Hiya. I'm a current PhD student and have been doing my thesis on and off since 2000. Even though i' m doing corrections at the moment, it's taking forever and my supervisor, who previously told me i would be ready to submit in March has now pushed the date back even further. It just feels like i will never finish. This is my second supervisor, the first one left after i began my studies and i was left for a year on my own and the second supervisor was appointed as he had a slight knowledge of my subject area. I was his first PhD student. Anyway, I've lost all confidence in myself and i feel like he has o confidence in me. I started the PhD as a very young and naive 20 year old and feel like my whole life has been on hold ever since. I don't want a career in a university and am beginning to think of turning in an MPhil/MA instead. I'm not sure if this is allowed...does anyone know please? :-(
I know someone else in your situation - working on his PhD since 1997. I am sure that you must have acquired a good knowledge of your field by now, may be better than your supervisor.
Try to establish regular contact with your new supervisor as he may think that you are no more interested in submitting your PhD after so many years.
Let him know that you are still working on it and that you want to submit it. I'm sure he'll help you to the best of his ability. Sometimes being the first supervisee is a good thing as the supervisor strives his best to show his abilities in this particular academic work.
I have two supervisors - I am not doing my PhD in the UK - one a Professor and the other one, a new PhD. I must admit that although the Professor gave me good directions for the thesis, the second supervisor gave me practical advise during my research (for my thesis) that were extremely beneficial.
In sum, don't give up. Try to connect with your supervisor to get advice and get it done.
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Ah Aingeal, I feel your pain. I especially get the ‘life on hold’ part. I have a strikingly similar ‘pathway’ (as they are terming it now) to your own. I did class tutoring, private tuition, exam supervision and, well, anything I could to make money and take my mind off the PhD, the magnitude of which was truly stultifying and stagnating.
I remained a registered full-time student throughout, and even went to interviews for permanent jobs. I got offered a permanent, pensionable, state job and took it, while keeping my fully registered student status. I was then almost 5 years registered as a PhD student and was determined to finish up my PhD ASAP. I hadn’t written a single chapter, at that stage, mind you. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions (and I had a lot of them through the years). Nevertheless, in the six weeks before I started the new job I came alive and wrote almost 30,000 words. I stayed in the library all day every day and surprised myself. I had a deadline: the start date of the new job. I needed that kick-start, I needed the change as the momentum between me and the thesis was non-existent. I was dead. It was dead. We were dead.
I started the new job (August 2006), and in the first couple of months it was handy and I was managing to write some of the PhD while working fulltime. But I never really got into the PhD with the same invigorating intensity as had existed immediately prior to taking the job. Then, as I settled into the new job, the workload and pressure started to build up and I had no time whatever during the week to do the PhD. I was getting increasingly unhappy that I couldn’t do as much of it as I had hoped. I did, however, manage to devote most weekends to the library, while remaining conscious that I needed more than weekends to finish this.
Then a strange thing happened: I really began to love researching and, for the first time, my topic. The independence of it, the control, and the deep satisfaction I had coming out from the library on weekend nights. I felt on a high. I felt I was building something, creating something, and that something was so much more meaningful for all the years of stagnation (etc...) that had gone before it. It was a more personal thing now than I ever thought it could have been at the outset. You have to go away to come back, as is often said. Every weekend that I stayed in the library and worked solid I saw some light that this period of my life would end and I would be free.
But I still had the job, and the contrast between how I felt about it and my newly sensed life in the PhD was increasingly ineffable. I would never finish the thesis while I had the job. I asked for 3 months unpaid ‘leave’ in spring 2007. I got it.
I was in the library every single day at 8.30am or 9, and finished at 11pm or midnight. One night I even got locked in so went out the fire exit at 1am, setting the alarm off in the process. My diet was dire, and I was drinking so much caffeine that I had permanent dry eye (I thought it was from the computer but apparently not). Most of all, I was flying through the work like I never thought I could. I started reading – on page one - the massive tomes that had stultified me for so many years. I went through all of my primary research methodologically: everything. I restricted myself to consulting the indexes on books which were of secondary importance, but I consulted a huge amount of secondary sources this way and garnered enormous knowledge. I utilised the online journal search features, Google Books and countless other resources that did not exist when I started the PhD. They made things easier, allowed me to amass information that people before me had overlooked, and gave me that sense of momentum, that sense of ‘I’ve contributed something today’, that vital feeling of achievement every day.
======= Date Modified 12 Feb 2009 04:46:35 =======
I discovered, finally, that if there is something I need to be happy it is to feel a sense of achievement, however small it may be, every day. I had years to make up, but because I was working so much and gaining so much knowledge I never consciously thought of it negatively but rather I was happy that I was getting so much research done, and conscious that every waking hour was devoted to finishing it and that was the best I could do. It’s odd how it ended up that when I dived into researching it was actually deeply satisfying - after all my years being intimidated into stagnation by the amount of research in front of me.
Two pieces of advice then, now that I’ve established my own little calvary above (apologies for the length!).
1. Never mind your supervisor. It doesn’t matter in the world whether he has any confidence in you: totally irrelevant. This is your project, and it is a good part of your life. It should be, as it clearly is for you, a deeply personal thing. Your confidence should come from your achievements, your determination and your tenacity to be hanging in there. A fighter. The amount of students who quit PhDs is astonishing; you should remind yourself of that. At any rate, he’s probably just caught up with his own research and the new pressures of the more commercial third level environment. In short, his mood has probably very, very little to do with you. If there is anything, he is probably under pressure from the head of department to get you finished as the department is fined. Just business. Keep it like that.
I know my supervisor has been seriously annoyed with me for some years now because the department has been fined because I had not finished my PhD. But he has been giving me constructive criticisms (with the odd acerbic sarcastic comment thrown in but, as the fella says, ‘he’ll get over it’), so that’s all I need. I know what he expects. I have also been getting everybody around me to proof-read the thesis. That has been invaluable.
Is your supervisor giving you clear, constructive criticisms? Be crystal clear on what his problems are with the thesis, and address them. That is most important. If he’s not constructive, as him to be (you are, after all, paying his salary), and consult the writings etc of established people in your discipline and get friends to read your work. Watch the established academics’ style, structure etc (whatever your weak points are). If you have a few shillings to spare, it may even be a good idea to pay somebody to proof-read it. A Google search will find somebody outside your circle to do that (and haggle with them on the price, of course). Those “fresh eyes” are brilliant. Remember, some people who do PhDs actually hire newer research masters and PhD students to research for them in the closing months of before their submission.
2. Yes, it is allowed to turn your PhD into a Masters. That is the worst case scenario in the viva: they fail you and suggest that you can resubmit it for a masters’ thesis. How would you really feel about walking away after all these years devoted to it? That they were wasted? I know I would feel like that. Even in my darkest days I never thought of walking away from this. People close to me regularly suggested it, and I would regularly ask them to stop undermining me. In the end I angered the same people by resigning from my post after the 3 months leave were up. I knew I couldn’t walk away from the thesis; I would have lost those years. Instead I continued on researching and writing incessantly. I submitted last November, and I’m currently waiting for my viva.
You gave up considerable economic opportunity to do this. You are in the final hurdle of your PhD and you’re not even 30 yet. This is, this should be, the time you vindicate yourself and your years. Your work is there for you to restore your self-confidence; right in front of you is the source for vindicating yourself and maybe even enjoying the last months of your PhD. Get stuck into it. That really is the only way. And, as linguist implied, you know a lot more about this topic than you think; you are the expert. The fact that your supervisor was initially saying March says an awful lot about how close you are to finishing. To quit now is akin to throwing in the towel in the final round of a boxing match. You really, really, really do not want to do that. I don’t want – or, rather, I don’t expect – a career in academia. I never entered it with that in mind. I did, however, want to take advantage of the great opportunity I had to reach the highest level in education available in a subject I always loved. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped – in fact, it was downright cold for much of the time – but I am a stronger person from the experience. I think it would be harder for me to say that honestly if I hadn’t made a clear and unequivocal decision to complete the thesis.
You can do it; you have almost done it. A few more months and your self-esteem will get a well-deserved break, and you can be free, quietly proud and stronger than ever. It’s worth it, Dr!
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======= Date Modified 12 Feb 2009 13:08:15 =======
wow i just read the posts below by Linguist and Aodhan, they are INSPIRATIONAL! (up) well done you guys. :-)
i really liked the part about how studying and gaining knowledge actually helps in building confidence, i completely agree with that.
and wow your friend has been doing a phd since 1997 eh Linguist that just made me feel a whole lot better :-) hehe
Thank you all SO much for your very helpful replies. It's so good to know that there are people in the same position out there. I think sometimes we put too much faith in our supervisors and lose all faith in our own ability. I feel much more positive having read your advice. I have some thinking to do now.;-) Cheers.
======= Date Modified 12 Feb 2009 22:49:55 =======
I think sometimes we put too much faith in our supervisors and lose all faith in our own ability.
Exactly! When I read your first post I thought, what does she mean her supervisor told her she'd be ready to submit by March but has now pushed it back?
It's your project. Have faith in your own ability and tell your supervisor when you'll be ready to submit.
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