PhD topic not as expected

posted
21-Jan-19, 09:24
by incov
Avatar for incov
posted about 8 months ago
Hey all,

Recently I've started a PhD in an institute where I did my master's thesis. At the time when I was submitting my application, there were no any positions suitable for me in the same group where I worked, so I applied for a PhD topic in another group at the same institute. The project was kind of on a similar track to what I was doing for my master's. Group leaders of my previous group where happy with my work and I got a good recommendation and it was fairly easy to get the position.
Although I liked the project description and the idea, it was quite vague, without details. Even during the interview I didn't get much more information as the project was just about to begin, and even group leaders were not hundred percent sure in which direction to go. I decided to take a risk and accept the position, mostly because the institute has excellent labs, I liked the atmosphere, the city and the country, the position is fully funded etc.
Three months after the beginning, I feel like it was a bad decision. First of all, I don't like my role in the whole project, I am not even sure that it is suitable for a PhD. I am 100% dependent on another group and the work they are expected to deliver, whereas the work that I am supposed to do (at least in the first year of my PhD, but probably more) is not something new or innovative, and basically is worthless without the work of the other group. In this situation I feel like am not fully under control of my PhD, if they fail, I fail too.
There are other things that are bothering me like the fact that most of the people from the group are working on something quite different and I don't feel like I have a good support and somebody I can ask specific questions. Also, after three months I still don't have materials I need to work with, and they haven't been ordered yet so it will take another few months before I can start working.
Has anybody been in a similar situation? Any advice would be appreciated. Should I stay and give it a chance, or leave?
posted
21-Jan-19, 21:59
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 8 months ago
You are highlighting all the hallmarks of a potential bad PhD. Lack of PhD structure, no direction, complete dependence on another project, no supervisory or lab support and no materials.

I prefer to tell PhD students to trust their gut feeling. You felt that this was a bad decision. You may be right in this case. You are early in your PhD and it is easy for you to change to another project with another supervisor. Perhaps it may be time for you to start talking to other PhD students and supervisors to identify a new project and direction for yourself.

I don't believe in waiting because in all the cases I have seen and from what I experience, bad projects never change to become a good or excellent one. At best, a bad project just becomes an "ok-can-somewhat-be-considered-as-PhD-material" and at worst, the poor student fails the PhD at the end despite all the efforts to rescue it.
posted
21-Jan-19, 22:07
edited about 18 seconds later
by monkia
Avatar for monkia
posted about 8 months ago
@tru, thanks for saving many students, I wish I trusted my gut feelings instead of spending on year on a useless project, so I totally agree with your comment. Most importantly is how to make sure this PhD is going to enhance your vision and academic career. I am looking to young researcher of Open AI company for instance and how they speak about their supervisor Geoffry Hinton, I was pondering: is that luck is to find an exceptional supervisor and you just do real science and discoveries. I am applying to many positions, and none of the projects seems interesting, the advice I can give to anyone don't spend more than one year in a useless project, just run away, make sure you made the good selection as the real good selection takes time and I think that important instead of wasting couples of years with clueless supervisor and program.
posted
22-Jan-19, 15:07
by incov
Avatar for incov
posted about 8 months ago
Thank you for your feedback and advises.
The problem is that I cannot change the project or the supervisor, I can only leave my position. There are two calls per year when applications are received and each position is open for a specific project. So the only option is to change the institution and probably the country.
I wonder if I would dare to risk with another PhD position after this experience, although I feel like PhD is something well suited for me.
posted
22-Jan-19, 15:56
by monkia
Avatar for monkia
posted about 8 months ago
@incov, I am in the same boat as yours! I have to say I was forced to leave( long story), although I had the same hallmarks like yours and I told myself to continue and try to fix things up, however, in the end after spending one year, I have been forced to resign. Here is the most important advice, if you really think the project is not getting better and you are the only one who can know that, you can consider looking for other positions and not mentioning your current situation while keeping yourself in the position and if you find another good project you can leave at this case.

Of course, in the beginning, it wasn't easy, but by the time you figure out what is the point behind staying in a useless project where there is no support, of course, it will not add.


To sum up, stay in the position and start looking for other projects in different countries don't restrict yourself. Once you been accepted and your gut tells you this is a good project, you can consider leaving this one.


I hope this could help and wish for you the good luck.
posted
23-Jan-19, 13:19
by incov
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posted about 8 months ago
@monkia, Thank you, I appreciate your feedback!
posted
22-May-19, 21:08
by Engram
Avatar for Engram
posted about 4 months ago
Hello @monkia,

How are you doing? Did you decide to continue with the project or did you move on? These words sounded painfully familiar to me: "most of the people from the group are working on something quite different and I don't feel like I have a good support and somebody I can ask specific questions. Also, after three months I still don't have materials I need to work with". I have been working with my project for 1-1.5 years and I have no original data to publish, I am the only one in the group working with this project (a post doc just joined to do something vaguely similar but she is even less experienced that me and I have to teach her, not the other way around.). I also have a devastating lack of material which stops me from doing the experiments I need to do.

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