PhD with negative results?


Hi there, has anybody of you fought with a PhD with negative results? I mean, do you think it would be possible to write the thesis and defend it? My supervisor is trying to convince me that it will probably not be accepted and that it is actually hard to write on negative results...I am desperate!! What a waste of time! I said to him I would carry on anyway on writing and defending (if accepted) and if I least I tried!
Please, cheer me up!!:-(


Hi Truuao, I don't see there being a problem with negative results. I have some 'negative results' and some of my research is flawed. But it's not the end of the world. I've tried to discuss why and I suggested further research that I can do to actually do something about it. You can still defend your work. Afterall, you know the strengths and weaknesses of it better than anyone.:-)


What do you mean by negative results? Accepting the null? Finding things contrary to your original predictions? Finding nothing? Finding you've done things wrong?

I have a few results that are dead ends in my thesis because of a few flaws and just general bad luck but I wouldn't call them negative. They still demonstrate my ability to conduct, analyse and evaluate research. And although on one hand I hate that they're dead ends result wise I'm glad they're there because they give me lots to talk about.


I might be wrong, but I'm interpreting "negative results" as finding no correlation, no event, etc etc. If that's the case, then I don't think there's any issue at all. In fact, I'd suggest that the majority of science experiments yield this kind of result.


Thats what I was wondering 4matt. It's just as valid a result, and can be just as important if not more.

I'm not sure why your supervisor would say that it wouldn't be accepted. There is something of a positive bias in publications but that shouldn't be an issue for the phd (It can be overcome anyway at publication).


hi everybody,

and thanks a lot for your advices and opinions.
for negative results I mean results that do not show what I expected first and as i work with two proteins hypotetically belonging to a complex, we could never prove that they really belong to this complex. my boss is quite strict and he strongly believes that these two proteins are really there but i think that many factors could give weak interactions with the complex or...many other things to discuss about, as Peljam said!!


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Hi, I don't see any problem with that. Have you tried to publish your negative results? There is a new open access journals that is accepting negative results and I think is very interesting. This is the link for The All Results Journals:

I think if you have something published it will be much easier to defend your thesis. Do not give up, as they said in their website: "All your results are good results!! (cool slogan, right?)


my phd was a series of chapters with negative results. i had no problem defending it. but since it turned out quite early that most results would be negative, i focused on qualitative analyses of WHY my hypotheses and the general assumptions other made about this particular topic were wrong (e.g. i took one of the basic assumptions and showed that reality is nowhere near that).

are there other people in your lab you can talk to? if your supervisor only allows positive result phd theses, then hardly anyone in his lab will have ever gotten a phd. can you talk to experts in your field of what their opinion is about your work?


Hi Truuao,

Only agreeing with others on here ... don't you learn as much from positive or negative. As long as your method, approach etc is exemplary then it will provide as much of a steer for future work as positive results.

Are you getting more cheered up now ?

Have a mince pie (mince)


Surely negative results are just as valid and extremely useful (in some cases perhaps more so). Your supervisor probably doesn't want to deal with negative results as they don't make "good" publications but at a recent meeting I was at academics were saying that many academics don't publish negative results as it's thought to be bad for getting funding etc... especially if you're early career. But these results are just as useful to tackle the problems in the research that most people will know about it. And with more of these results published there can be more frank discussions on to deal with these problems and move the subject forward. It saves other prople going down the same path too. Isn't that what science is all about? It's not perfect and there are many unknowns out there so some of them are bound to be dead ends or negative results but all results help in a constantly evolving subject.

Hope this helps ... good luck and stick at it.

P.S. Is this more a problem your supervisor has in that they can't be wrong or been seen to look "unsuccessful?"


Truuo ... it was nice to read this thread that you had started. I am RS. currently I'm carrying out my analysis, but they revealed a negative result. I am pretty worried about it. Can you please share your experience .... just to encourage me. My time is actually running out and need to present my defence seminar soon. Do get back

Avatar for BethWorthy

Hi turrao,
what's with that sad face? It happens dear. Sometimes you win sometimes you fail. Don't let it bother you. Life is full of ups and downs. Just give it your best. Don't care about your results. Just give it your best. Go hard on everything you come across. According to me, who cares for results too much, is already lost. If Life goes hard on you, you have to go hard on your life. That's exactly how it works. Hope I reached you. Good luck :D