'proposal' issues with supervisors.


Hello all,

I am in the application process and got green light from my ideal two supervisors and I'M feeling a bit too enthusiastic about all this. I got interviews to go yet the proposal stress continues.
In my masters, I usually got great comments about the first drafts that kept me going. I never had to make major changes in the projects and usually worked independently. At the moment I am getting help from potential supervisors and they underline the problematic points of the proposal (which to my surprise they do spend quite some time on it and add lots of thought and help). But this somehow scares me more as I lose confidence in my project when many problematic points are highlighted and editings are made. What's worse, the more I think about this, the more I feel this is mental!
Ok, now the funny question: is this normal? Is this how PhD applications work or am I being too vague and bad about this from the start that I might lose the supervisors confidence?

Good luck to all of you and happy new year!



Hi Leaf! This all sounds really normal! You have to remember that a PhD project is often so much more complex than an MSc project, and requires an awful lot of planning. I worked independently on my MSc project but had fairly strict guidelines provided, so I couldn't go too far wrong, but also had a lot of support with my PhD proposal and application. It can be hard to get to know all of the literature well enough to develop a sound proposal- it is very time consuming- so let your supervisors guide you and keep in mind that they will probably have a good idea of what has already been done and where the gaps in the literature are. Also remember that your potential supervisors will need to find funding for the PhD (or have they already got it?), and when you're asking anyone for money they like to see that you know exactly what you will be doing, how it will work, how it will be analysed, what use it will be and so on, so most likely your supervisors are making sure you get it just right! Don't worry about having problems highlighted- it can be a bit difficult to take, but the fact that they are taking time to help you with the proposal means that they have confidence in you and in the project. Most of us end up having all our flaws exposed during the PhD process- it is good to develop a tough outer shell, take it on board, and remember that most of the time, the people above you know what they are on about (note that I said 'most' of the time)! Best of luck with it all, let us know how you get on! KB


Hi Leaf. I agree with Keenbean, this does sound normal. The process where I am involves my proposal being scrutinised by a total of around 18 different academics, all of whom put their own slant on it & suggest changes (no wonder it's taken 12 months to be accepted!). Far from losing their confidence you will demonstrate to them that you can take on their expert suggestions, & you get a more robust proposal at the end.
Good luck & let us know how it goes. Mog :-)


Thanks a lot KB & Mog for your replies, it is heartening to hear your comments. I guess sometimes too much excitement causes too much stress. I spent so much time and effort on the project so I just wanted it to go as smooth as it did so far. Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences and I will share mine once I'm done, hopefully with good news! Good luck with all your work. :)



======= Date Modified 07 Feb 2010 08:59:48 =======
Hey Leaf, don't be too disheartened. You should take this as a sign that your prospective supervisors really know their stuff- which is precisely what you want at this stage.

I was in a similar position a few weeks ago. I had made email contact with my ideal potential supervisors who were really encouraging about the project. I was invited for an 'informal chat' after which they said they would be happy to assist with my funding applications. I made sure my draft funding applications were checked by as many academics at my previous institution as were willing to read them, and sent my prospective supervisors the best possible draft funding statements I could conjure up. Their responses were a bit flat- they pointed out texts I hadn't even heard of- and I felt really quite deflated by their comments. However, I have taken on their comments and tweaked my proposal and its now a lot stronger than it would have been.

I think this kind of situation is a bit of a test for both you and your supervisor, and how you respond is a good indication of how your relation might develop. You should expect constructive criticism from your supervisor, that is what they are there for!


Hi Leaf
I'd echo what has been said so far - I have just submitted my proposal after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  I got colleagues at the university where I lecture to look over it but it still got slated by supervisors - too little engagement with literature, too many references (go figure), unhelpful comments like "yuk" against one of my aims; things like improve this, rewrite that, take this out, why is this in at all etc etc.
I was really disheartened at first esp as I ended up with 3 days between their comments on second draft and the deadline for submission (otherwise 3 months). In the end I got there - where I disagreed with their comments I said why, where I had made changes to reflect their comments I wrote "sorted" next to their comments in the e-mail.  I think my Director of Studies is really tough (after being REALLY nice to me when I approached him about supervising me) but I've been told that it will stand me in good stead for viva. The committee met on Weds and I hadn't heard so on Friday I rang him to see if he had heard - he hadn't but he said it will go through fine with a couple of chair' s action changes to methodology (which I know is soggy and doesn't actually say "what" I will do - as until I do some preliminary research i won't know) and he called me "my dear" (Ok so it's sexist and I am at 44 a bit old to be called "my dear" but I took that to be a good sign).  I think you need to know when to accept their criticisms (something I'm really not good at) but also when to argue your corner.
Good Luck