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10 months in and thinking of quitting

Since you are only 10 months in, I would say that if you did decide to quit, now is the best time - before you spend too much time doing what you do not actually enjoy. Ask yourself this: do you enjoy the topic, are you passionate about it? Think about whether the answer is "Yes" very, very carefully.

It is common to feel inadequate or unsupported in your chosen project, especially at first. The first year (at least that of an EU PhD) is designed to break you in and get you at least a little familiar with the literature and laboratory methods in your chosen field. Unfortunately, it is also the time when your supervisors can be a bit hard on you - they want you to succeed, and this sometimes equates to extensive critique of your work in an effort to drive your own improvement (as was probably the case with your writing!). A perfect supervisor would balance said critique with just the right amount of positive reinforcement and encouragement, but this is incredibly difficult to achieve. Bottom line is, you are not expected to move mountains during your first year!! Many people do not consider this, and may get a bad case of 'impostor syndrome'.

Just keep engaging with the project, do not give up. Not familiar with (e.g. statistical) methods involved in bioinformatics? Make that your focus for the next X amount of time, and you will improve. A PhD is a journey of discovery and innovation - you do not go in knowing everything right off the bat.

Another consideration is the development of a 'thick skin' when it comes to criticism. When you start publishing, get ready for the possibility of overly harsh, outright contradictory and (rarely) nonsensical comments from reviewers, not to mention the lengthy wait times. Do not let any of it get to you, retain your rationality and objective thinking. Once you have that, you will see that hey, things are not so bad! You passed the transfer process - that COUNTS. Instead of considering the "possibly dire" future, consider the positive "now".

PhD Application 'all year round'

Another important point is the funding availability. Unfortunately, UK PhDs are usually only fully funded for Home (i.e. UK nationals) or EU students, while tuition fees for citizens outside of the EU and EEA (European Economic Area) are extortionate in comparison. To give you an example, EU tuition fees may be £5,000, with an international equivalent of £20,000. The situation is similarly dire for MSc and MPhil degrees, which also command almost quintuple the amount for third country citizens. Thus, if you do not have a UK/EU passport, you will be required to cover £15,000 an academic year out of your own pocket given the above example. However, you will also be earning a net (tax-free) stipend via a 'maintenance grant' of about £15,000 p/a. Needless to say, the rigorous academic requirements for obtaining a PhD do not change.

Once you begin working on a project, the funding is usually time-limited to 3 years, after which you are given an extra 'writing up year' with substantially reduced fees (think a few hundred pounds). For STEM PhDs, you will still be able to work in the lab and have an office space during this year, especially if you are on track for a high-impact publication(s). Your maintenance grant will be cut, however, unless funding is secured elsewhere.

During those 3-4 years, you should be having regular supervisory meetings to track your progress (keep in mind, your supervisor WILL want you to succeed), and it is a good idea to publish a few articles on your research (think 1-2 first author papers, the more the merrier). However, keep in mind this is not a requirement, and for many students there are no publications until the final (or the 'writing up') year - this is normal, as is having no publications at all by the time of the viva (oral examination of your work, usually by 2 experts in the field). Pass the viva, do the almost inevitable corrections, and you are home-free!

PhD Application 'all year round'

A general overview of the PhD journey in the UK may prove beneficial.

First, the application process. I have never heard of PhD programmes with continuous recruitment of student(s) throughout the year, and would be surprised if these exist. Instead, most PhD projects have a limited application window during which they are advertised online by the University who secured the project funding. Thus, most PhD's usually begin in October and January, with applications beginning around May-July and October-November, respectively.

Before directly applying online for a PhD, it may be a good idea to e-mail the first project supervisor (who will be listed in the advertisement) for an informal discussion. A PhD is a serious commitment, and the short project description is often insufficient to determine whether a project is really something interesting that would excite and intrigue you. Even if you are sure, however, an informal discussion is still a perfect method of establishing contact, and provides you the opportunity to show you passionate you are about the research before a more formal interview (the positive outcome of which, given a very successful informal discussion, may even be decided well in advance).

Once you have settled on a few (or even a single) potential project, prepare your application as per the guidelines provided by the advertising University - this is very important! I have seen a person fail to meet simple criteria like a CV page limit, just because they did not read the details of application.

Be mindful that you will need at least a Bachelors Degree, usually First Class honours.

In the event of successful application, you will be shortlisted for a formal interview. Treat it like a job interview - read the principal supervisors' research and familiarise yourself with some general details. For instance, if a STEM project is about a certain class of molecules, know how to draw at least some of their structures. Know landmark papers that advanced the field - not necessarily limited to those authored by the supervisor(s).

I am reaching the word limit, continuation below...

Passed with minors!

Serious congratulations!

Taking time off after PhD

Thank you for the replies, some very useful feedback here. I know it is better for my career to look for a job immediately (well, 6 months ago, really), and it seems my family also wants me to do the same...

I would also like to point out at possible issues with your job search so you are prepared for them.

Thank you for those points! I was aware of all of these, but confirmation that my concerns are not misplaced is reassuring.

1) First of all, I have absolutely no way to apply for a work permit here (UK) unless I get a firm job offer AND the company agrees to sponsor me. Over half the workforce in a chemical processing plant nearby are in the same situation so it is not necessarily a death sentence if that is any indication of the wider distribution.

2) I would be happy to take on any role e.g. an assistant chemist or technician. I am aware that I do not know anything about the industry and am eager to learn. I am in a fortunate position where money is not an object pretty much whatsoever... the problem is wasting time - I dislike feeling useless more than anything.

3) I also felt like the "overqualified" label certainly will hinder my chances - to counter this, I might change the "PhD in so-and-so" in my CV to simply "postgraduate degree, environmental chemistry" or something to that effect... might this be advisable for some of the entry-level positions?

I am also realising that I will probably need speech therapy. My stutter is not always unbearable, but I need to control it more if I have any hope of a decent job. It's one of those fiddly conditions that's not considered a disability and is misunderstood by many. The number of times I've heard people talk slowly to me on purpose because they thought something was wrong with my mental facilities is staggering.

PhD student wellbeing

Taken part!

Taking time off after PhD

Hello all! Finding myself at a bit of a crossroads and would really appreciate any and all advice.

The situation:

Recently completed a geochemistry PhD after a BSc in chemistry (focused on analytical instrumentation and organic synthesis). The former was a 50:50 mix of all-day lab work extracting and analysing samples (as well as maintenance of instrumentation), and writing (papers, thesis etc.).

Result: 3 first author publications, 1 other, and 3 more in the pipeline (under review/submitted). Have a chance to work on at least one more with a supervisor. Developed statistical programming skills throughout the project - am convinced there isn't a data processing/visualisation workflow I could not automate.

Am 24, approaching 25.

Require a visa to work in Europe (despite having two passports... heh), and thus realistically have 8 months left to find a job in the country where the PhD was done.

Having been a "student" for 20 straight years, do not want to stay in academia and want a lab-based industry job instead (e.g. working as part of a R&D team).

Have a crippling stutter - might take me 15 seconds of huffing and puffing to greet someone when nervous/stressed.
Plus, zero industry experience.

The question:

Would I be shooting myself in the foot by taking ca. a year off before looking for jobs? The dilemma is: Nearly everyone I know (including family) tells me I have got a "golden ticket" and would be an idiot to return to my home country (suffering from economic unrest - even MDs can't always find jobs). Plus, I already feel the post-PhD uselessness and the clock is ticking.

However, I have been away from family for 7 years and it's eating me alive. My father is in his 70s - would like to spend some time with him. I can afford a year off financially, and who knows - finding a job in my home country may be possible, albeit with an abysmal salary by EU standards.

What would you do? Thank you and apologies for the long post.

A perspective on passing the viva

Having passed my viva (STEM field) last week, I wanted to share my experience to put the mind of fellow PhD students at ease, especially at the last hurdles!

I think a PhD requires a general ability to shrug off looming mental (!) and physical ailments by taking care of yourself as well as your research. I have made the mistake of not doing the former. By running away from social anxiety and a stutter, I have reserved myself to a poor social life by worrying and over-thinking my every action throughout the project. Now, nearing 25, I am lonely with zero social skills, lost my sense of humour, and am more proficient in English than my native language.

I realize now that my fear of failure was utterly unfounded. So if you suffer from PhD-related stress and are 'stuck' in the final stages, here is what I did prior to/during the viva:

1) Have not looked at my thesis post-submission until 3 weeks before the viva (ca. 2.5 months). When I did read it, it was only twice - you KNOW your research. Focus on the broader context and really understanding the main terminology/concepts of your work instead of having the book definition of those terms you mentioned in passing!

2) Had a practice viva with my supervisor 1 week prior - instrumental! Do not forego this if you can help it, puts things into perspective.

3) Kept my viva answers minimal. If the examiners want more detail, they will ask for it. You might trip yourself by giving away too much.

4) Brought in a list of typos and work done since submission into the viva - shows attention to detail.

5) Left time for fun! Enjoy your hobby(s), go out. Do not strain your mind - it is only so elastic!

As long as you submitted a thesis you are proud of, the overwhelming likelihood is that you will pass. Do not compromise your well-being for it as I have.

I hope this helps somebody along the way :) Good luck!