Are we good value for money?


======= Date Modified 11 Oct 2011 04:57:13 =======

This thought has come from a fresh panic attack, this week it will be one year since I joined my phd.. and I realised I have accomplished next to nothing :( I went back to my offer letter and saw the tuition fee that's been waived for me, and suddenly feel so guilty, in addition to feeling lonely and worthless of course. The government is investing so much taxpayers money in me and I haven't delivered anything of value, which is normally not like me.

I guess the best thing for me is to buck up and make sure my next two years are productive, but I was wondering do students feel the same way even in their 3rd or 4th year? I have been told that science projects like mine need a lot of groundwork in the beginning and get more results later, but I feel like I haven't even done that properly.. Like someone mentioned in the other thread, poor regulation of the program may be to blame.. but I wish someone taught me how to be disciplined when there are no immediate deadlines, and your supervisor doesn't particularly care if you exist :(

any thoughts?

Avatar for DrCorinne

Hello Mumbler,

Yes, I think that we all feel we are wasting time at some stage in our PhD, no matter how much effort we put in it. Then, if you are funded, the guilt feeling is even worse! However you should consider that a PhD is a long-term project that has an evolution over the period of 3 to 4 years. Realistically, only people who started to research their topic prior to their PhD can expect to have visible results in year 1. I am sure that you must have passed your annual assessment and that your progress was judged positively.

My suggestion is:

1) If there are any generic/ academic skills courses/workshops on how to manage your PhD time productively, make an effort to attend them, even if they sounds like another waste of time.

2) Try to take control of your time. Do not expect your supervisor to do that, because 9 out of 10 they won't.

3) I used to records thoughts/ ideas and quick notes in pocket-size note-pads. I numbered and indexed them. Then I went back through them every once in a while. It is incredible how many things you forget along the way! Also, you have a constant reminder of all the things that you have been doing.

4) I used to send monthly reports to my supervisors, with a detailed list of what I read, fieldwork I had done, papers I'd written etc, and what I planned to do next. They never acknowledged they had read them, but it gave me a structure, short and long-term deadlines.

Last, but not least, enjoy your research time! Panicking about time that is past won't help you to move forward. Focus on the year ahead, give yourself some short-term deadlines without losing sight of the bigger picture. I found the second year the most interesting, because I started to see that the jigsaw finally started to make sense.

Writing up won't be that exciting!


I think that these types of thoughts are fairly common in PhD students. But I think that you need to remember that the first year you are building up a foundation for knowledge which your work will be based on, this isn't something you are born with, it takes time to aquire this knowledge. Secondly you need to remember that what your doing is research and often hasn't been done before, and it takes alot longer to do something for the first time than subsequent attempts take, because you need to create the method rather than just follow what others have done previously.


Hey mumbler! I guess one way to think about it is to look at it in terms of a longer term investment than just what happens during your PhD. It's really training for becoming a future researcher for many people (although obviously not all people go down this path!). Even if your PhD is tough and you don't really find out anything amazing, you might so in the next 30 years or so of being a researcher! So best to look at the bigger picture I think, if you're planning to stay in research! Best, KB


Thanks Dr. Corinne, those are really good tips.. my yearly assessment hasn't been done yet, maybe that's why I am so nervous!

Yes Laney and Keenbeen, now that I think about it, even in companies profits are not expected in the very beginning.. its just that when I remember this is the taxpayers money, I feel guilty of not putting it into efficient use. I know it sounds lame but for a person who's not even comfortable taking a loan from someone, it feels like a huge burden. If not anything else, I need to make this liability my motivation for doing a good job!


One thing to remember,

Although it seems like a lot of money if you are a fully funded PhD student, it should be pointed out that to hire a recent graduate with top grades would cost companies a lot more than 12-13K per annum. Also ther are no set hours, and probably at some point you will be putting in many more hours than a 9-5 job, so if you translate your stipend to hourly rate, it's actually quite a good deal for the institution.

For example, supposing you do 250 hours in the average month, that would be about a 45-50 hour working week given a month is normally 4 weeks plus a couple of days, and you have a stipend of £13,200 per year, a months hours divied by a months pay:

1100/250 = £4.40, less than the adult minimum wage. So the cleaning staff at your institution will most likely be out-earning you