Few weeks in and think i should quit :(


Sorry for this moan of a post!

I have just had my first official supervisor meeting where we discussed a report i had written and my research ideas. Long story short they pretty much hated it all. Said not really worthy of full research project and report needs lots of improvement. They even criticised the work i had referenced. I came straight up from undergrad at the same uni as i am now doing my PhD so know my supervisors already. I feel utterly gutted. After the high of getting a 1st at undergrad and getting funding to go straight to PhD i am now left feeling unworthy of my place and totally out of my depth. I feel like i should just quit and let someone else have my place. I thought my ideas were good and now feel incapable of working at this level! I just don't know what to do...


Dear Phoebe,

I can understand your frustration especially when you have just done an undergrad degree and went straight to a PhD position.

Did they tell you what you need to improve and have you been told what to do? Just beware that if your supervisor criticise your work and don't give you any directs then you should confront the person and ask what are your obligations to me. Instead of criticising your work, they should critique it to begin with.

Remember, quitting is a habit hard to quit. Have you thought about doing a masters?


Don't be too hard on yourself - it's a big jump from an undergraduate degree straight to a PhD, after all. If doing a master's isn't an option, or not an option you favour, I suppose you're bound to feel a bit like you've been thrown in at the deep end. But that's no reflection on your ability; it's just going to take a bit of time to adjust. You'll get there!


Hi Phoebe,

I'm not sure what you mean by research report at this stage (just me being foolish) do you just mean ideas for your thesis? I also came straight from undergrad to PhD at the same uni. In my first meeting with my supervisor I came along with some ideas for research and he told me very gently that none of them would work. I went away, thought some more, and came up with what has become the basis of my thesis.
I think you're over-thinking this one - easy to do! Get your head down and take on board what your sups have said. The PhD is about perseverance and we ALL face moments like this from time to time. Learn from it and move on. You can do this!

Avatar for Eska

Hi Phoebe,

This sounds alright to me: it's very early days, so what you produce is bound not to be of PhD standard. It's really good that your supervisors are being direct with you and telling you where you are going wrong; the real horror stories happen when students go on for months, or years, with nods and smiles from their sup and no clear direction or feedback (as I did with my first supervisor). I've found PhD supervision far more intense than MA or BA teaching, and that there is a greater speed of progression in the quality of my work; there is a sense of urgency and intensity to the one on one nature of PhD supervision which can take some getting used to, but it is absolutely not personal, they're doing you a big favour, so long as what they say is constructive. I wish I'd had this kind of direct criticism straight away, it would have saved me a lot of time. My new supervisor shreds my work mercilessly when I see him and my work (thankfully) comes back covered in corrections, questions and guidance! The criticism is getting lighter as I progress, but I know he will pull me up if I'm going wrong, and that gives me a sense of confidence about the PhD that I didn't have before. I'm afraid, in my experience, much of being a PhD student involves accepting feeling a bit stupid for the majority of the time. Good luck, you'll get into it, they must think you are good to give you a funded place, and to make the effort to give you the feedback. (up)

Avatar for Batfink27

Hi Phoebe
Hang in there! I think what the others have said is right - this doesn't mean you're unworthy at all, it means you're taking a big step and the first things you've come up with haven't quite bridged the gap. But you'll get there - you're only a few weeks in and I bet very few people can jump straight from undergrad to PhD on their very first attempt at writing something. Everything I've read (on this Forum and elsewhere) about doing a PhD emphasises how much it's about starting again and questioning assumptions and thinking afresh about things, so maybe this just gives you a good opportunity to do that? I know it's hard, I've been feeling out of my depth as well, but if we were offered funding to do a PhD, they must have seen something in us that suggested we were capable of it!
If you ever fancy catching up on campus, drop me a line.... :-)


As the others have said this really is no bad thing, and its also kind of what you expect from a good supervisor! You've moved on now from the glory days of the BA and into the world of true academia and its a hard jump to make - going straight to PhD without the passing Go of the MA is a hard ask, but if you have been given funding and a place then they think you are worth it and well worthy of your place! Phoebe, you are a few weeks in, of course you aren't producing work of the required standard, this whole thing is about learning from your supervisor and this, I'm afraid, is part of the learning process. They shred your work, you stomp home, curse and swear a bit, look at what they've said, apply it, rethink it, go again, and it improves, your techniques improve, your thinking improves, its all part of the game. I always think you need a pretty thick skin to do this as your best is never 'quite' good enough lol, but that's ok, if it was where could you develop? You also have to remember that this is the academic way - look at journals, a world reknowned prof will publish a paper, that will be slated by his peers in many instances and new research developed from that - its constantly evolving and so will your PhD :-)

Pick yourself up, brush yourself down, see it for what it is, think it all through, and go back fighting :-)


Thanks to everyone for your replies you really have made me feel better about the whole situation. I think its also difficult that my head of department is one of my supervisors and therefore has the scare factor!

I did think about doing a masters but the funding was a big issue. I was reassured that it is possible to go straight to PhD so assumed it would be OK. Working on improving what i wrote today and hopefully my next meeting (in two weeks) will be better.

Feeling a bit more positive, just need to work on taking constructive criticism!!

Thanks again


======= Date Modified 25 Oct 2009 07:10:13 =======
Just to say that a few weeks ago when I got feedback on a paper I am very ambitious about (the feedback was essentially to rewrite it), I actually told my sup that I would stop writing.

Of course, I have now sent Version 15 to her to discuss tomorrow :-)

We have these phases, and my sup tells me one thing- that as a teacher, one's responsibility is not essentially to bring every student up to a certain uniform level of excellence, but to identify what each is capable of (i.e. be interested in them individually) and then do one's best to see that each student is able to reach *their* maximum potential.

Hence feedback, you will find increases in severity in any one of two directions: A) f you are completely crap and there is something seriously completely wrong in your work or B) you are doing very well but can do far far better and to let you go without pointing that out to you would mean wasting your potential.

If you have been taken into a PhD with funding, despite not having a msters, I think you belong to category b :-)