by not raising this earlier, trying to sort things out alone and saying things they later regretted and were taken out of context.

Walminski's It Should Happen to a PhD student Bloopers Thread.

My best blunders

1. Part of my PhD project involved taking structural brain scans using MRI. We used to do this talk at the beginning about "Please remove your coins, or any metalic objects" before people went into the scanning room, as the scanner is basically one huge super magnet.

Except after one hurried day where there was way too much happening and a participant went in without being checked. I realised just a bit too late as their bracelet, pen and various other items of junk went flying across the room as if being pulled by some jedi knight using the force. Cue one very frightned lady, one very angry radiographer and one sheepish PhD student.

2. I remember one afternoon we (PhD underlings) had to present our preliminary findings before a group of esteemed professors. I remember one particulaly vile professor who asked awkward pointless questions to all of us (not even constructive ones, but demeaning questions like "Do you think your inadequate project is any real contribution to the field" or "Why did subject 23 drop out, are you not good enough to retain your subjects?").

After the last presentation, the assorted academics left while we had to clear up and pack up the projector. I remember comforting a nearly tearful fellow student by saying "What a pompous tool. Don't listen to that demented old fool, he could not find his arse in the dark without a map, a torch and a homing beacon. Hopefully, he will be dead soon anyway". The student gave a look of horror as the old fool in question had returned to pick up his folder, heard everything and was looking at us with fury.

A fresh starter - thinking if this is all going to be worth it...

Quote From rebel:

Incidentally, you've mentioned about 'leaving academia all together'.... If this did happen what are the options for someone who's done a PhD within a Business School, albeit with a small amount of 'real' industry experience - is it glum?

To be honest I don't know, as that is not my field. However, what I do know is that over half of PhD graduates leave the education sector (if the prospects website is to be believed) but only 3.6% were unemployed six months after graduating (compared with 6.2% for graduates with a first degree and 4.2% for MSc graduates), so presumably they get some other form of employment. At a guess I would say that it will depend on how you package your skills and experience to employers. You may also have to start low on the ladder, but there are studies that say you rise quicker than an average graduate.

That said I have been finding it hard to get employed since my last postdoc ended and the funding was not renewed due to cuts at the university. It seems tough to find work at present without specialist skills, but perhaps your PhD will give you some of those?

A fresh starter - thinking if this is all going to be worth it...

In the current climate (depending on your field), you will research and grant winning evidence to show you are a credible candidate for academic posts. Most of us are judged on this, far more than teaching or admin which is a secondary concern at best to most universities. Every significant candidate you will be up against will have research under their belt and if you abstain you will be severely hampering your future chances to be taken seriously.

Be advised, if you are doing a PhD to get a lecturer position be aware that this is like doing a degree and hoping to get on a competitive graduate training scheme. There are far more of us PhDs/postdocs than there are lecturer posts, and that will intensify with the future cuts in public spending. Most of us dont make it (and I include myself in that despite making all the "right" moves, Oxbridge, doing a post doc, having teaching, grantwriting, supervision and lecturing experience). Ask yourself seriously, will it still be worth it if you end up with the majority that doesnt achieve a full time, permanent lecturers job and leave academia all together.

Oh, and don't look down on ex-polytechnic jobs, they are far from a consolation prize and most of us would be grateful for one of those.

Do you really think it's all worth it?

Walminski: I think although a PhD is stressful, its more straightforward than Postdoc life. A PhD student has quite a lot of protection in many ways, and nowadays there is an onus on universities not to over-exploit PhD students, teach transferable skills, provide space, mentorship, resources and such. Postdocs on the other hand are put under far more pressure because there is no one really looking out for them, and even if they are mistreated they are disposable, short term contract labour and there will always be another one coming along shortly. Also with the looming funding cuts in HE I would say the pressure is going to be to do far more with far less, which is never nice.

With regard to going into the NHS, I would wonder to do what? Again as a public service the NHS will have cuts. Unless you have a core profession already (medic, nurse, etc) you are unlikely to be ready qualified to do anything commensurate with your educational level. Your PhD is not really going to do much for you in the first instance. Of course you could go down the graduate management trainee route, like other grads, but this is oversubscribed and far from easy.

Someone else mentioned Clinical Psychology, and this too is oversubscribed and PhDs, while helpful, are not enough by themselves without prior substantial NHS clinical experience. (Also things like a 2:2 degreee, poor references or prior mental health problems will eliminate you from that particular race). Ditto graduate medicine. Things like nursing and physio are possible, but are pitched at very different level to that of a doctoral level candidate.

Getting out of the public sector idea is probably your best bet. Private companies are slowly becoming more attuned to taking on postgrads (especially as undergrads have staturated the market making undergraduate qualifications meaningless).

Post-doc Chat

For me

Pros: Better pay (than a PhD stipend I am talking), more autonomy, having more of a say in the way the lab is run, more conferences, chance to co-author with your own PhDers. Better desk and mini cubicle.

Cons: Far more stress, job insecurity (thank you to whoever thought of 3 year contracts!), late nights at the lab, having to cover for absent PI all the damn time, more responsibility, dealing with insecure PhDers who want their hands holding, having to sort out one instance of serious academic misconduct in my lab with little or no back up support,