PhD Advice



I need some advice. Let me briefly explain my situation. I am four years into my research qual PhD and I am almost finished with only my findings to write up. A few years ago my secondary supervisor suggested that I use an external university approved editor to look over my drafts before I submitted it to both my supervisors to review. I was happy with this approach and it worked well for about 2 years. However, I recently received a phone call from the editor telling me that she was unable to continue working with me because she believed that my methodology was inappropriate to respond to my research question and she thought that I should start the PhD again. Obviously I was extremely upset. I approached my principle supervisor (my secondary supervisors is away for 6 months) who said I was doing fine and was one of his best students. He also said that all drafts he had seen were good. I asked him to read all 150 pages of my thesis and inform me if a) I should forge ahead with the current research question, or b) I should change the research question and re-write everything. I awn currently waiting for his response but it might take some time. So, am I doing the write thing? And are any feelings of anger and confusion understandable? I feel lost and I am currently walking around the city and not doing much until I hear from him. Any advise would be appreciated.



Hi Marshall,

I can see why those comments have thrown you - that is definitely not what anyone wants to hear four years in! What was the external editor's role - was it just to look at your writing, or to offer supplementary supervision and expertise in your subject?

Assuming it wasn't the latter, then I think you have to trust your own supervisors in your own university - there can be a lot of difference of opinion on these matters and it is mainly their responsibility to check your work is of the required standard. But perhaps more importantly, what do you think? Do you think your methodology is appropriate (or at least good enough) and you can defend and discuss its limitations and strengths? I know this isn't easy - I am continually doubting my own work, but if push came to shove could you do it?

I would definitely try to avoid re-writing everything at this point, although I do think that it is possible and not necessarily a big deal and can even be a strength to tweak research questions and show how they've developed during the course of your research.


From what you say, I suspect the editor has hugely overstepped her role, and has taken an overly strict and pedantic approach to the issue (I used to be an editor myself, we tend to be massive pedants). If your research was flawed enough to actually require *starting again* (rather than the usual redrafting/developing) then really, short of negligence, your supervisors would have picked this up already.

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Marshall, what an experience! I agree with Effingeffable. I think the editor has overstepped the editing role and that you need to trust your supervisors. I have two points or questions that come to mind:

Is your editor an academic with experience in your area and methodology (or are they someone who works as an academic editor)? What are their credentials? If they do have a PhD themselves, is it in your area? It will be experienced academics with some understanding of your work and methods who mark your thesis, not a professional copy editor-even if they do specialise in academic thesis work.

The whole world of academia with regard to argument especially within social sciences, humanities and related theory is one big world of grey. If you can justify your methods appropriately to support your thesis statement then that is what is needed to pass.

I'd personally keep on working while waiting for your principle supervisor's response, even if it is on other parts or technical aspects of the thesis and start looking for another copy editor or reader.