Deciding to complete a phD thesis years after quitting..


Hi everyone, I'm new to this forum, but not new to PhD life...

I started my engineering phd in 1998(!) and spent 4 years FT to get as far as writing 20% of my thesis. It took a couple of years of the course for me to realize that I was in a “difficult” research group and was extremely isolated, and separate from the rest of the phd community in that engineering dept (and made worse since I was one of only a couple of home students). I was getting very depressed/demotivated with my phd (and) life, and the write-up was the final nail in my coffin! I was desperate to get out and start working and luckily found a job, but I did plan to complete my thesis...

3 years later (2005!), just in time for a deadline, I completed my thesis. It was a major effort and sacrifice for me. As luck would have it, my supervisor became seriously ill around that time, and I had very little thesis feedback or preparation advice, and was then forced to fend for myself in the viva. After a thoroughly miserable and demoralizing experience, I was basically given a year to do some major corrections which also involved a little bit more research.

It was a psychologically crushing experience that I wanted to put behind me for a little while before re-writing, but several things made me postpone it such as working abroad, buying a house, getting married, starting a family, mowing the lawn etc etc..

5 years later (now!), i’ve finally had some kind of motivation to reconsider completing my phd. I realize that I have put in a lot of work and given up on a lot of my life to get to the stage of submitting a thesis and it would be a waste to just forget about it. And not to mention a gaping hole in my CV.

So now I’m wondering if it will be possible to continue from where I left to complete my phd, now that all deadlines have passed years ago. Obviously I wouldn’t want to start from scratch, but I realise I will need to do more research and experimental work seeing that technology has moved on. Also, is it possible to somehow restart it at another university (perhaps one closer to home)? In any case, I accept that I'll have to fund myself.

Any advice would be much appreciated, man I wish I found this forum when I was still FT studying!


Hi Servo, thought I would reply as nobody else has! I think the reason nobody has offered you advice is that there are probably not too many people in your situation!!! I have no idea what point you might need to re-start from, maybe you could find out from your old university or universities that you are interested in attending?

I have to say, you are braver than me, I can't imagine going through the PhD process a second time!!! Best of luck with it :-)


Like Rosy says, there people of all ages and backgrounds on this site, but maybe not too many who've come back to a PhD after a break. I don't have experience of the situation myself but I reckon you should definitely give it a go!

Perhaps have a look on the research pages of your local university's website and see what the procedure is for approaching them to do a PhD. I can't see how different it would be to ask them to consider you for a part-completed piece of research.

As you say, you'll need to look at what's moved on since you were last doing the research and as well as new technologies, the focus might have shifted towards different / new conferences and publications. It would probably help to have some of that context under your belt when you approach the university. Maybe you could attend a conference or two to get you thinking about the subject again, and also to get talking to academics in the field (potential supervisors?)

As long as there's somebody to supervise you, I think universities are keem to attract self-funding students so that might be on your side.

It's generally recognised that people become a bit more focussed as they get older and that mature students can be very committed.

Good luck!


You need a line to Brian May.....


Thanks for your helpful comments guys..
Yes I’m going to need a lot of courage to give it another go! As you said, bettyspaghetti, I think that being more “mature” does make me more focussed and dedicated. When I started my PhD I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, but now I know all about the highs and lows of doing a research degree and am better prepared for the slog.
Attending a couple of conferences could be a good idea to get back into things and catchup. Interestingly, I’ve found out that the Professor at my “local” was the internal examiner at my viva. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, even though he was extremely helpful and supportive after my viva (unlike the external one who I still have nightmares about). I’m not sure if he would feel that he’s stepping on my old supervisor’s toes?

In any case, I’ll start to contact a couple of potential supervisors and post my experiences here. At least it may help someone else here in the future..
Who is Brian May?


Dr May is a famous astrophysicist. Possibly made famous by the fact that he was a member of Queen, a very famous rock band!


Oh, THAT Brian May - i had no idea he studied for a phd for over 30 years! Well if he can do it, it must be possible, although I don't have the excuse of being in an internationally famous rockband.


There are a few of us who bombed out of a first PhD but then did a second one from scratch - I did that with a gap of 15 years. I would start with a literature search on your topic to get up to date and see how much of the old project you can realistically recycle. That might also suggest possible supervisors. Good luck!