PhD needs major revision and I feel I can't face it anymore


Last week, after a laborious and trying process with two interviews I was offered the post for my dream post-doc in an exciting new field, and yesterday I was expecting that by today I would have passed my PhD, yet now everything seems like it's falling apart.

I've worked for four years at my PhD in chemoinformatics, and I'm now completely fed up of the topic. I've implemented algorithms into a computer program. I had a first-author journal article published giving an assessment of the program and comparing it to multiple other methods, and I collaborated with a chemist and identified a new molecule that is more active against a cancer target than any of the inhibitors previously known (this is going to be another article on which I expect to be joint first author). I expected that would be more than enough for a PhD, but apparently not.

The PhD was completed quite close to the deadline, mainly because I was so tired of the subject that it was a real effort to write it. Also, my supervisor didn't read it through properly: we went through some of the chapters as I was writing them and he made suggestions, but as we got close to the deadline he pretty much just waved it through and said he was sure it was going to be OK and as I had a published paper they couldn't fail me. Because of this I was expecting a lot of corrections, but I was shocked when I went into my viva and both the examiners said they had major issues with the thesis.

There was a two and a half hour viva that felt really exhausting. They were both really irritated by things that they didn't feel were properly explained, and during it I could tell they weren't really happy with the work. When I went back in, they told me that they didn't think that the work was sufficient for a PhD, and that some preliminary work that was summarised in the PhD needed to be brought to completion and validated to a journal article standard. The programming was deemed to be too much of implementing existing algorithms, the assessment was deemed to be "routine", and my contribution to the drug identification was just the application of existing algorithms.

In a meeting afterwards, my supervisor acknowledged that it was a disappointing result and told me that I'll need to spend another six months doing more work to get the preliminary work to a journal article standard. This also means that unless the department running my post-doc agrees to defer the start date by six months, or allow me to work for a few months and then take an unpaid sabbatical, I've lost an amazing opportunity.

If I'd known that the assessment and drug identification work I did wasn't going to be sufficient to get a PhD, I wouldn't have spent a huge part of my PhD doing it. I feel as though most of the work I've done, which achieved great results, is being dismissed because it doesn't tick enough originality boxes. Now I don't know if I have the heart to continue. I've been deeply unhappy for the last three years as well, due to


my failure to ever have any sort of relationship - it's been making me lethargic, messing up my sleep patterns, and making everything seem pointless. I've tried internet dating, speed dating, going to parties, but nothing works and now I can't face any of them again. I've had to move back to my father's house because I was so lonely on my own. I was in therapy for months (costing thousands and taking away lots of time from my PhD) before I eventually became fed up and walked out because it was just making me more unhappy. I'd been told that a new job and change of scene might change things, but now I'm back to the same old office and the same old project. I don't want to continue anymore, but I don't know what I can do instead. :-(



I read your post *hugs*

I don't even know where to begin really; I would think that "the identification of a new molecule that is more active against a cancer target", is very significant! Could you appeal?

*I might eat my own words (because I'm still in my first year, entering second!), but DON'T GIVE UP mate!

PM me if anything; I'm bumping your thread for support.



Hey mate,

The words hang in there can sound almost trivial, but it is true that things are often darkest before the dawn (to throw in yet another cliché). I am nearing completion myself and I have also failed on the relationship front with the ensuing loneliness, but have found solace in the idea that completion is a new lease on life. I took on the PhD as a personal challenge that I have enjoyed for the most part and I have no illusions of getting a job out of it, but the idea that once complete I can travel and know that I can do it means so much to me. In many ways the idea of having finished the PhD just gives you the ability to try something really different and then hey if that doesn't work just try and fall back on the PhD :)

I guess most of this is just me rambling but what I'm trying to say is just smash the motherf**ka out and to then try something risky afterwards.


Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Can you take an MPhil and still be able to take up the new post?

Given the depression you describe and your excitement for the new post, this may be a better option.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Hiya. It's hard to get perspective from the position you're in, but really, once you've done the corrections you can move on and you'll never have to think about the PhD again (if you don't want to)! I also got anxious and depressed during mine, but it was such a massive relief to get it all finalised, done and dusted. I'm pretty sure you'll start to feel better soon, and everything will start to fall back into place again. I suggest (1) you have a proper discussion with your supervisor about why you need to do major corrections and what you need to do to achieve them; (2) clarify with your examiners exactly what needs to be done; (3) consider going part-time on the PhD and requesting a year to do the corrections on the grounds you have a full-time job; (4) either complete the corrections in your own time or request a day a week or something to do them from your new employers; (5) definitely take the job! I really do think if you've come this far then you should just get it all finished and try not to give up. You'll soon become less emotionally attached to the thesis and look at the corrections as a task that you just need to get through. Do the bare minimum to fully meet your examiners requests, you never know, it may take way less time than you think it will anyway. Good luck.


Hey, I was in a similar position to yourself last March. Please wait until you get your examiners report outlining what exactly they require you to do. It may not as bad as you think. Yes you have a bit more work to do but put it this way- if they thought you were not capable of doing it, and thought the end result would not be sufficient for a PhD, they would have awarded you a mphil instead. This way, you sort of get a second chance? I would definitely take the job. You are not the first person to have major revisions to complete- it is more common than you think. What I will say however is that during this process it is vital to have the complete support of your supervision team. I would be lying if I said it was easy but if you have got this far, I think you can definitely see this through to the end! :)


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When I'm in a situation like yours after grueling hard work for days, I find it relaxing to read about the lighter side of our life, that is the postgraduate life. I just find a very interesting article about yoga (all anecdotal evidence really so it is all for entertainment and maybe placebo effect :) ), about "How Can Yoga Improve Your Postgraduate Grades?". As silly it sounds I started doing yoga poses in front of my screen after reading it just for the hell of it. I don't have time nor energy and/or money like many postgraduates to go to an expensive Yoga instructor (after my Phd. I will) but we still have the internet.

*link removed by postgrad forum team*

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

I agree ChrisR needs to see the examiner's reports as regards work to be done to make the thesis a viable PhD document and talk to his supervisor. However, I see from his opening post that he's having major problems with depression, is very unhappy and needs some space from the whole situation.

Given what he has said, it might be better for him psychologically if it is possible to take the MPhil, put the whole business behind him and see the new job as a new start if they will take him with the MPhil. I understand the sentiments that he should see it through, but a PhD isn't worth someone's long term health. There may be the opportunity to do a PhD part time in a subject he enjoys alongside the new post.

If he does want to see it through, I'd see if a suspension of studies once the examiner's reports have been seen and he has talked to his supervisor is possible just so he can get himself sorted out first.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


I definitely agree that health is the most important thing. Follow your gut instinct and do what you think is best ChrisR


Thanks for all the comments. I've been meeting with the people who offered my post-doc and explained my situation to them, and they'll be discussing what to do, but it seems positive - there was another candidate they liked but he wasn't willing to work for the full three years they wanted, so it's possible that the post-doc start can be deferred to next year. I'm feeling a bit better after the initial shock, and I've been meeting with my supervisor to discuss what to do next. Things are still very much up in the air.

Avatar for Pjlu

Chris, you have got to do what is best for you in the long run-but I'd agree with the poster that said the corrections and changes might not be quite as bad as first thought. Sometimes, it seems huge, but when you get down to it and are methodical, you can just work your way through it in increments and after six months-you'll have it done. Hope it all goes well and it is good to hear that you can go for the post-doc again once you have finished.(up)