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MA in History worth it?

Do you love history? Do you read history books for fun, do you go to history talks and lectures? Do you volunteer with a local history group? Have you been researching a history project of your own, however small? If you really enjoy history, and want to study it further, then think seriously about the MA. You might have to think long and hard about how you are going to finance it, and how much time it would take up if you have to do it part-time alongside other work. But if you love your subject, how would you feel if you didn't do it?

It's very unlikely to get you a job by itself, but it could look good on your CV, if nothing else it will show potential employers that you have the committment to undertake a fairly extended course of study.

Some people do a Masters, and that's it - they've had enough of studying. Others (and I was one of these) love the studying so much they want to go on and do a PhD. So you might find the MA is enough by the end, or you might want to carry on.

Supervisor giving preference to another student

I had two unsupportive supervisors, it was a difficult situation. Eventually I got a new lead supervisor, who was more supportive, and helpful in her way, but a very busy person, and not really the kind of supervisor whom I could drop in on for a chat. .

I realised I needed to make my own support network of other lecturers. It wasn't easy, as I felt I was damaged goods in my Dept after changing lead supervisor. However, I did volunteer on committees where I would meet academic staff, and I made a point of getting involved in one organisation in particular outside my institution. I also presented papers at internal seminars and external conferences.

My unsupportive supervisors are never, ever mentioned by me - I don't deny anything if asked outright, but I remain pleasant about them.

As for teaching, I got in touch directly with my head of department, which seemed to be the way things were done with regard to getting teaching work in my dept (your situation may be different).

Some people might suggest social media - build up a following on Twitter, blog, etc.

None of this is a fast fix - it takes time to build up a network. Nor is it a guarantee of success - I volunteered on one committee for several years, and still got passed over for a temporary teaching post by the committee chair in favour of his less-well qualified favourite. On the other hand, I owe my present temporary teaching post at another institution to contacts made on another committee. And my involvement in the external organisation indirectly resulted in a small, but very welcome, research award, as well as some book reviewing in a peer-reviewed journal.

Finally, if the other student is unpleasant to you, he must be feeling insecure in his position, and quite possibly threatened by you.

best of luck.

Resubmitting Years On

If you want something to hand in, could you approach your former supervisor with a work plan of how you aim to revise and resubmit the thesis? It shows you have thought about the resubmission seriously, and if you can resubmit you have a timetable to work to. If it really is too late to resubmit, you have only lost the small amount of time taken to write the work plan. It would be heartbreaking to work on finishing the thesis, only to find after all that effort that they could not accept it.

I was just wondering, though, how much do you really, passionately, want to be Dr Longlost? And how far you feel you ought to be working towards becoming Dr Longlost, because other people say you have to finish - but in your heart you don't have that passion. Does that makes sense? If the university said there was time to submit and they were looking forward to receiving the thesis, how would you feel? How would you feel if you were told it was too late to submit?

Best of luck with whatever you decide.

Turning thesis into book

Eds - thanks, the final part of that chapter in Dunleavy's work is very helpful.

After posting on 4 November, I realised that I suffered from 'I don't like to bother people' syndrome, and decided to be somewhat more proactive. I approached someone else in my dept, and was delighted to get a very fast and friendly response; we're meeting up next week. I also approached the postgraduate office (which administers research degrees across the whole university) and they will put me in touch with people elsewhere in the university, if necessary, though they wouldn't be specialists in my field.

There will be a book eventually. The body that made the award obviously thought so, as did my examiners at the viva. I trust their opinion - now to put the work in.

Turning thesis into book

Having been awarded my PhD - yeehah! - the next project was to turn the thesis into a book. I've hit something of a brick wall with this, and would appreciate advice. I have been talking to a potential publisher (a very reputable one in my field), who expressed interest in a proposal. But I am getting nowhere in my department with advice on the proposal.

I had a chat with my internal examiner (who turned his own thesis into a book) months ago, and went away and worked on the proposal as a result of that, but my request for a follow-up meeting hasn't received a reply. I'm not sure how far I should be nagging him about this.

Both my supervisors have now left the department/retired, and to be honest, based on their respective publications records, they aren't the best people to give advice on this.

I've searched online for examples of 'thesis to book' proposals in my subject, but without much success, and a trawl of the university library shelves was similarly fruitless.

I was given a small (but much appreciated) award by an external organisation towards the expenses of turning the thesis into a book, and I feel quite bad that this is dragging on so long after they had enough faith in me to make the grant.

I'm thinking about just sending the proposal in to the publisher as it is, but would appreciate any advice this forum can offer.

incompetent CO-supervisor

Quote From Iseult:
I had a similar problem. See 'Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!', posted 1 April 2013. I had some helpful comments, and updated the thread with what I subsequently did about the problem. Best of luck.

Sorry, posted 4 January 2013. Update was 1 April.

incompetent CO-supervisor

I had a similar problem. See 'Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!', posted 1 April 2013. I had some helpful comments, and updated the thread with what I subsequently did about the problem. Best of luck.

Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!

Update, part two.

One book that was helpful to me in understanding hyper-critical personalities was 'Impossible to Please' (Lavender and Cavaiola, 2012). This examines why people might exhibit hyper-critical behaviour, and strategies for coping with them. Not all the book was relevant, but it did help me understand that I was never going to please her (quite possibly due to high anxiety levels, as indeed was suggested on this forum). It also suggested a possible coping strategy, that of avoiding the hyper-critical person.

This sounded ideal! By explaining to my first sup that what would be of most benefit to me and the thesis would be to just quietly get my head down and work on the thesis, submitting drafts for comments by email, I have managed to avoid any formal meetings. There has been some informal contact, but this is bearable.

Thanks again to everyone who responded.

Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!

I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my posts about my hyper-critical second sup. On re-reading the first post, I can see how low I was feeling about the whole situation. The fact that total strangers took the time to respond kindly and constructively really helped me get a perspective on what was going on, and encouraged me to take action, rather than sitting around in despair that I could ever change the situation.

In the hope that it may help other people in a similar situation, I thought I'd post an update as to what I did next.

I set up a one-off meeting with a student counsellor (mentioned in my second post). It was helpful to talk to (or talk at?!) another person face-to-face, to clarify my thoughts. She offered to come with me to talk with my first sup about the problem. In the end, I didn't feel the need to take her up on this, but I was grateful that she said this - I now felt I had at least one ally at the university.

The lack of constructive feedback on my thesis remained a problem. I found a couple of books which were helpful in clarifying my thoughts around its structure. 'Authoring a PhD' (Dunleavy, 2003) and 'Structuring Your Research Thesis' (Carter, Kelly and Brailsford, 2012). I read into these an assumption that the student is taking command of the thesis (rather than jumping when the supervisor says jump) which was empowering.

Some months ago, another lecturer (not on my supervisory team) said he would read a draft of my thesis. I took him up on this. His feedback was genuinely constructive. I also, for the first time, got some detailed comments from my first sup, also very constructive. This really helped put the negative comments into perspective. I wish I had asked my first sup for some substantial feedback much earlier.

Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!

Thanks for responding. The point about stress is interesting. I am as capable of getting anxious as anyone, hence my post to this forum! But I would find it unprofessional to exhibit this to my supervisors. Hence my second sup might perceive me to be coasting, though I most certainly am not.

The word limit on this forum meant that I had to leave some things out of my first post. Background: I had to make a change from my original first sup, although my second sup remained on the team. My new first sup has great experience as a supervisor, but my work isn't quite in first sup's field. So I think part of the problem is that second sup is seen by first sup as the subject expert on the team. But it's become increasingly clear to me over the last couple of years that there areas where she's not so expert, only she won't admit this to first sup. Also, since the new first sup came on board, I realise how poorly I had been advised previously as to the structure of the thesis, and I wonder if she's come to realise this too.

I think that some of her behaviour is along the lines of 'attack is the best form of defence', as she tries to deflect attention from her shortcomings to mine. However, I'm concerned that it is not just professional criticism, but personal antagonism, since she barely speaks to me outside supervision sessions. I do try to be polite, and she will make awkward small-talk, but it's not a happy relationship.

Thanks for the suggestions about talking to people. I have had a chat with one of the student counsellors, but since reading the above response, have realised that there are a couple more people who might be helpful. Also, the vacation will soon be over, and my weekly meet-ups with fellow-students will recommence. It's the last month or so that's seemed so isolating.

Hyper-critical supervisor - reality check needed!

I have had problems throught my thesis with critical and unsupportive supervision, although a change to a more experienced first supervisor did help considerably with the overall strategy and approach to the thesis. I dealt with my second supervisor by being pleasant to her, and over time her behaviour did seem to modify.

However, some months ago, and for no obvious reason, she reverted to her former hyper-critical behaviour. I am now writing up, and hope to submit by the end of the academic year. I live some distance from campus, and am quite isolated from my fellow-students as a result. I would appreciate a reality check.

I have not received any positive feedback on my work from her at all since the recurrence of this behaviour. Everything is turned into a negative. For example, I spent considerable effort trying to get some material for a chapter, without success. She accused me of not spending enough time on my research.

I have long-standing concerns about her abilities. She has made several claims in the past about certain sources being essential for my thesis, but when I've examined them, they haven't contained the information she insisted they did.

My first supervisor has made positive comments, but in quite general terms, and tends to leave most of the commenting to second sup. The effect of this is that I am very unclear on which parts of the thesis are good, and which need more work. I read other theses for inspiration, but need constructive feedback on my own work.

I feel quite demoralised. I work hard at the thesis, but can spend an hour on a single paragraph, trying to make it perfect in a futile attempt to avoid the negativity.

When her negative behaviour resumed, I changed tactics, and became more assertive with her. But she hasn't backed off, and I fear the situation is deteriorating into one of petty point-scoring. Also, I work best with collaboration, not competition, and this is getting quite upsetting.

Being Bullied

I experienced a difficult situation a while back - it could be called bullying - and was recommended the following book, 'A Woman in Your Own Right' by Anne Dickson. It goes into how to handle verbal abuse, and if that is the problem you are having, it may be helpful. Best of luck.

Please Help- Is there a way out?

Have you tried talking to anyone else, other than your supervisor, HoD and the Head of Graduate Studies? Perhaps you have explored this option already, but if not, and depending on what is available at your institution, you could try:

Another academic. Is there anyone who might be sympathetic and offer constructive advice? Sometimes people are reluctant to get involved, but may be prepared to offer their opinions/solutions, if it's made clear that is all you are asking.

University counselling service. That should be confidential, and provide you with the space to talk through your concerns. (My personal experience with the counselling service at my own institution was that it wasn't very helpful, but I don't regret having at least tried, and other people have spoken more favourably of it.)

Fellow students, past and present. Have any of them been through a similar experience? What worked, and what would they do differently? Is any of it applicable to your situation? (Check out any advice you're given with your university's current regulations, etc, as necessary. Helpful as fellow students can be, their advice isn't necessarily accurate. But I should say that I have found my fellow students to be a terrific source of moral support.)

I hope that was helpful - best of luck in dealing with all this.

What would you do differently?

Taken more responsibility, earlier, for the project.

I wanted to be seen as a good student, so dutifully followed everything my supervisors said. I am sure that with many supervisors, this wouldn't have been a problem at all! But my supervisors were both 'detail' people, and in concentrating on a small part of the research, the project lost sight of the wider aims and objectives. I also became overwhelmed by the original scope of the project, and feel I could have been firmer, earlier, in saying that the scope would have to be revised.

Eventually I got another supervisor with a more strategic view of the project. I also made a point of reading other PhDs on related topics, and this gave me a series of reference points as to how my own PhD should be structured, and what the scope should be.

I am not suggesting that students should not listen to their supervisors; I do listen to my new supervisor, who is good, and even my other supervisors can give good advice. I just wish I had taken more responsibility for my thesis much, much earlier.

I'm back... and struggling with my introduction chapter and a loss of confidence.

Some while back, I had a serious loss of confidence over the thesis, due to negative comments. I don't really want to go into the details here, but it was a difficult time, not helped by my own tendency to beat myself up over not having a thicker skin. Actually, I now realise that such losses of confidence are not uncommon, even among mature students.

What helped was that I still felt passionate about my subject. Even when I couldn't face writing the thesis, I carried on with research. Then I started creating appendices for the thesis. These appendices didn't require any particular writing skills, so were not part of the negative feelings I had around the text of the thesis itself. Perhaps creating these appendices were a form of productive procrastination to avoid dealing with the rest of the thesis - but having organised material for them was hugely helpful when I finally managed to get back to writing the thesis proper.

Presenting conference papers helped too - I presented to a couple of postgraduate conferences, they were both positive experiences, and confidence-boosters.

As a previous poster has said, feedback can be subjective. But it took time and experience for me to sort out the helpful comments that would improve the thesis from those that were more a matter of personal opinion. And I can still have the odd wobble that maybe what I think is just an opinion may be a matter of great importance to the external examiner!