Proposal frustrations - lack of feedback and wasted time


Hi everyone,
I'm incredibly frustrated and bit at a loss as to what to do... I've been working on my thesis proposal for a year, regularly sending updated versions to my supervisor for comment. Her responses are generally: this is good, cut it down a bit, add in x, y and z. So I've finally come up with a final version that I'm happy with, and I send it to her. Her response: it's too much like your actual thesis, and not like a proposal. You need to start from scratch (?!?).
I'm dumbstruck, because this means that she apparently hasn't read it until now, and even though I have been regularly asking for guidelines and examples for how the department wants the proposal, she has always said "we don't have any" or "it's fine, just needs to be shorter". The only guidelines I have ever received are about number of pages (30-50 by the way)! I feel like I have wasted a year of really hard work, and I really really want some concrete guidelines so I can write this cursed proposal and actually start my research.
Any suggestions from the wise people on this forum? Should I say anything about why this hasn't been brought up at all over the past year? Or should I just be quiet, and do exactly what she says (in the hope that this is the correct type of proposal for the department)?
Thanks for listening.


30-50 pages? For a proposal? That's a lot! My uni didn't have many guidelines either, but I was told that the maximum length for the proposal is 5 pages, double-spaced etc. Are you sure it's not 3-5 pages?


Yup - positive! It is long, but we have a different system :-) it's quite a detailed proposal (but not what I thought, apparently...)


My proposal was 1 and a half page (single space) plus references....
I think it was so short. Maybe 3-4 pagew is good, as you can make your point by presenting the gap, proposed methodology and timescale.
But 30-50 pages is tooooooooooooo long....

Avatar for sneaks

30-50 pages is like an MRes of MPhil! I'd bypass the supervisor and ask somene in admin what's required, they probably do have templates or at least past examples they can give you that the supervisor either doesn't know about or doesn't want you to have. - not in an evil way, but my supervisor banned me from touching a thesis because she thought it would influence mine too much :-s


Thanks guys, unfortunately admin isn't too forthcoming, and all they could give me was the page limit (30-50). It is incredibly long, but I'm more used to the idea of it now - I'm just not sure what to do about my supervisor not reading anything. Did I mention I have to present this proposal in a week? Not happy :-(


Sounds like you need to be more focused. Your lit review should be tailored more to your research question. Narrow down to the things that directly relate to your specific topic. This is a common mistake. It may help if you posted your chapter format and length of each. I would aim for 20-25 pages.

Here is a turkey to make you feel better. (turkey)


A whole year on just the proposal seems like a lot. Do you have a Senior Tutor or Postgrad Tutor that oversees all supervisors? If so you could speak to them about your problems. They are meant to mediate between student and supervisor and they may be able to help you more than admin staff who can only help regarding technicalities like printing and binding and how many pages etc.

It's best to get talking to someone now as what will happen when you start sending chapters of your thesis and they don't get read? You signed on to be a postgrad which means you have a contract with your uni. Somewhere - probably PG handbook it will tell you what the uni promises to provide you in order to complete your degree. One of those things will be a supervisor who actually reads your stuff and guides you. Therefore you're entitled to speak to someone if 'you don't think you're getting this.

If you don't have a tutor then maybe Student Services can suggest a way forward for you?

John Wakeford at the Messenden Centre provides a free service for PGR students who are having difficulties you could google him and maybe see what he has to say?

Best of luck


Thanks for your help everyone - met the supervisor today, and this comic pretty much sums up my life:



I agree you should ask postgraduate tutor or personal tutor if you have one; someone who's in charge of the supervisors anyway; otherwise you'll just be getting more and more frustrated and you'll waste time. Good luck!