4th year PhD DISASTER...how can I salvage this!?!


Hi all,

This is my first time posting here. Hi!
I'm a 4th year PhD student in molecular biology who is due to submit at the start of October.

However, I am applying for an extension but even with the extension I am worried that I will fail.
My PhD has been a disaster from very early on, I was my supervisors first ever student...which has it's advantages but it also meant much time was wasted at the beginning setting the lab up and it also means my supervisor is very inexperienced. He is essentially a nice guy but an absolute disaster to work for...my whole lab is depressed and we have gone through 3 post-docs in the last two years. We have never publish any work from out lab.

Now, I am due to submit and I have very little data. This is a mixture of failings from me, my supervisor and experiments not working at all. My supervisor says I've just had really bad luck - everything that could have gone wrong has and now I have barely enough data to fill one chapter.
I am not usually an emotional person but I have shed more tears about this PhD then I have ever done of anything ever in my life. I feel completely out of my depth and as if instead of becoming smarter I am now dumb.

I have though about quitting a lot but that seems crazy after putting 4 years into something - but I really can't work out what to do. It's such a disaster.
I need any and all the help I can get.


Hi Albatross!

First of all, please do not give up. You have given four years of your life and so much effort and tears for this PhD. Do submit with whatever data you have and see how it goes. Talk to your thesis committee members and tell them the whole story so that they understand what happened here..

What I would suggest is to concentrate on getting your degree...do not worry about the quality anymore. Just try and get the degree.

Try to make up for your lack of data by increasing your theoretical knowledge. During your defense you can explain what was the logic behind your project and why it did not work, what could have been done better etc.

Now whether or not you pass your defense, remember that it's not end of the world. There are plenty of options left afterwards such as working as a technical assistant/research assistant for a couple of years in a good lab to get exposure and build up confidence. That is if you want to stay in academics. If not, you could always go into industry.

Best of luck. Hang in there. I am sure in the long-run things will turn out just fine.


Hi Albatross
Gene Nat has given very good advice. At this stage, you can't think of turning back You will have to do your best to complete your dissertation. Like you, I have my moments of doubt : whether I will have an excellent thesis or just a so-so thesis. The main thing is, we just have to finish our writing and then move on with life. Good luck, I'm confident we will be able to finish our thesis !


Hi Albatross,

I can understand you most than everything. I am in my second year of my PhD and I see already few points and especially time planning..that are not working at all! I can understand that you might blame yourself a lot at this point. But you shouldn't!!! This is the last thing you should do!
Let's take it from the start. I am not aware whether you have a funding or you are self funded.. In case you are self funded think of all this as an investement of time and money that you decided and you had the courage to do, if luck or your supervisor did not help you enough or give the right guidance it is NOT your mistake! Go back think of what have inspired you in the first place! Start finding these feelings from the start! Cause in my perception, the only way that a PhD can be a good experience in life (yes! even in case that the result is not the desirable) is when you start loving and in no means by scaring it. I know the feeling, I also get panick attacks when I enter my office and I feel sometimes I am stuck in time and nothing goes the way it should. But think, if you have a scholarship or your project is funded someone chose YOU and only you instead of few others to do that specific thing so they saw sth in you and they believed that you are the right person for this! Even in case you are self-funded your supervisor gave you this opportunity to move with your project because, he.she thought/ think you are the right person for this job. If I were you I would try to take things over my control, I know it is difficult, but maybe you should have a good honest talk with your supervisor, maybe in an unformal meeting, outside of the Uni try to be gentle and don't seem desperate. Explain him/her you are both into this..A failure of you would mean a failure of him as well.So you need his/her absolute support! In terms of the esperiments I would try to point out both to your team and at your thesis what went wrong, and try to repeat even a small pilot experiment so to support your findings! Remember we are doing research for the sake of research..Therefore, there are not good or bad results! Results are what we need even 'negative' results are good results for the people who will follow our steps in research so they will not do the same 'mistakes'. In that terms, I believe you have a lot to offer as a researcher and later on why not as an academic!

I wish you all the best!! Best of luck from now on! Be strong!