Signup date: 18 Mar 2015 at 11:28am
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Your social life needs to change too. You need more friends and mentors. Try going to networking events or student seminars and talk to people. Do not tell people your problems the first time you talk to them. Try to see their interest and get them interested in your project and then you as a human being. Again, be POSITIVE and CHEERFUL, even if it feels like crap inside. Eventually, you will make new friends, maybe even new mentors. Do not limit yourself to your group or even your institute. Do not even limit yourself to people in academia. Talk to salesrep for scientific equipment or in your case books, too. You will be very surprised at how many of these people are PhD holders from various backgrounds. Once you change your personal outlook, the people around you will start to change too. They will begin to empathise with you because they know what a good person you are (The situation might be shit, but not you). Talk to the head of department (not to whinge about your work, but to add value and build relationship). This will be beneficial to you beyond your PhD.
These are the advices that I can give to you. Above all, hang on and don't give up. A PhD is a symbol of perseverance and resilience, not brilliance. All smart people can start a PhD, but not all can finish. As a person who went through 4 years of hell in the hands of my PhD supervisors (Unfortunately, people with power can sometimes intentionally inflict pain because they can. Deal with it), I can also tell you that, while you cannot change the circumstances sometimes, you can change yourself and the potential outcomes by seeking the right people (after many many trials and tribulations, and possibly rejections, and tears, heartaches, etc) and not breaking internally.
Arrange for a meeting ASAP with your PG coordinator. You will feel a lot more confident after talking to someone who has the capability of helping you or making essential changes that may be the determining factor between you having a pass with minor corrections or having major/revise and resubmit. As you said, you have invested 2 years of your life and do not have long left to spare. Do yourself a favour and talk to him/her SOON. Make sure you plan 1) What are my problems that I want to discuss? and 2) What are the outcomes I want? and 3) What are the interventions i possibly need? Do not go into the meeting unprepared. It is a waste of time for you and your PG coordinator.
You said your new supervisor really does not like how the original supervisor wanted the structure and layout of the thesis and shows little interest. To be frank, this happens all the time when a new primary supervisor takes over. It is after all, NOT their project. You have to work to get their interest. So rewrite your thesis structure and outline and send it to her, to show your initiative. Arrange for a meeting to present your data/work to date in a concise and easy to understand manner. Be POSITIVE when you meet with her. This is HARD, but eventually she will come round. No one wants to see an unhappy student who whines or looks down all the time. In fact, people might avoid you because nobody likes trouble. You can save your whining for your close family and friends unrelated to your workplace. All these might sound harsh, but unfortunately, it is the reality of life in academia.
It is understandable why you are disheartened. A few questions/ points:
1) Have you met with the postgraduate coordinator or graduate student administrator? There is one in every institute who takes care of all PhD students. Can you have a chat with this person and see what he or she can do for you? Perhaps he/she can have an urgent meeting with all your supervisors to make sure that everything is on track. You might even need a third supervisor.
2) How much do you want this PhD? If it is worth it, then persevere on till completion. There will be lots of tears, but continue on. Get some help/support from the other PhD students, your seniors if you can. If you have completely lost interest and the project is beyond saving, you might want to think about finishing at this point for the sake of your own sanity. Only you can decide though. If you choose to go, write it up as an MPhil and either get a job, or try a PhD again under someone else. There is nothing wrong with doing a PhD again a second time round. Don't just walk away with nothing. An MPhil on your CV is better for future job and PhD prospects.
3) You can perhaps go for student counselling as well. See if you can talk to Student Services or someone from the Students Union. Unfortunately your case is not unique. There are many bad supervisors out there, who have gone on to ruin many otherwise promising students' careers. And the problem is, quite a lot of them do get away with it to repeat the cycle with another student.
4) If thesis structure is a problem, I wonder if you can talk to any other senior researcher in your institute. Perhaps someone from your thesis committee/reviewer panel. Arrange a meeting in confidence and ask for help. You can also ask other postdocs, even those not from your group, for their advice. Employ a proof reader too, if that helps.
Hi, Imp. All these sounds wrong, especially the handing over of testing regime. Do you have a co-supervisor or another independent person on your team you can ask? Also, can you speak to the Dean of Research on your problems and strategy to take ownership of your work? Better yet, can you ask the Dean to be your co-supervisor? Sounds like you need someone with authority who can say "no" whenever necessary to your main supervisor.
Your position is something that I have been through before. While I agree that PhD is not easy, there is a big difference between having support or not during this process. You have to analyse your situation critically and ask these questions honestly:
1) Is my project clearly defined with good questions and aims? (By 2nd year, it should be)
2) Do I have someone in the group (co-supervisor, senior technician) or outside (other research/group leaders, senior technician, students) whom I can approach?
3) Do I have the resources eg. instruments, reagents, bioinformatics software, etc to complete my work?
4) What is the length of my PhD? Do I have less than 2 years left now?
5) Have I generated some meaningful data or a paper (lit review maybe)?
6) Regardless of interest, if I go on the way I do, can I finish my PhD?
7) Can whatever that is depressing me be solved by myself?
8) And most importantly, is my supervisor giving me time, guidance and support?
If your answer is NO, for all the above, I strongly suggest that you meet with your grad school or RHD or postgrad student coordinator IMMEDIATELY. There is at least ONE person in EVERY institute. Don;t worry, the meeting is entirely confidential and your supervisor will never know. They will be able to help you, maybe get another experienced supervisor(s) in. If it is all too late, they may ask you to finish with a master, and re-enroll as a PhD again. Do not quit without a master in hand. There is always another chance of re-starting a PhD elsewhere, if that is your wish. And you can always switch to a different field for a postdoc.
Assuming you are doing the standard 3.5-4 year PhD, then you may want to consider the tough question - Do you want to go on solo for all of your PhD? Your supervisor is a hands-off supervisor whereas you prefer a more hands-on person. Clearly there is a mismatch of needs. The important things in a PhD are asking the right research questions and having the support to address them. If you feel that you have neither, then you really need to do something about it. I am not surprised you have anxiety and depression. Most people would in your shoes. However, taking medical leave will not solve the root of your problems - lack of supervision and project direction.
I suggest that you talk to the university postgraduate / RHD coordinator or counsellor. Tell them your problems and listen to their suggestion. They can maybe help you get a second co-supervisor, who behaves as your primary one. They can also have a hard talk with your supervisor. Talk to other students from other lab groups and learn how other people are supervised. Take note of who the good supervisors are. Importantly, think about whether you want to switch supervisor / project. A PhD is hard enough without complete lack of support from supervisor. Think, decide and act quickly so as not to prolong your pain. You have a chance to change things for the better.
To answer you, Zoya:
1) Age 36 is young. My other friend graduated with a Science PhD aged 50.
2) PhD funding - My friend was sponsored by her employer. Ever thought about that before thinking of self-funding?
3) No time for time out - Fine. But you need to straigten yourself before you approach employers. Again, do NOT blame yourself. There is no such things as "not good enough for this kind of job". Perhaps you did not find the role suitable, but it was never a question of being good enough or not. Please, somehow, get your self-esteem back. And DON'T put it on your cover letter that you withdrew. Just put "Graduate research scholar" or "Graduate reearcher" in CV/resume. If they ask in the interview, then answer. Start sending resumes out ASAP. It will be a while before there is any hit anyway.
4) No help from Uni or Google - You are no longer a student, so it is expected that they no longer help. I think you have been searching Google wrong if you say there is no help. You don't mind going back to industry? Ok, so redirect your strategy to going to industry. Search for transitioning from academia to industry. There are HEAPS of websites on that, and possible more mourning on why not to do a PhD if you want to go into industry. Read THOSE. Actually that might be good for your self-esteem too. Maybe even write to those who author those websites and see if you can get advice from them.
5) And plan, strategize for your future. While nothing can be done to undo the past, you can do something about the future. Invest your energy into that. Don't give up!
Hi, Zoya. I am sorry for what you are going through. I have a friend who had to leave after 5 years in a PhD. He had family issues and his supervisor decided to leave the country. He was real upset, took some time off, but he got a job as an academic technician for the past 5 years after that. He wrote PhD candidate in his CV and when they asked him, he explained it. He is doing ok now, and when we last spoke, he said that he feels that he would try doing a PhD again in a couple years time. I think that you could perhaps put "Graduate research scholar" if you do not want to state PhD candidate. If you do not want to work in academia, you could try working in the industry first as all the experiences/training that you got while a PhD will be valued there and it is potentially easier to get into industry without a PhD than with one (overqualified unexperienced bias). You can always do a PhD again a few years time, if you want, just like my friend. Take care and please, don't blame yourself. Take some time off for now, and stay strong. Hugs....
Hi, A. Do think carefully about whether you want to pursue an industry of academic career as the requirements are very different. For the industry, work experience is the key. Qualifications and publications (essential for academic route) are advantageous, but secondary to someone who has the experience to make up for it. If you want lecturing, then yes, PhD is important. And if you can get some decent publications, great, you should be ok to find lecturing jobs. Bear in mind, there is always the possibility that you have to move to a different city, state, or country for academic jobs. May be a good point to read all the blogs out there on why you should do or not do a PhD as well, just to hear both sides of the story. For eg. there are plenty of unemployed PhD out there. Do you know that? But there are also the few that make it big, becoming Profs and so on.
What you don't want is to complete a PhD, decide that you don't want an academic career, then find that you are overqualified but underexperienced for the industry role that you are after. It is not impossible to cross over to the industry at that stage, especially if you have years of non-academic industry experience to use as leverage, but, if you don't, well, it will be difficult.
For career progression, you can talk to career advisor at the uni or enroll in staff development programs. Have a look at job ads (besides technician) for your area with your degree, perhaps those that need more experiences, so you know what you can possibly achieve in future if you stick to your current route. Take your time to think about your career path, industry vs academic, Phd vs your current degree, etc.
Sounds like me. My first year was rather unproductive due to refining of directions and in my second year, my proposed direction and works went completely out the window (ie lost A LOT OF TIME). How this happened and how my supervisors behave are another long story, but the point is I had not much data at the start of my third year. And yes, I was very depressed, and I wanted to quit because it seemed hopeless but as it meant losing my scholarship, I held on. Quickly I did some searching to see how I could rescue my project. I am now in my last few months, still no paper, but dragging myself to the finishing line. My goal now is to finish as best I can with hopefully a PhD. It is quite a significant change to my initial goal of having X papers and finding X scientific outcomes, but finish is better than not.
In your case, can you first talk to your supervisors about your thoughts on this? Remember, he may be upset, angry, etc, if you tell him, but YOU will be upset, angry, etc if you do not cross the finishing line. It is YOUR future. Your supervisors have already forged their future and you are one small student in a long line of students they will have in their career. If they do not want or cannot help you, talk to your thesis reviewer/committee, head of school, etc to rope someone in who knows the field. Your silence will NOT help you. Also, maybe you can talk to your uni counsellor if you need to sort out your depression/feelings. So, my advice to you - find the courage and talk to someone. You still have time to salvage the situation. Sending you positive vibes ~~~
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.
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.
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