Forced to resign from PhD candidature


Sub-dean of faculty informed me that he had discussed with RDSO and recommended termination of my PhD candidature on the grounds of:
1. refusal to do what the supervisors want ie change the focus of my thesis and research questions in the write-up period!
2. written work not up to PhD standard.

What kind of an outfit was I in? and who monitors these academics?

I have a willing academic in another university who will help me with the write-up. However, I am unsure of the potential problems with Intellectual Property Rights over the thesis. Any supervisors/ academics out there who can shed light on this matter?


That's a stinker of a position to be in. Is this academic in another university going to offer you a place with them to finish your PhD?

You do have appeal rights, I think, if you want to stay. It's very (very) difficult for a university to remove a PhD student these days. I think you need to start by talking to the research office people.


I've asked my MP to speak to the Vice Chancellor on the appauling management of my grievance. Also, I will be speaking to a student advisor from the Students' Union. According to the sub-dean, his decision needs to be endorsed by the Post Grad Student Audit Group. I doubt they will overturn his decision. This sub-dean is a bit gungho in managing students' problems and really thinks he has the power to sack students.
I've been advised to get out of the "toxic" environment and to finish it elsewhere. I just want to touch base with issues regarding IPR, should it be applicable. The academic who is willing to help me is from another university and is not sure about IPR. It seems it depends on whether the current university has broad shoulders or petty little ones. I have emailed staff from the Freedom of Information Act and no one had come back to me as to whether I can submit the thesis in another university.


If they've followed the correct procedures for this then I suspect they are well within their rights to do this: as there are always going to be students who are not able to complete a PhD so there will be 'failure to make satisfactory progress' rules that allow them to get rid of unsatisfactory students. I'd suggest firstly going through the degree regulations to check that they have indeed followed the rules - if not complain about procedural abuse. There should also be an appeals process. I would imagine your grounds for appeal should concentrate on the fact that they've presumably passed you through progress reviews in the past and that it's rather late in the day to say now that it's unsatisfactory. It is in your best interest to follow the procedures scrupulously yourself rather than trying to get external people involved - you have to exhaust the internal complaints procedure before you can go to the external adjudicator otherwise they will reject it.

Moving university might not be that straightforward -  aside from the IPR issue you probably also need to check whether there is a minimum period of registration at the other university and whether the academic who says they'll help has the influene with the Dean to get you admitted there. On IPR there's probably a section on this in the official research student handbook. AS I understand it here the position is dependent on who was funding your research.


Very late in the day, indeed, to decide that the work is not up to PhD standard. Upgraded in 2005 and fieldwork completed in 2006. The PhD was funded by one of the schools within the university, hence a university funded project between 2003-2006. The bullying and lack of supervision which I tolerated since the start of the studentship became unbearable in 2007 and I requested for a change of supervisors. It took the university ONE YEAR to release me from the incompetent supervisors. I approached a number of academics and found 3 who were willing to take over the supervision. Unluckily for me, the leading supervisor wanted me to change the focus of my thesis and the research questions, so that it would fit the findings! I checked this out with the ethics committee and was told that this is unethical and illegal, since they approved the study based on what was submitted to the ethics committee. Communications broke down. I requested for a change of supervisors this year in May and it took them 6 months to come to the present conclusion.
Clearly, the university apparatus is designed to drag the students through the system and hope that they will go away and die quietly. I've been following procedures and this is what happens. They take the high ground, hide behind procedures and think they are a law unto themselves. I was just about to write to THE and the Guardian as such treatment of PhD students must be highlighted and hopefully the VCs will wake up to the needs of students. Presently, you can't even make an appointment to see him! How ridiculous.


A member of staff from the Research Degree Office was part of the decision making process and I am now waiting for Post Grad Research Students' Audit Group to endorse the decision made by the sub-dean the a member of staff from the RDSO.
It'll be great to see egg on their faces if they are guilty of procedural abuse. They have been really nasty to me since I raised the issue of bullying and poor academic support. Given a choice, I would not touch them with a barge pole but since they S**% on my doorstep, I'll just have to give it back to them!


Am not quite clear why you would not co-operate with your new supervisor - they were simply trying to make your PhD sound decent in relation to the data you collected? Ethics committees love to create barriers but they would not really have known anything about your new research had you just gone along with the new supervisor's suggestions since they'd already approved your PhD research. People who sit on ethics committees in universities tend to be 'can't do' people, who love to create a fuss over nothing, and am not sure why you tried to create a hurdle for yourself by consulting them again. Lots of people's PhDs change during the course of 3+ years it takes to finish them. But to me at your stage, after already falling out with your first group of supervisors for whatever reason, it seems strange that you didn't want to get on and finish your PhD with your new supervision team and co-operate with their suggestions.


Think you've just jump the gun in many places. No supervisors with 2 grey cells will propose a change of focus of thesis when ALL the work has been done, especially in qualitative research. Of the three supervisors, only one insisted on a change and then became increasing uncommunicative when I asked her for help as to how to reverse-engineer the project.
In my first year, I did what the sups wanted and it went so pear-shaped at the upgrade viva that I had to resubmit the report and was revivaed! The focus of the thesis was changed as suggested by the examiners and not the supervisors. Its a bit of a dejavu 3 years down the road. This new supervisor was only on board for 1 month and started making waves without engaging in what the research was about.



very sorry to see that is has gone so terribly wrong.

I think you are absolutely right: one cannot change the focus of the project once this has been nearly completed, as you say, this would go against the ethical approval and as such would not only be immoral yet also illegal.

Not sure whether this will make you feel worse; I had a meeting with my professor and supervisor, and the professor strongly criticised my project approach (which had been agreed with her previously!) yet she did accept that the focus could not be changed (as most of the data had already been collected). As such I will continue in the same way.

Again, I am sorry regarding the situation you are in at the moment, it sounds awful. Surely there must be an "Umbudsman at the university to help you? Or have you got access to any legal advice?


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My sympathies. A terrible story - and another example of a bunch of old farts with big egos having no consideration for the careers of students. Sometimes it seems that students are pawns that can be used and disposed at will. I went through a similar circumstance. After five years of research, my committee (after having approved my first draft thesis at the initial defense) decided that I should take my work in a different completely direction. And don't hold out much hope for Departmental Chairs or Deans to take up your case. As soon as you speak up, then you are the trouble maker - and therefore the enemy. Universities have no problem leading Ph.D. students on for years...taking tuition and government research funding monies. But then when it comes time to cough up the degree its a whole new ball game. Your work means nothing, and at the end of the day it is just a group of old guys with inflated egos and delusions of self-importance who will decide if you are worthy of joining their exclusive Ph.D. club. And should they deem you not worthy because they don't like the way you talk, look, dress or whatever, then you have just wasted a whole whack of time that could have been better spent. Good question - "Who monitors these academics?" - unfortunately the answer is themselves.

I apologize for the diatribe. But your situation sounded very familiar...even on this side of the ocean, at supposedly the most prestigious university in Canada.

My deepest best wishes Hairui!


Thanks for the commiseration, guys and to Almostthere for being so understanding. I still think it is shocking that they have the gall to string students along to the final years of their PhD and then drop them like a hot cake. And I thought academics have enough brain cells to "Do the right thing". Well, it must be a case of same show and same monkeys all over the world and "benevolent Britain" is no exception. It was a good ole 'Pow wow' from you, Almostthere. Are you still going to finish what you started 10 years ago?
And Rick, how did the meeting of 24Nov went? Any resolutions.
Well, I have some good news to share. The academic from another university will discuss with his dean regarding finishing my thesis there. It'll be sometime in January before I can confirm transfer of university. Will keep all of you posted.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with me. And I thought I was the only one going through a PhD from Hell!


I appreciate you feel hard done by, but I think if you want to salvage anything from all these years work you've put in, you will have to put the frustration and anger behind you and try to work postively with the Sub-Dean and supervisors. People tend to respond better when they are not being accused of "illegal" behaviour (when supervisor was simply trying to help you construct you a realistic PhD thesis to submit even if you disagree with their advice). If you can't co-operate with your current university I suggest you make immediate contact with relevant people at the alternative university and begin the transfer process (I would threaten legal action against current university if they tried to prevent you moving your PhD IP to another university given they are not letting you receive your PhD there, but I really doubt they will). The Sub-Dean may be glad of you offering to transfer your PhD and leave amicably rather than the hassle of you putting him through the complaints procedure. He is less likely to be amicable if you create problems for him by accusing him of "illegal" behaviour as you have done your supervisor.


Yo Commonsense!
You made it sound as if I didn't want to play ball! How can you expect a PhD student to agree to changing the focus of the thesis and research questions when all fieldwork is done? I think a line has to be drawn and sometimes, supervisors don't always know the right thing! Three out of five PhD students were deferred at their final viva because the supervisors led them up a different path! I've always been reminded " Its your PhD and you take the advice you deem fit" by the supervisors themselves. And when the chips are down, the student gets it in the neck and is labelled "difficult" or "uncooperative". The sub-dean needs a good kicking up his backside for being so spineless! And if they start to cry IPR issues, they are clearly very ill informed. And like you said, I doubt they would since he had recommended termination of the PhD.
One question: Why should I let the sub-dean know that another university is willing to accept me? In the past, they have knobbled a head of school from another department to reject me. I trust they do will it again. The bowels of academia stings to high heavens.


Hey Hairui, sorry to hear about your situation, it must be very stressful. What field are you in? I have to agree with some of the points that commonsense makes - would changing the focus just mean writing stuff in a different way or actually doing more field work? I had a similar situation with my supervisor re a section of my thesis (Science). I really dug my heels in and vowed not to change a word I had written but supervisor insisted so eventually for peace and quiet and the hope of graduating some time this century I changed it. As much as I hate to admit it, my supervisor was right, the thesis is sooo much better for the changes. I had invested so much time in writing it the first time that I was just too close - couldnt see the wood for the trees as they say. Sometimes they can see things that you cant - it comes from years of experience. Also as Im sure you are aware, academia is a very small world so it would be in your best interest to try and end things as amicably as possible. Hope everything works out for you.


So far the following people have apparently got it in for you:
Sub dean
Post-graduate student audit group
First set of supervisors
Subsequent leading supervisor and new supervisors
I have to ask: why?! Universities are divisive places. Occasionally it's possibly to annoy/be annoyed by one faction, but I've never heard of a situation where pretty much the whole university has been set against someone without them having done something wrong.
I will admit, as lots of people, to having days where it feels like that -- but it's simply not the case.
Now, you need to try and be a bit more pragmatic about your attitude to this situation if you hope to get a PhD.
Maybe try and sit down with your old supervisors with a specific list of things you want to find out:
(i) how did they expect the changes to affect your funding situation
(ii) how might you improve your academic writing
(iii) would the previous direction of your thesis have any hope of passing...
It's hard to admit that you're not always right, but necessary.
If I was the Dean at your new university I would be extremely disturbed to find the number of people you've taken issue with and probably (resultantly) not want to offer you a place. This is in part of your own making though, not some sort of academic conspiracy.