Reality check


Hi everyone
New around here. Started UK MPhil/PhD in June. Classed as a distance student, but have expressed that I would like to be on campus.
I am unsure of the level of interaction and input I should be able to expect from my supervisor(s).

A quick summary goes:
One supervisor was ill for a couple of months, and I was only told of this after saying I was unlikely to pay my fees if after several weeks, the person would not get back to me. My second supervisor also did not reply for a month after my starting, and then currently has a 4 week turn around time on emails.
I have not been shown around campus, given any information on library access until a month ago, and it was 3 months into my study before I was able to get them to explain was what needed for my final proposal, which is due after 6 months (I am part time). Freshers week is obviously round about now, but I have been given no information or invitation, and I don't think I would be welcome. I have met no other postgrads yet, despite asking repeatedly.
I am meeting with my two supervisors soon, but this is 4 months in and I have had 30,000 pages given to me by one supervisor, when I asked for a conversation about the current (past 5 years) relevance of a concept, which I was not able to trace past 2007, and it is fairly central to my project. I had hoped a that a dialogue could take place but this seems to not really be the case. The supervisor I have been able to speak to keeps saying that 'we will work it out' but the problem is that there is now only 2 months until my final proposal is due and I feel stressed by the lack of actual conversation and input.

I have two questions for you all if you don't mind:

1) Is this normal?

2) Am I expecting too much? Please be honest.


This is not normal, this is ridiculous. You shouldn't be expected to submit a proposal when you haven't met your supervisors. I'm not sure how campus access worked with distance students, but someone needs to tell you this. At the very least there should be training sessions for you to attend, and it would be useful to know when seminars etc happen so you can meet other postgrads.

I would contact the postgraduate admin person and ask them for advice.


I have met my supervisors over Skype once or twice but I get more waffle than any help narrowing down my topic or any specific input on my writing or my questions.

The postgrad admin persons say that if I cannot finish at the agreed date, then they can put my enrolment on hold and I can pick up where I left after a break. I have explained that I have received very little apart from library access for my fees, and that what I need is in fact the opposite of a break.

There are some modules held online which I could not attend due to a problem with their software licence. There are no on-campus seminars and no modules that I am allowed to attend, bar having eventually after much negotiation (4 months) been allowed to follow an MA module just to get some interaction with human beings.


Do your supervisors have a research group? Do they have any other distance students? What's your subject area? Mine's science, so we don't really have distance learners. You really need to be able to speak to other students there to see what's normal. Have they got a department mailing list? What type of uni is this? Russell group, post 92?


Quote From TreeofLife:

Do your supervisors have a research group?
I have not been told of one or introduced to any physical person on campus.

Do they have any other distance students?
I was told about one.

What's your subject area?
Interdisciplinary project with humanities and social science aspects. Sorry to be vague. I don't want a problem out of this post.

Mine's science, so we don't really have distance learners.
You really need to be able to speak to other students there to see what's normal.

Have they got a department mailing list?
No idea, I have not been told anything, not a tiny tutorial on the intranet. Most things show as not available to me despite several requests and tickets with IT

What type of uni is this? Russell group, post 92?
Just a general, UK university. Ranking okay for my topic but not a top university generally.

Answers inline above.


It does still seem odd to me, I would try to contact someone in the research group. Maybe you can find their details online? You should be able to find details of group members on the university web pages, although I think this is less common for non-Russell groups unis, based on when I've been searching for information before.

I'm sure you realise it's going to be really hard to succeed without supervisory support, but even more so without any other contacts. After all, that's not really the point of academia - we need to discuss our thoughts and issues with others. Plus it seems as the whole department is really disorganised. If you can't find any one else to contact and your supervisors continue their limited support, I would strongly consider whether it's worth continuing at all.

Any other distance learners or non-scientists on here want to offer advice?


Yes, TreeOfLife I realise that, which is why, as it has still not been resolved, as you are saying, I am having my doubts. I wanted to learn, interact, discuss, research, engage, potentially publish... etc. My problem is that, obviously, I want a PhD :) I just cannot see right now how the current state of affairs is going to give me the environment in which to successfully do much other than drive myself mad with worries, frustration and a perpetual sense of skull-against-brick.

Thank you for taking the time to reply.


I would leave while you are still in the relatively early days. Leave and try and do one elsewhere. I doubt you'd have any regrets.

Saying that - if you're still doing the Masters then perhaps you could finish that and then leave?


I don't know anymore how to do an MPhil with no guidance than a PhD with no guidance.


OK then I'd leave right now and start elsewhere. And maybe visit the new place and check it out before starting - how many distance learners it has and what kinds of facilities and support - talk to some current students if possible.


I have not asked to be a distance learner, you see. I live within an hour's drive of my university and would gladly attend on the 2 or 3 days of the week when I am not working. I visited the university before applying and everyone was excited and polite and they mentioned some other PhD students and the distance student. I had no reason to believe that it would be like this.

If I were to give up now and look for somewhere else, I don't think it would help my case to have already 'failed' at doing one MPhil/PhD... ?


There are people on here who have stopped one PhD and started another. I know personally someone who has done this successfully in the US as well, even staying in the same (small) field. So it is possible.

Maybe you could turn up on campus and go and speak to someone - you're well within your rights to do this. Tell them you want to be on campus for 2-3 days per week and ask for a desk. See what they say. If it doesn't work out then you can look for something else.


I have a book from the uni library The Postgraduate Research Handbook, by Wisker. It has an example of a learning contract between supervisor and learner. With aspects, the research student agrees to and aspects the supervisor agrees to. It's interesting to see what is on both lists. What the supervisor's role is and what they should be doing.


I have seen examples of such contracts or agreements in the past. Are you able to share those one or two pages with me if it is with the rules to do so?


Meep, I have sent you a private message.