Ever since my barely passed viva upgrade, I have been struggling with my PhD. Me and my original supervisor (let's call him A) got another very senior supervisor (let's call him B) who is a well respected academic about a year ago. I have had meetings with both A and B every 4-6 weeks and about every week with A.
Anyway, last 6 months I have lost most of my motivation. I really didn't put a lot of work in, and as a result produced rubish. I have considered quitting, been on the verge of quitting for months but have never mentioned it to any of my supervisors. Supervisor A is never very critical of me and I consoled myself with thoughts that my writing is not that bad, because after all if it was my supervisor would call me out on it.
Yesterday, as soon as I woke up, I knew it was going to a very bad day indeed. I felt sick, like I was coming down with a flu but I had to drag myself to uni because I had a meeting scheduled with both supervisors (A and B). They were supposed to give me feedback about the document I have produced that is supposed to be a part of my thesis.
After initial small talk, supervisor B proceeds to criticize my writng. In fact, to tear it to shreds. He said how he just doesn't see me writing the whole thesis if this is gonig to be my standard of writing. How my writing doesn't follow a story, is not clear, he could not understand what the hell I was doing. It went on and on for 40mins. I sat mostly silent and close to tears. Supervisor A didn't say much either and basically just nodded in agreement few times. Keep in mind that supervisor A saw this piece of wirting numerous times and said that it's pretty good and only made some minor edits.
Afterwards supervisor A called me into his office and just said that supervisor B is a great academic and that I should take all his comments on board. He really didn't even attempt to make me feel better in any way.
So I was sick and tired and pissed and not thinking clearly. I stormed into supervisor A office and asked "If I quit now would I have to pay back my studentship money?" Supervisor A was stunned. First told me that I am not thinking celarly, then proceeded to repeat "don't quit" over and over again. Suddenly he started saying how supervisor B is overly harsh and critical and I should take his comments with the grain of salt. He even forwarded me an e-mail where supervisor B tore his (supervisor's A) grant to shreds. Then, sup A said that I have already put too much work into it, that "even though he knows I don't care about this, it will reflect very badly on him given that I am his first and only PhD student". He told me to take a week off and rest and then re-visit this conversation again.
I feel so deflated. A friend of mine who is also a PhD student was stunned that I meantioned quiting to my supervisor. I wish I could take it back. Not because I haven't seriously considered quitting (and I still do), but because I didn't want to talk to my supervisor about it until I am absolutely 100% on quitting.
I hate to be one of these people to threaten supervisors with quitting.
I have no idea where to go from here. My motivation is now at an all time low and I don't see that getting better. WIth this incident I have now burned my bridges to possibly getting a job in my department after the PhD. I have presented myself as unstable. Part of me strongly wishes to go thorugh with quitting.
Any advice would be appreciated.
Hi Lostinoz, really sorry to hear what happened. I have a very bad supervision meeting recently where I wanted to run out of the meeting and not come back again. Even when supervisors are supportive it doesn't make it any easier when things get tough. I think supervisors who are overly critical don't really know the damage they are doing. I often wonder about the management training that academics gets. My partner (who works in a business environment) has had some really good managers who know the principles of motivating people not pushing them into the ground. Some really have no idea how to manage and nurture people. I can't say whether its a good thing to quit, some people do and never look back finding other PhD programmes or moving out of academia completely. I do think is understandable that you acted on your emotion and how you were feeling, and I think you shouldn't worry about that because you acted on how you felt at the moment, completed pushed to the limit. Amazing how quickly your supervisor was able to turn things around. As for staying on a working at the uni, you don't know if that's what you would want at the end and I would be surprised by any supervisor who never felt like quitting maybe their their memory must be short. I think for most there is always that thought of want to throw in the towel at some stage or another.
I've followed your threads over the months Lostinoz - not because I'm a stalker or madman, but because this is the only forum I am active on on the whole of the internet, whilst I do my Phd. Anyway, I don't know whether it's because your PhD is much harder than mine or because your circumstances are much worse than mine (or anyone else's on this forum), it just seems like you are making your PhD a very negative experience. I've had my writing criticised, my work torn to shreds, done things wrong, generally felt like shit, largely work in lonely isolation, have an annoying sibling who's a 24 hour party person with a penchant for Sinaed O'Conner 24/7, have no money and have soooooooo much work to do and then probably redo several times. So I have every anxiety that you do.
But, do you know what? This is PhD right of passage stuff. I'm by far the not the most negative person on this forum, but what I can tell you with conviction is that it's going to get much worse and even more challenging for you if you proceed with the frame of mind that you have and the outlook that you have on your work. Seriously, you may as well just drop out, and not play the quit game with your supervisor. We all face challenges with our PhDs, but I wouldn't dream of using the quit word with my supervisor - they only want the best for you however it seems - your success is, afterall, their success.
If your writing gets slagged off, do what I do - evaluate the feedback, learn from it and improve. That's what we all have to do.
Not to patronise but you really need to ask yourself do you 'really' want the PhD? Can you really dig deep down and find the motivation that you need to do it (10% inspiration and 90 % perspiration and all that)? Can you identify and focus on what you do enjoy about doing it when times are tough? You're about half way through now and you have to push on and make progress.
You're in a supremely privileged position to be doing a PhD that has the potential to change your future if you want it to. A wise though pessimistic and cynical man (Badhaircut, 2009) put it best when he said it's commando training for the brain and a true test of character. You can do it because you wouldn't have been offered the PhD - so you have the capacity. But do you have the desire and the motivation? Do remember that we all go through lull periods. Take care.
Hi Lostinoz, I did use the quit word earlier in the year so I know how you are feeling. I did intend to quit, I told my supervisor I was thinking of quitting(I was really thinking about it) not just because of my actual PhD but also other things, I didn't think I was expected to do well anyway. She told me I shouldn't waste all the work I had done. I felt a little guilty because it's difficult to get into a PhD program never mind get full funding for it. Anyway, In the end I decided to stay, finish the thing and prove anyone that's ever doubted me wrong, i'm glad to say I submitted my thesis on time and I'm waiting for my viva.
I'm really saying is that if I can do it, so can you! Use that fact that you want to prove supervisor B wrong as motivation for finishing. :-)
Lilobeep, thanks for yor encouraging post. I am wondering after you told your supervisor that you are considering quitting, did he/she changed how he/she acted towards you? Was it a "huge deal", or was it forgotten soon enough?
In my case, I did and still do seriously consider quitting. I didn't just bluff and say this to provoke a reaction. I just wish I held back from saying anything until I have reached a firmer decision. I now cringe when I remember the entire conversation. I hope I will be able to live this one down.
I worry about being perceived as unstable.
While sup B is right on most of his points, he doesn't know how much he underestimates me. That particular piece of writing is poor, I will give him that, but it's not even close to my best effort.
Sorry to hear about your experience. I agree with Walminskipeas that ultimately you'll have to decide if you want this or not. There are lots and lots of downsides to life as a PhD student and it really depends on if you like the upsides enough to stick it out. The upsides may be that you have a genuine and deep interest in your research area, enjoy the intellectual challenge of finding answers to questions that no one have found before, meeting other like-minded people, working independently etc etc, as well as having the title of PhD and a possible career path opened for you at the end of it. For me these are the things that kept me going and I suspect others who are doing/have finished their PhD as well.
Now I don't know it for sure but I won't be surprised if most supervisors haven't had any training on how to supervisor people. The quality of supervision varies a lot and it also depends on your personalities etc. Now I may not be the best person to give advice on this seeing as my supervision could be a lot better but over time I have come to learn that you as the student have the responsibility to manage your supervisors (not that I've mastered this myself - far from it...) in a way that works for you - it's YOUR PhD and your supervisors are essentially there to give you professional advice (like comments on drafts) to help you get it.
If you do decide that a PhD is what you want I wouldn't be too worried about having mentioned quitting to them. I'm sure you weren't the first and you won't be the last to have considered/mentioned quitting to their supervisors. At the end of the day it's the quality of your work, not whether you considered/mentioned quitting that will be judged when it comes to your viva/submitting papers/getting a research job after the PhD. So try not to lose sight of the big picture.
Sigh. I really thought that when supervisor B said that my writing is not up to PhD thesis standards, he was really implying that I should quit. Supervisor A says that Sup B didn't imply that at all. I have decided that I will sit down this weekend and put a 100% in producing another version of that document, according to Supervisor B preferences. If he still thinks it's rubbish, I will re-visit considerations of quitting.
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Hi, so sorry to hear of your experiences - it sounds to me as though you're suffering very badly from the PhD blues, combine that with being sick and getting a grilling and well.... you engaged your mouth before your brain... hey, we've all done it at some point or other.
I do agree with Wally (as ever, a very wise man even if he does badger for stars :p) and would urge you to sit down, think things through calmly and try to revist why you're doing this - what made you fill in the application? What is great about your subject, what questions are you going to answer?
Your latest post bothers me - that you're gonna sit down and give this 100% is great, but that you'll possibly quit if supervisor B still shreds it??? Come on.... do you ride a bike? Did you fall off when you were learning? Did you get back on, learn from that, and now be able to zoom around as you'd never have imagined when your dad took your stabilisers off? Did you come out with incredible spellings as a kid? Did you get your sums wrong sometimes at primary school?
We are NOT the finished article, we're learning, all of us, and part of our craft is learning how to write to a very high standard. You and I are at the same point in our PhDs give or take a couple of months, sometimes my writing is barely legible! Its getting better, slowly, but if I were to send to you the upgrade paper I'm writing at the moment you'd laugh - trust me! I'll edit it endlessly and hopefully by submission in a couple of weeks it will be better - but I know that I'll get a LOT of comments, but each time I learn from them, improve a bit more, and hopefully by the time I submit the thesis my writing will be such that they'll not give me one of those alphabet charts to learn from ;-)
Your supervisor B sounds rather vicious - some are - my supervisor who looked after me for my BA dissertation while my main supervisor was on sabbatical was one of them - but you know what - after some rather thorough maulings in which a couple of times I ended up in the common room in tears and threatening to quit - I improved so much. I remember he gave me back the draft of my full dissertation - 2 weeks before submission and said, its really very good, just a few points to address - I looked through and every single page had at least five corrections to deal with, most a lot more. I asked him if it was bad if he'd have handed me a carrier bag full of shredded paper lol. He critised EVERYTHING, commas, too many, too few, language, style, content etc etc - I got a high first for it in the end - I'd have scraped a 2:1 as it stood if I'd had a lenient supervisor so I have a lot to thank him for! You will with yours too if you can just get over this reaction to criticism - its his job - he's there to make sure that you do the very best you possibly can - and if you couldn't do he wouldn't bother!
Take care, chill out, and think about all of this logically. You're here to learn and to improve.
I'd also echo the advice that things are likely to get tougher before better, and the PhD writing process (I'm just finishing mine) is a horrible thing to go through, with potentially much rewriting. I got devastating feedback from my supervisor 3 years ago (I'm a part-time student, doing a 6-year PhD), saying my writing style was totally not of the standard required. To make things worse this feedback was delivered in a letter since by then he was 500 miles away, and I couldn't talk to him about it in person. I worked very hard at improving things, but had to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite. It got easier to take the tough feedback over time, and I still get it. Main thing is to keep going.
And personally I don't see what's so bad about mentioning the Q word. I'm a big fan of being totally honest in a PhD. If you are that serious about potentially quitting then by all means discuss it, and try to find a way forward. Only if the supervisor knows that you might quit can the two of you probably discuss how to resolve the situation. Otherwise they're just skirting around the issue, through no fault of their own.
Hey Bilbo and Streesed,
Thanks for your comments. Yep, I prefer straight forward honest communication. Now thinking back, I didn't lose it or cry or anything I just wanted clamly to discuss quitting. I am South-European and naturally m ore direct and temperamental (I just found this to be true generally) and English people seem to shy away from direct confrontation.
I am also probably more impulsive and dramatic than most people, which makes the PhD experience so much harder.
I currently feel so distressed, do you guys think it's OK if I don't go to the deparment Chrissy party? This is a huge deal with us, and everybody looks forward to it and goes. I just don't feel like it at the moment.
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