What don't they tell you?!


Hi guys! I'm starting my PhD in Sept, and although I think I know what to expect I'm really not sure!! did you get any nasty/nice surprises? What don't they tell you before u start!? Also I've been reading a few of the threads on here and I'm getting worried about costs etc., I've secured funding for fees and maintenance but will I be expected to pay for conferences and things myself with my maintenance allowance!? Thanks!


What they don't tell you...

1. It often takes longer than three years to complete.
In my field, after I started the PhD, I was then informed it takes more like 4/5 years to finish.

2. You'll meet lots of not very nice people.
I started my Phd with something of a rosy tinted view of academia.
You'll meet more than your fair share of bastards.

3. Excuses, even if completely genuine, don't go down well.


Now someone else can give the positives


I agree with Missspacey. I also met my fair share of b*&%$£*$. People (or "fellow colleagues and students") who are not afraid to manipulate, sabotage, and blatantly attempt to block your progress or success. It's a good feeling to outperform this breed of single-minded geeks in the end.

What they don't tell you as well, not many make it and actually manage to submit a proper thesis. Some don't tell you that they cannot be bothered to read your drafts, provide valuable advice and don't care about your studies. Some only care about their own career and it is a common phenomenon to wave supervisors goodbye as they venture for pastures new, leaving you behind with an incomplete thesis and no guidance.


But as these things don't apply to every single student, of course they won't tell you and if they did, no one would embark on the exploitation game. As Lara said in another thread, you are effectively a hostage until you've defended your thesis. In the meantime, you are the slave and have no rights.


What a cheerful lot we are!


It's been discussed here many times, but it can be a great test for your relationship, if you're in one. I've met so many PhDs who experienced relationship breakdown, including myself! If your relationship is shaky now, it will probably end. So, be warned! Sorry, it's not positive...


It can be isolating, depending on your situation. I would recommend holding on to any nice bits of your life which have nothing to do with your PhD - being able to get away from it all when I need to has kept me sane!

But it's not all bad... there are some deeply satisfying moments when you meet personal deadlines or get good feedback etc. Basically, if someone were to ask me "Have you been happy? Was it worth it?", my answers would be "No, I've not been entirely happy. But yes, it's been worth it."


I pretty much agree with the above, in particular Beverley. You do get very isolated, so try to keep on to old friends/routines as much as you can (they also help to alleviate the total bastardness of most people you will meet from here on in, even though they may not always understand).

I'd also add that there is never enough time, there's always one more book, one more thing you could try. I don't know anyone who produced a 'perfect' thesis in their eyes, only a good enough one. Accept your limitations early on and it will be much easier.

Good news though... most unis will assist with travel to conferences (it might not be much but it helps!); and I'm still looking forward to seeing my evil bank manager's face when I change my account to "Dr Sleepyhead"... although I'll still have an overdraft of course.


jouri and spacey, how did you cope with the whole sabotaging thing between students, postgrads and lecturers? how did you mentally cope with it?


i agree with everyone above, and what they have said..

from my personal experience. here are some tips.

read papers as you go along, even if its just one paper a week, it will add up! and you wont understand everything the paper says, some papers are written poorly (when i first started, i thought every paper was perfect, and i was the idiot that couldn't understand it, until my supervisor told me about good papers and bad papers - so be critical about the papers you read - if you get stuck, make a note of it, and find another paper on a similar subject to understand that paper).

write notes on the papers as you read them, they will come in useful, and file this away, whether you write on paper, or on your computer... you might get inspired by what you read, and may help you to broaded your knowledge and think out of the box sometimes.


learn how to use endnote

keep your labbook up to date! most important. try to write up your experiments as you go along! if need be, spend an hour each day writing up what you did, you will be happy you did. i sometimes made the mistake of doing loads and loads of experiments, and not wanting to "waste" time writing my lab book, wouldn't write in it for weeks, and then coming back to it, i would be completely stumped as to what i did!

(sorry i am assuming it's a science phd, whatever applies to you, take that, ignore the rest)

expect harsh critisisms, some will be totally unjustified, sometimes someone is having a bad day and will just lash out at you.


be careful of supervisors that convince you to write papers first before your thesis, if you can, do both at the same time.

don't let them make you feel guilty for taking time off. they will ALWAYS say, "when i did my phd, i worked 7 days a week, and 12 hours a day, and i never took any holiday" blah blah. they will act as if they were a martyr. don't listen to them! you deserve your holiday, otherwise you will go mad. they wont thank you for NOT taking any holiday.

expect experiments not to work all the time. even when you do everything right, it's just sods law.

apart from that, Good luck!!


Yes, I second all that has been said but would add one more bit... be careful about which conferences you attend and the amount of time you lavish on preparing each presentation. They can be very distracting even when rewarding so there is a need for some prudent balancing.

Also, if your partner/spouse is not supportive of you, the task is made many times harder.


One thing I did do that was really helpful was to keep a series of thesis journal (I have about 14 of them now) that track the train of my thoughts. Because I have a poor memory these have been lifesavers.

On the admin side, keep track of your emails, expenses , annual reports and letters etc, so when you need to apply for more funding, extensions, etc you have it all to hand.

Lastly, back-up, back-up, back-up. Establish a routine for backing up all your data and never veer from it. I know of several people who had their progress seriously impeded due to loss of data.