What to do if I am downgraded from PhD to MPhil?


Hi, everyone. My PhD has been a roller coaster ride. My supervisors were mostly absent and uninterested in my project and my project was ill-defined from the start. Whilst I have managed to improve my aims and story, I am running out of time, having been told to present my data in the next few weeks. I have two chapters of results and was informed (I appreaciate honesty) by my graduate school coordinator that I may be downgraded to MPhil subject to outcome of my presentation. I am feeling depressed and unable to focus, although I have documents and slides to prepare.

How do I motivate myself to pull through this difficult time? And what should I do if I am downgraded?


there are probably guidelines on how much supervision you can expect, for most universities it's one supervision per month etc. look for those guidelines and check whether you got all the support you ought to have gotten. if you didn't get the support, make a list of what you didn't get and present it to the graduate school coordinator. finally if it makes you feel really rotten, counseling via uni or gp, this might enable you to apply for extenuating circumstances and buy you some more time.
also worth going to the student's guild for further support. they might be able to advise what to do in such situations...
good luck....


Thanks for your reply, windowsill. I have been through all that guideline thing before. Spoken to my then PhD admin/coordinator who asked me to speak to my independent assessors, who asked me to speak to my supervisors again and if the problem is not resolved, then BOTH my supervisor and me can ask for their help (never happen). I did speak to my graduate school a year ago as well. Their advice for me was to quit and start over. As that meant losing my scholarship which I fought so hard for, I could not follow that advice.

I am still hanging on, albeit with the depression. I just don't know how to make me complete this.


This is a very serious issue. First of all, do you have evidence that you reached this point because of the lack of supervision? Have you asked for feedback on your work and gotten no proper feedback? Have you asked for a meeting and they refused to see you?

Also, how much of your thesis have you written in total? Do you have a proper manuscript with a structure and defined chapters? You say that you are running out of time, are you in your third year or in your fourth year?

If you think you will be downgraded as a result of bad performance of your supervisors you should make an official complaint to your university in writing. Your language has to be very clear and direct, with evidence and copies of communications.

If your complaint does not work, then you have to complain against your university through the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. You must check that your institution is a member first, I think, but not sure, that there is a procedure even if your institution is not there. Using the OIA is free, so if you are stuck at the end and you have nothing to lose you should definitely make your complaint formal.


this is really proper dire. i'm not sure what to suggest either except what buru said and maybe aiming for a change of supervisor, if that is possible somehow in those circumstances. the problem with complaints is of course the danger that they will close ranks and will make it look like it's your fault and you're just a bad student, you're not good enough. that's something you psychologically have to prepare for, that they will go through your work and find all your faults and exaggerate them.
but what actually happened is that you just didn't get the right kind of support which is why you and your work suffered. this has nothing to do with this sneering 'but the stupid phd student wants that we hold their hands all the time' kind of view. you're entitled to support, you didn't get it, you need to prove it somehow that you didn't get it and make that complaint. maybe the people who offered the scholarship can help as well? after all they must have seen something in you otherwise you wouldn't have gotten the funding. no denying it's tough and might be getting nasty, so meanwhile just try to work on your thesis every day, every day a tiny little bit. it might distract you also from all the hassle.
people always say, don't make a complaint, think of the reference, but fuck that, supervisors get away with so much. they're scared of complaints bc for instance at my uni two complaints mean they are out, so the complaint threat should get them moving to make things better. but, as said above, they might lash out in some indirect way and discredit your work and try to cover up as much as possible. i was in a similar situation (tho no downgrading danger, just plain change of supervisor) where they secretly knew my former supervisor was dodgy, but didn't openly admit it. that may happen too. that they know it but cover up. good luck.


Hi, buru. I meet my supervisors probably monthly, but because my research is not their area of expertise, they have little interest. Due to this, they cannot give me the feedback I need. Therefore, I went down several rabbit holes before I fine tuned my aims, resulting in lost time. The other students who are working in their direct area of expertise are well looked after with frequent feedback via emails at least. So, mine is an isolated case.

I do have structure and defined chapters now, but I do not have enough time left to carry out my experiments. I hope to be able to secure more time but it will all depend on the outcome of my meeting with my coordinator in a few weeks. And yes, I am in my final year. Most people as close to the end as me have completely stopped doing experiments. I still have a mountain to do. I feel that all seem hopeless. The loneliness and the shame of a possible failure are in my face.


Hi, windowsill,

Thanks for your encouragement.. I can't change supervisor, it's far too late. The bit you mentioned on "the stupid phd student wants that we hold their hands all the time", yup, that has already happened... I have been told that I am not independent enough, etc... Anyway, I don't want to go on about how bad they are. I just want to know how to motivate myself. I know there are courageous PhD students out there who persevered even with everything was against them and still emerged with a degree in hand. I was hoping to hear how they did it.

Sounds like you and buru had it tough as well. I guess we all need good luck.


maybe the one thing independently of the complaint-route would be to go down the illness-extenuating circumstances route. if you have a disease or somesuch or went to counselling (or if you didn't go you can still go), tell them (gp, counsellor) to write a medical note and apply for extenuating circumstances and that can give you a couple more months.

i asked a mate who said you first have to appeal against this decision of being downgraded before you're able to make a complaint, i guess you can make a complaint anyway bc of this lack of supervision that you experienced.

i changed supervisor in the middle of the 3rd year and the whole thing was pretty horrific, but i have my viva soonish, my new supervisors don't expect any problems there and think that my stuff is good, just to encourage you, that it can look totally hopeless, but it can still be turned around. i'm not worried too much anymore bc my hell is almost over.

how i did it: mentioning the c-word (complaint), talking to the student's guilt (go to this place and ask for advice and tell them that you already talked to the programme coordinator, but the issue wasn't resolved) and that got them moving to some extent, however, i still had to gain the new supervisor's trust anew bc my old supervisor discredited my work. i got delayed some too, hence extension.

motivation i found very hard as well, and like i said, i did it all in very small bits, every day a bit, make a list and go through those points. and sport & counselling is not a stupid idea to help with all those feelings. at the stage you're at you'll want all the extrahelp you can get. focus on those documents and slides that you have. *you just have to keep going*, no matter what. there's lots of people in those positions. might not be a comfort, but you really are not the only one.


Sorry to hear you're in this situation. It does sound like you've had inadequate supervision (as many of us do, sadly), and I know how difficult it is to have to struggle alone, especially with depression to contend with as well.

I have had a similar experience, and got to the viva stage very worried about being failed or downgraded, although in the end I was given the opportunity to revise and resubmit my thesis in 18 months. I think what made the difference was that I'd prepared well for the viva and performed reasonably well (to my surprise), which gave the examiners confidence that I was capable of PhD-worthy work.

So I guess my advice would be to go into your meeting with the coordinator as well-prepared as possible, have a good summary of everything you've done and all the results you have, especially emphasizing any original contributions you've made. And have an clear outline of exactly what you still need to do, and the resources and time you need to do it. If you go in there well-organized and with a plan of action, it makes a better impression.

I know how hard it is to stay motivated, especially knowing that however hard you try it still might not be the outcome you want. All I can say is take it a day at a time, have your list of tasks to tick off one after the other, and just work through it as best you can. That's all any of us can do.


Quote From tru:
I do have structure and defined chapters now, but I do not have enough time left to carry out my experiments. I hope to be able to secure more time but it will all depend on the outcome of my meeting with my coordinator in a few weeks. And yes, I am in my final year. Most people as close to the end as me have completely stopped doing experiments. I still have a mountain to do. I feel that all seem hopeless. The loneliness and the shame of a possible failure are in my face.

Do not think that downgrading or failing are the only two possible options, there are many people who managed to turn everything around at the very end and produced a thesis good enough for a pass. You need to focus your energy on possible solutions (working hard on producing something presentable for the final submission as soon as you can, AND PROBABLY submitting a formal complaint on the side as a backup measure). For your meeting with the coordinator you will have to think of what you want as an outcome from this meeting, your number 1 priority should be to pass, so try to get as much advice from him on what you can do to improve your chance of passing (extensions, extra support, etc), and do not focus on how bad the supervision is EXCEPT when discussing the complaint. I think you should think of these two as separate issues and pursue them that way.

We have all had horrible experiences, you are not the alone. My original supervisor was very horrible, and even my new one is not that great, it does get very depressing and lonely at times, but we all have to push on! :) You can do this!


Thank you, buru, windowsill and Ephiny for your kind and encouraging words...