My PhD was taken away from me


I was awarded a collaborative studentship by the University of Leeds, which commenced on 1st November 2020 and registered with EPSRC. My project was a direct transfer to myself from a previous student that left after a year. I made a formal complaint, which has only recently concluded, which was not upheld by either the university or OIA. However, I believe that if the correct investigative approach were applied, it would validate my initial complaint.

I had a description of the general research, however on arriving at the university it was not evident to me what my specific project aim was and there seemed a reluctance to explain. Therefore, there was never the opportunity to establish specific research objectives through a literature review. However, as the year progressed, I came to understand the general aims of my research.  Later in March 2021, after other students started, I was verbally informed that my project was being transferred to another student. General data collection and specialist equipment training was taken off me and only returned after an informal complaint. A post-doctoral researcher was the only person who had the expertise to provide specific project training. He was unable to travel to Britain at the time due to Corona virus travel restrictions. Therefore, the staff present would not have been able to support me effectively. Before the transfer viva, the theory and the small amount of data I collected related to two different projects and there was absolutely no way I could have continued or presented anything meaningful at the transfer viva.  I therefore suspended the PhD as my effort to establish what my original project was came to no avail and the attitude towards me was very demeaning.

I was contributing to long standing research and not creating my own PhD and I was recently provided with a synopsis of the research aim after three years of asking. In addition, I was asked to sign a contract amendment but given no details of the contents of the contract. I have recently been informed this contract related to the sponsors' involvement and because I did not sign this amendment the sponsor has left the project. Furthermore, I was given the previous students' progress report, but they have refused to release his transfer report to me. I feel this would contain conclusive details of the project, training and evidence of data collected.

I have still suspended my course and the school is asking me to return but I do not know what my PhD is or what I will be returning to. I am not sure what to do; the PhD is very important to me and I would like to return to it, however I would like to undertake a PhD which is rigorous, has correct supervision and contributes to a project which interests me.

Would you be able to advise me how I can liaise with the school or if there is anything I can do to get my project back or carry out my project at a different university?


I generally ask students never to take over left over project from a previous student. Typically there is a reason why the student left, perhaps an issue with supervisor or project, and not the official reason offered.

You are stuck and have waited far too long to take action. You should have changed to a different supervisor the first time they tried taking off the project from you.

Talk to your postgrad coordinator and especially the student union lawyer, if your uni has one. Sounds like unfair and inappropriate conduct may have occurred. It is late so I don’t know if they will let you continue or restart, but since you are already losing this PhD anyway, you might as well fight to the end