Is this normal?


I'm two months into my PhD (human microbiome in disease) and I'm panicking slightly, not sure if I want advice or just to let it out...

What I basically want to know is whether it's normal to go into an advertised PhD project with the specifics of the research question, funding and ethics not properly thought out by the supervisor? My supervisors advertised my PhD project a few years ago at the same time as they applied for funding for it, but their funding application failed. My primary supervisor said he was surprised when the uni told him someone (me) had applied for the PhD project a few years later (it was still being advertised but I don't think he was aware). The project is funded in terms of my stipend and a grant of £1000 per year for travel to conferences etc., but nothing else (I naively thought research costs were just a given, seen as you can't do much research without them). Now, having started my PhD, I've been tasked with defining the research question within my broad subject area, applying for a small funding grant for patient consumables (although the rest of my funding will costs much MUCH more) and applying for ethical approval (IRAS). The funding deadline is for December, but I don't even feel like I've been reading long enough to consolidate my ideas and figure out what consumables I'll need...

I know you're meant to be completely overwhelmed when you're doing a PhD anyway, but all my peers seem to have everything (or at least funding/ethics) worked out for them and they're cracking on with experiments. How will I have enough time to get everything done? I also know I need to speak with my supervisors about this, they're both super busy all the time/hardly ever in the office/unreachable - I have a meeting with them on Friday, will try and express my concerns then...


Hi, elski,

It happens that some PhD project has no funding. However, you do not want that to be your case because life as a PhD student in those projects is super terrible.

It takes months to apply and hopefully obtain funding. In addition, you mention that the research question and ethics have not been properly thought through. AND your supervisors are super busy and not reachable. This sounds like a combination of a potential disaster.

Since you are only 2 months in and have your stipend, you may wish to search for another supervisor ASAP. People change supervisors all the time, especially at the early stages of their PhD. Try to find one who is not collaborating closely with your current supervisor. Or better yet, find one from the same uni but different institute.

The decision is your hands. Good luck.