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Do other people's Universities also charge their PhD students to print their final theses? (UK)

I asked if it was value for money. It's £200-300, after a studentship of around £50,000 or more (not including all the admin costs that go into a single studentship).

PhD students ARE far down the institution's lists of priorities. If undergraduate teaching didn't exist there would be no way of paying the salaries of our supervisors. If there was a shortage of teaching staff then our supervisors would have to take on another module and not have time to supervise us or apply for the grants that pay our stipends.

In the last few years it has become extremely fashionable for PhD students to be extremely vocal about how unfair and oppressive the "system" is. This usually involves sending a million angry emails to professors and support staff in the name of "making everything better." Usually these are about trivial problems that can't even be fixed, which just wastes a lot of time that could go on something more useful. This is particularly unfair on support staff, most of whom would absolutely love to have the opportunity to do a PhD. It is now becoming quite common for staff in graduate schools to spend 3-4 years being harassed by the same group of students who absolutely delight in any "injustice" they can get upset about. But these are often deep and complex problems that can't be immediately fixed, and the students rarely offer any practical solution beyond "let's fire all the professors and start again" or "we can pay for it out of the Vice Chancellor's salary."

These are idiotic, time-wasting arguments because even if the "problem" were to be solved, it would never come out of the VC's salary. No "solution" to any "problem" is ever going to come out of the VC's salary no matter how angry you choose to get. It would instead come out of some other part of a budget, meaning a genuine loss of opportunity for another person. Would you like to a rare academic job to be axed for the sake of student printing? Do you think that's "fair" on the young, hard-working postdoc who wants a permanent job to start a family? Or perhaps it can come out of a department's travel or training budget instead, meaning a working-class student can't go to a life-changing conference just so a middle-class student gets a full colour thesis on her IKEA bookshelf? Is that "justice"? Is that "sticking it to the man" and "proving that PhD students are important to the institution"? Is that worthy of a long Twitter rant and many hours of stress for all the underappreciated professional staff having to deal with more complaints about long-standing policies that are "discriminatory" towards some hypothetical, non-existent student?

Maybe Katie can start a fund to help working class students get their own thesis contributor copy.

supervisors, gut feelings and support

I'm going to come back to this to answer it properly, but it's a situation I am depressingly familiar with.

Do other people's Universities also charge their PhD students to print their final theses? (UK)

I'm afraid this is pretty normal. Just in the same way that attending graduation and hiring gowns and so on is also extremely expensive and some students genuinely can't attend graduation because they can't afford it (as was my case). Like many low income students I couldn't afford my own contributor copy, let alone a full colour one. I sent my parents the pdf.

I think you might want to think extremely carefully about describing this as "discriminatory" since you (a) have the means to pay for it and (b) part of the cost is something you want for your own private purposes.

Discrimination would be being asked at PhD admission stage if you could afford to pay for your final printing, then being told you couldn't do a PhD without proving you had at least £200 of savings to cover it.

In my University, about 200 students finish PhDs every year. Do you think a University would rather spend £60,000 per year on printing student theses, or on hiring a new full-time lecturer for undergraduate teaching? What do you think is better value for money?

Has anyone disproved their own thesis?

Genuinely curious! Did anyone find out that a part of their original hypothesis was wrong? Did another group disprove your work before you finished? Or, as the title said, did you reach a point (late PhD or postdoc stage) where you discovered that your original project idea was overwhelmingly wrong? To the point that you did great research towards an idea that was essentially garbage? Even if a garbage idea doesn't necessarily result in a failed PhD, I would love to know how people navigated this situation...

DfE studentship

Hi Naomi,

Your message is somewhat vague too :-) I'm not sure what the timescales are, how long it's been since you applied. Unsuccessful candidates are not always notified immediately and sometimes not at all.

The process of PhD recruitment is different in every university and it depends a lot on funding situations, number of applicants, and the amount of workloads in the environment. Covid-19 has caused a lot of disruption to universities and many are in the process of having to change their entire teaching strategy once again for the new semester. Many are increasingly understaffed, some departments have lost staff members or are under a recruitment freeze. PhD recruitment is complex even in normal years. Academia can be chaotic and ever-changing even in normal years. This is not a normal year.

I'd say that if you are already stressed out by ambiguity at this stage, then a career in academia may not be right for you...

Support needed for a final year PhD student!

Quote From springtime:
I find this really interesting!
So what I understand from the responses here is basically if you want to stay in academia do as much as you can because it's really competitive, however if you don't want to stay in academia anything will suffice to get you through? Is that right?
What about the PhD by publication? is that easier than writing a thesis and publishing your work separately?
I don't understand why you can't just publish a chapter straight from your thesis they are basically the same layout???
Sorry, I am no help to you Yorkfuller! And sorry for all the questions I am just so curious! I have no one to ask these kinds of questions.

I don't think a PhD by publication is necessarily easier, it's quite a specific thing and essentially you HAVE to meet the minimum numbers of papers, whereas in a traditional thesis it's more desirable than necessary. But what I was actually saying is that students often put a huge amount of pressure on themselves unnecessarily. In my field, most postdocs are highly specialised which makes recruitment almost random. If you have four papers in even a slightly different topic you won't get a job over the person who has two in exactly the same topic as the vacancy. It's sad but true. Of course, if there was a vacancy in exactly your topic it would be better to have more publications than less, but only if they are good quality. I saw someone who didn't even get an interview for her own supervisor's vacancy because her previous two papers were so sloppy.

As abababa said, chapters are usually longer than papers and padded out with things that wouldn't normally go in a paper. In my experience it's much easier to turn a paper into a chapter than the other way round, but it depends. A paper needs to be MUCH more polished than a chapter so I found it easier to do that work first and then add all the extra bits for the chapters.

The standards for getting a PhD are lower than those required to stay in academia, yes. Just like you can pass an undergraduate degree with the minimum requirements, but that wouldn't be enough to get you onto a PhD place. The only difference is that with postdoc vacancies, there isn't some kind of universal standard. It's like hitting a very narrow moving target, which causes a lot of achievement-oriented people to completely freak out.

crippling anxiety and only one phd interview

How did the interview go, Chronophobia?

Suspected (highly-likely) plagiarism in a published paper

This is a really dumb question but have you tried running it through some anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin? I know that's not foolproof and it seems almost childish at this point, but it might give you some more evidence that whole phrases have been taken directly from your work or that there is more than just a superficial similarity.

Sealioned by ex-supervisor

Quote From BugsBunny:
Can you somehow convince him that publishing this work will be of some benefit to him?

It should be obvious that it would... it's a major contribution that could have a wide impact. My other supervisors already explained to him what a big impact it could have. He has spent his career trying to come up with groundbreaking ideas, but most of them have failed. I don't like trying to guess what other people are thinking, but he could simply be jealous. I know tons of people who think they are far too logical to experience emotions, so whenever they do they label it as some objective external truth. There is nobody on earth more obstinate than petty people who think they are wise.

(Sorry, I'm clearly getting annoyed with him now... I should try to take a break.)

How do you tell if your PhD supervisor is sexually harassing you?

Hi sciencephd,

I'm sorry for taking so long to respond to this. I was so horrified by what your colleague said that I had to think about it quite carefully.

As a rule, I try not to assume the worst in people. If I assumed every obstacle was because of my gender or sexuality I would never get out of bed. I have seen abusive situations develop across all sorts of power gradients and in all sorts of situations. You'll never catch me assuming that any male professor in a position of power is automatically abusive, or that nobody else is capable of doing harm. At the same time, abuse of power can absolutely exist and sexual harassment of female students is depressingly common.

The paternal love comment made me feel quite ill, for many reasons. It's worth breaking it down for anyone who thinks that might be okay:

(1) He's not your father, he's your PhD supervisor. You aren't his daughter, you're his student. He isn't a parent, he's an unrelated adult. You aren't a child, you're an adult. You're there to do a job and get training for your professional career that you chose yourself. You went through a selection procedure and were hired for a job. His DNA was not involved in the making of your project.
(2) If he wouldn't show "parental love" to a male student, he shouldn't be showing it to a female one.
(3) Content warning, but the comment kind of implies that "paternal love" is always pure and no father in the history of the human race has ever done anything weird or creepy with respect to his daughter. Sadly, that's not even close to being true.
(4) Just... what? If it's obvious to your colleague that your supervisor is in any way being affectionate towards you, it should be equally obvious that that isn't okay. How could it possibly be okay?

For context, my mentor is the same age as my mom and I'm the same age as her eldest daughter. We joke that she's my science mom. But there's never anything weird or creepy and it does NOT cross boundaries. Even though she talks about her children and I like hearing what they're up to, it is still absolutely a work relationship and I don't remotely think of her as a mom. Nobody would watch our conversation and say that she was being maternal towards me. We'd both know that that kind of dynamic is unprofessional and potentially quite destructive. So even *if* that's all it was between you and your supervisor, it would *still* be inappropriate for a work environment. But I think if someone was just being weirdly paternal towards you, you'd know it. It would be a different kind of frustration. I've been treated like a child at work and it's a very different kind of annoyance.

How have things been recently? Do you think there might be someone in your institute -- a postgraduate tutor or an equality officer -- who you might be able to have a chat to?

Sealioned by ex-supervisor

Thanks BugsBunny and fakename!

This is still going on and of course it's extremely stressful. I may indeed have to go to my former ethics committee and check the situation if I take his name off the paper. I now believe 100% that he is obstructing the paper for personal reasons, though I wouldn't like to guess what those reasons are.

I am shocked at how difficult it is to make progress in this situation. No matter how much I believe in this paper it has become very difficult to sit down and keep working on it when I know there is so much resistance no matter what I do. I'm sure I saw some cartoon as a child where old scientists kept insisting someone was wrong no matter what evidence was put in front of them. I wouldn't mind so much if he was engaging with my responses to his objections but he just ignores them and invents a new reason why I must be wrong. It is such a waste of time and effort and he is being so smug about it. If some of these objections were valid I never would have got my PhD. Nobody in my field would have.

By contrast, my postdoc supervisor went through a list of half a dozen of my project ideas and was extremely positive and enthusiastic towards all of them, offering tons of support in developing them. It would be so easy to drop this paper and do something else, except I know perfectly well that's what my ex-supervisor wants.

Support needed for a final year PhD student!

I agree with other responses. Three papers has become a kind of gold standard across most STEM subjects but it never used to be this way. I talk to a lot of senior academics in my department and they've said to me that in their personal experience of my field, it was common 20 years ago to have no papers (and try to turn chapters into papers later); and 10 years ago it was common to have one and excellent to have two. Nowadays 3 is a guaranteed pass and a good way of standing out above others in very competitive postdoc applications. In short, the more papers you have, the more you'll stand out.

However, the pressures involved are -- if you ask me -- a little unfair. Some theses, particularly in Europe, follow a three-paper structure. So you write three papers and that's your thesis, combined with an introduction to tie them all together. In my field, unfortunately, we still follow a traditional PhD thesis structure *and* we're also expected to publish 3+ throughout our PhD. Which means the best students are expected to write this enormous document alongside publishing three or more papers, which is a lot more pressure because a chapter is typically more involved than a paper in my department. Rather than doing one or the other, there's now this weird pressure to do both.

In my old department, the "best" students -- those most interested in academia -- typically tried to commit to not just meeting that goal but even exceeding it, getting 3-5 publications alongside a bunch of talks and conference papers. They tell themselves that they need to do that to get a job. Of course they DO get jobs, but in most cases would have done so even without putting that much extra pressure on themselves.

The least committed -- those who decide early on they just want a cool title on their credit card -- might aim to get one or two papers. Those who genuinely want to do well elsewhere then make the most of all the other related opportunities that will help them in industry (such as developing software or taking on small managerial tasks around the department). But there's always some 10-20% of students who honestly don't care about anything and who just drift towards the end. I've seen people scrape through their viva with no publications.

So if you really don't care anymore, take the pressure off yourself and try to think about what you need to do to succeed in industry, and if there's any way you can build that up from where you are. It might help to switch gears and make finishing the PhD a lot more enjoyable if you know you're still working towards something that is genuinely useful.

Applying for PhD after almost 10 years

Imagine you are a supervisor who is willing to take on a new student in the field of Obscure Thing. Imagine you are trying to choose between three candidates. One is fresh out of University and did their undergraduate dissertation in Vaguely Related Thing. The second is a mature student with a lifelong interest in Obscure Thing but little, if any, direct experience in the field. The third is a mature student with a lifelong interest in Obscure Thing, who was also the founder and co-chair of the local Obscure Thing Society, has ten years' experience running a popular blog about All The Obscure Things, and tutored a small group of enthusiastic A Level students who all went on to study Obscure Things at Oxbridge. Who would you pick?

Pretty much every supervisor will choose the third student. This is not meant to discourage you; there are tons of ways of proving your interest in something. These range from time and money intensive (e.g., studying an OU module or two), to less intense (such as volunteering at a relevant organisation that demonstrates your interest).


None of those things are strictly necessary, they just make it easier for supervisors to gauge your commitment. If you have some demonstrable interest, use and develop it. If you don't but can do something easily, do it. If you don't and can't, don't stress about it. Most supervisors have to choose between five near-identical students with undergraduate degrees in near-identical subjects, and one mature student with a lifelong interest, if the latter exists at all. This means you already have a chance to stand out, if you can explain "why this subject?" and "why now?".

If you have a strong research question, can talk clearly and sensibly about the subject, don't misunderstand common terms, have a clear set of questions and interests, and are willing to listen to the supervisor and trust their expertise and guidance, you will be 10x further ahead than the majority of the other applicants. That alone will prove your interest and allow the supervisor to gauge your commitment even if you have no other experience developing Obscure Widgets or delivering Obscure Public Talks. What really matters is that you care about the subject, have the kind of demonstrable personal qualities that will get you through a PhD, and are going to be an asset to the department. Anything you can do to prove it is going to help you.

Completely changing PhD focus - dilemma

One of my PhD supervisors was the kind of person that everyone goes to with their ideas. She tends to encourage everyone to see their PhDs as loose collections of 2-3 projects that are vaguely united under a common theme (which can be very diffuse indeed). Her approach is very different to most other people in my department: everyone else had a traditional, big-continuous-topic approach to supervising a thesis. Yet almost all of her students have stayed in academia, mostly because they have learned the resilience to pick an idea, write a paper about it, and move on. She also encourages them to do things that are genuinely interesting or useful, e.g. her students' projects tend to be in hot topics or applied areas that won't be relevant in 3 years' time. I mean she's very connected to industry and very aware of policy changes, funding priorities, that sort of thing. So she has a tendency to encourage people to do things that are immediate and useful.

The downside is that people don't get invested in their work, don't develop the identity that says, "I am x, world expert on this one subject." Their theses can get pretty random and I've seen some creative introductions aimed at tying together projects that are clearly unrelated.

I guess what I'm suggesting is whether you could treat your autoethnography as a separate project within your main thesis, aim to do it quite quickly and perhaps publish a paper on it, and then sell it to your supervisors as an idea that is beneficial to others (because you're supporting parents) and / or time-critical (because some reason why it needs to be done right now), and / or that you know the idea will work (because it's a continuation of your MA work). Think about how it might help your main project (new methods? Industry contacts?) and be prepared to raise this with your supervisors. If they're weird about it, you could ask if you could focus on it for 1-2 days a week (if you're full time) alongside your other research. I did this with a stalled project and whilst my offered time commitment was a total lie (I said I'd work 1 day a week on Passion Project, when I probably ended up doing maybe 1 day a week on Main Project), the truth is that I was only doing about two hours a week on Main Project beforehand because I was struggling so much. Getting confidence, finding direction: these things are important.

Agree with others about perhaps not changing the entire focus of your thesis if you aren't sure there's enough thesis-level material there for a whole new direction.

Question for postdocs/ECRs

It can be very difficult. I don't want to go into too much detail about my situation but my ECR life so far has been stapled together by stray bits of leftover research funding from various PIs I know. I have a broad range of skills, no long-term plans, and am not too fussy about what I do, which -- so far -- has made me someone that people can turn to when they need something done. Since my goal is to get a fellowship so I can pursue my own projects, it doesn't really matter what I do in the short-term. At the end of my PhD I decided that all I needed was enough time and money to finish my papers and apply for grants. Staying in academia is the best way of achieving that, even right now if that means building someone's software in exchange for my own research time and the promise of being a coauthor on all future papers using said software. Future plan is to get a fellowship then permanent academic job some day, which means not making any choices that will take me away from that.