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Hi there,

I understand your position and frustrations. I too failed my first year upgrade. Whilst I had done vast amounts of research, a detailed literature review chapter and methodology chapter by this stage one examiner took offence to the lack of theory I had. My line of argument was that I did not want to tailor my research to a particular theoretical approach but rather let the research dictate the angle hence why the theory side of things hadn't yet been explicit - he implied I was naieve.

While I was very annoyed at the decision and saw it as a complete waste of my time to rewrite an upgrade report i bit my tongue and did it - btw, my supervisor was not happy with the outcome and agreed it was a waste of time but needed to be done. I was subsequently upgraded.

Last week I passed my Viva with very minor corrections (a few typos)! My examiners loved my research, did not mention theoretical approach once, even though my end thesis was not very rooted in theory - i had decided that my research benefited more from an explicit methodology discussion.

My point is take this as a very valuable learning curve early on in the process and most importantly as a sign of how important it is to choose your internal and external examiners for your Viva very carefully! Please don't take it as a reflection on your ability, it is a reflection of the egos involved in academia.

All the best!

PhD boyfriend with NO job

======= Date Modified 26 Sep 2012 22:42:58 =======
Hi there,
This is really interesting to see from the partners perspective. I can only give advice based upon my experience as a PhD student with a partner.

Firstly, securing a job which neatly coincides with submission is fairly rare. In fact, even thinking about applying for a job so close to submission is daunting, and completing applications would take up a lot of time that is so valuable. I wouldn't worry too much about not having a job lined up. I certainly wouldn't put pressure on your partner for not having a job lined up at this time - the last thing he wants to feel is somehow inadequate at the very time he is going through constant self-doubt and insecurities with the thesis.

Secondly, I don't think you need to have any concerns that he is somehow lazy/not interesting in working - believe me, working on a PhD is something which requires constant self-motivation and work ethic, and all for very little or no money.

Thirdly, why are you so concerned that he has nothing lined up? Is he? Are you worried that you are delaying your lives somehow? In many ways, doing a PhD can seem selfish, that everything goes on hold until it is done. I think it's dangerous to compare your programme of study with his, or understand his study as unsuccessful as he doesn't have a job lined up.

I couldn't have asked for anything more from my partner in terms of support, understanding and patience - i will always remember this, and it certainly helped me maintain my motivation. We had little money or time to do much, yet I was never made to feel guilty for this. My partner is very proud of me, as I am of him.

Honestly, I know it seems worrying now, but it's just a couple of months left to go and think of the wonderful lives you will have in the near future. Just remember he is probably a little over-sensitive at the moment so any comments may be seen as criticisms.

Hope it all works out well for you both :-)

Car crash in slow motion - five weeks to submission

Hi there,
Just a quick suggestion which may save you some valuable time:
I found that google actually has quite a few online books now which can allow you to type the quote and will give you the page number - if this is what you need. Alternatively, you can google the quote and see if any previous publications have referenced it. Also, does your library catalogue give you access to online books?

Also, look back to your original post and see how much you have achieved in a short space of time. You are very almost there!!!!!!

Hope this helps :-)

Thesis running late - stress way up high

Hi there,

Sorry to hear you are having a tough time of it. I'm in an unrelated field, so I am unfamiliar with the lab work side of things but here is what I would suggest.

Allow yourself to cry, get it all out of your system. It is likely that this will be the most stressful part of the process you will experience - from here it can only get better. Regarding counselling, do what feels right for you. From my experience, I decided against counselling as I knew exactly why i was feeling so down/stressed and knew that once it was done these feelings would subside. From this, I was able to regain a feeling of control.

Can you sit down and work out a realistic timeframe, detailing when you will be doing the lab work, and the time for writing up results following this. Then you will have a clearer picture of what needs to be done, as will your supervisor - there will be little nasty suprises left.

Can you in the meantime work on formatting of the thesis - never underestimate how long and fiddly the process of spacing, sorting margins, bibliography, referencing takes. This would be a constructive thing to pursue now, with the added bonus that you won't have much to do closer to submission when setting margins and spacing seems like a massive stress!

To be honest, there is rarely much room to have a life when writing up, but I think that if you lay out a plan of action at least you will feel in control of what you are doing, ticking of tasks as you go along.

Finally, I would say that the very fact that you care so much to be so worried is a clear indication that you have the commitment and passion to suceed in this - hopefully, sooner rather than later, you will be able to utilise this blip as a motivator to get everything wrapped up.

All the best

Light at end of tunnel?


I too am in a very similar position and have actually avoided coming on here in the past few months as I figured that if most people were stressing with the countdown to submission without having a full-time job I was never going to be able to complete with a full-time job.

I have been working full-time for the past 7 months (outside of academia). After quite a commute I rarely have time during the week to make significant progress (i tend to do the formatting/referencing side of things during the week which requires less concentration) so the majority of my weekends are spent working solidly on the thesis. I aim to submit at the end of this month and more than anything I am looking forward to having a 'normal' life where I don't feel guilty for relaxing, socialising or doing anything non-thesis related.

Like you, I have finally realised it will never be perfect or even good in my eyes, which is quite liberating in itself. I too struggle with focussing at times but I guess this is because of sheer exhaustion and the fact that it is hard just to dip in and out of something like this.

I've made a list of the final things which need doing - and now it feels like this is the final list of final things. Even if they are really small things such as check a page number for a reference put it on a list because I find the process of ticking it off motivates me to get more parts ticked off.

Sometimes I panic that I am not panicking! Maybe you have naturally wound down because you know that you will get everything done on time. Anyway, I hope this helps - let me know how you get on.

Good Luck!

ESRC 1+3 Funding question

Don't quote me on this but I am pretty sure that the repurcussions of you leaving will be felt by your university rather than you - i.e. you won't have to pay anything back but the uni will loose out on the number of funded awards it gets from the ESRC in future.
I have heard of someone who took a funded PhD with the intention of not completing/doing the work but just to contribute to the household income while she looked after her small child - she left at end of 3rd year and did not have to pay anything back.

Hope everything works out for you

Drowning - stressed, anxious, under extreme stress, and have nowhere left to turn

Hello there,

In many ways I understand and have experienced/experiencing some of the emotions and troubles you are going through. I too am in my fourth year, and constantly feel like a failure for not having submitted as yet. I'm sick of people asking when I am going to be finished. I hate the fact that I can never relax without feeling guilty. The good news is, as many posts on this forum show, that we are not unusual for feeling these emotions. In fact, I think the hardest part of the PhD for me has been how emotionally draining it is. To get to PhD level I guess many of us are used to being successful, i.e. at undergrad and MA we are constantly reassured of our capabilities by our marks for assignments/exams. At PhD feedback is often few and far between, thus adding to our feelings of self-doubt. Also, I think naturally many of us doing PhD's are perfectionists, and up until this point it has been a largely beneficial trait to have. But at PhD being a perfectionist can delay our submission and add further to self-criticism and doubt - at undergrad and MA the fixed and constant deadlines we have to meet keep our perfectionism in check, at PhD it can literally take over.

At the start of 2012 I was very low - I had no confidence, felt like a fraud a failure. Although I still haven't submitted I decided to make the decision to find employment - spurred on by the fact that I was skint! I think this has been the best thing I could have done - it has allowed me to put the thesis/PhD into perspective, I am interacting with people outside of academia, and although I panic I am a much happier person. I realise this isn't a viable solution for everyone, particularly those doing lab based research, but what I am trying to say is that the PhD is NOT the be all and end all, it is not a measure of a person, and as I have found out in the real world it often means diddly squat.

Depression is something you should talk to your doctor about - I did and he was very supportive and basically said that I know why I am feeling like this i.e. the PhD and therefore don't beat myself up about feeling stressed/low - he didn't want to prescribe me anything but said it was my choice if i wanted tablets - I declined.

In terms of friends, I too have closed myself away as a way of avoiding questions etc, but good friends do understand and will be there when you are all done and dusted with it and ready to start living again.

I hope these words help in someway, if only to let you know you are not alone.

First year PhD

Hi Vthebee,
I would reiterate what Potatoes has said. There is always going to be that 'annoying' person in the department that appears to be way ahead of you. Remember the PhD is at least 3 years of hard work, and as many people say, it should be treated as a marathon not as a sprint. Also, I would resist starting writing the thematic chapters/findings chapters of your thesis before you have completed a large bulk of your research. The thesis structure and content is likely to change quite a bit from how you envisage it to look at the moment. And, there is the danger that in producing chapters early on you become reluctant or resentful of changing them at a later stage (because you know how much time and effort they took).
When I was at the stage you are now I was doing pretty much the things you have being doing; ploughing through the literature and making notes (I found it really useful to attach how my research supports/challenges/departs/adds etc to each of the pieces of literature I was consulting; doing the literature review, and treating it as a working document in that I went back to it (and still go back to it) making changes as and when I came across new literature/new avenues in my own research; thinking about methodology; and of course carrying out my research (which for me was mainly archival based and was a process I was still carrying out here and there well into my third year).
By the time you enter second year, having laboured over the drier parts of the thesis i.e. the literature review, you might find (as I did) that you are really excited about finally writing about what you have found rather than what everyone else has found.
Looking back now (3 and a bit years in) if I could have gone back to first year and changed anything it would have been that I was more organised in terms of indexing or organising all the work I have done - I now work with different folders and sub-folders on my computer (i.e. secondary literature, and then organising the pdfs, electronic notes etc  further into themes/ sub-disciplines etc). Using the electronic folders has been invaluable, because now when wriitng up it means I can use the search option in documents to retrieve all the information I have which mentions that particular theory, person, event etc.

All the best :-)

Passed viva with minor corrections!

That's amazing, massive congratulations to you, all the more so because it seems like you didn't have an easy ride of things!

If you don't mind could you say a bit more about how you turned things around, found the motivation etc - I am looking to submit soon but I am constantly doubting my work, and as you said the viva feels a long way away for me.

Hope you have something nice planned to celebrate and once again many congrats Dr! (up)

The Final Furlong

I'm based in a criminology department although I come from a history background and specialise in crime history (so I'm not quite sure whether I would be called a criminologist or a historian)! Like your thesis, mine is pretty inter-disciplinary - I think this has added to my word-count as I spent a lot of time/words justifying my methodology which is not something historians normally pay that much attention to. But, to be honest I have always been someone who writes too much since undergrad. I'm nervous about cutting anything out at this stage because I don't feel like I can make an informed decision what is necessary and what can go, particularly as I know how long some of the sections took me - so I hope that my supervisors can advice me on this. On the whole my supervisors have been great. I'm someone who has always preferred working alone at home so our interactions haven't been constant but that suits me I think! Although, my major concern is that because my work is inter-disciplinary (history and criminology) that I am not meeting a high enough standard in either, that I am spreading myself to thin, trying to achieve too much etc.

I need to stop comparing myself to others, although I think this is connected to working from home and not having many interactions with the other PhD people in my department. The people I know who have completed have normally done so between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 years.

Oh no, that's not good that you got ill on your break, but probably a sign that you have been working flat out and it always catches up with you when you stop. I feel your pain, I am dreading the concluding chapter, which incidentally I am going to leave until I have feedback from the completed draft version. I am hoping the end of next week I will have the draft in a good enough state to send to my supervisors, not sure how quick they will be able to get back to me with feedback. Do you have an official submission date now then? Do you know who your examiners will be!:-)

The Final Furlong

Thanks for the reply Potatoes - good to know i'm not alone, although I wouldn't wish this on anyone else! That's amazing that you have managed to get a completed draft version in. Have you taken a break from it since you handed it in to gain a bit more perspective? I am doing OK, I have managed 1,800 words today - although to be fair I am already slightly over the word limit so I know it is going to be a case of cutting out some waffle!

What are you plans regarding post-PhD employment? I'm in a position where I need to get employment ASAP as my funding has run out. I don't think my chances of a job within academia are that great at the moment, so I am more than prepared to work outside of it - in fact, I think this is best for my sanity at the moment rather than jumping into more research. I am planning therefore to get a complete draft sent off to my tutors within the next two weeks and whilst waiting for feedback shall be applying for jobs.

Did you anticipate that you would finish within 3 years or were you always quite realistic about going into the fourth year. I think I was hoping to be done in 3 so feel like a bit of a failure at the moment - although I know I couldn't have put anymore effort in than I have - it's just a case of me being quite a slow writer/ over analyse everything I write / delete and re-write every other sentence!

What discipline are you in?

Are you happy with the feedback?

Sorry for all the questions!:-)

Failed PhD any ideas?

I am sorry that I am not in a position to give you any constructive advice about what to do next, but I wanted to say that your attitude is both commendable and admirable. Also, it must have been very difficult for you to write up your thesis knowing that the data was negative, so kudos for writing up in spite of that.
I am a social sciences candidate so although I am not familiar with the pure sciences field, I would hazard a guess that fellow scientists would be quite sympathetic or empathetic of the fact that experiments do go wrong and that in that sense the outcome of science PhD's are very much at the mercy of producing positive/negative results. What I mean is, if it were social sciences, a failed PhD would reflect more upon the ability of the student rather than the problems of experiments which our out of your control.
Anyway, I hope you stay positive and find a happy outcome :-)

The Final Furlong

Thank you both for your replies. Great advice!
I am feeling a bit more positive at the moment, and decided to make the most of this positive attitude by working through the weekend. I moved onto another chapter which has done me the world of good as I think I had lost all perspective on the other one, and now I can actually read my work without cringing/falling asleep! Going to try and stay optimistic and get a completed version over to my tutor as soon as possible.

Thank you :-)

MA in Modern History

I did my MA in Cultural History after completing my BA in History. Whilst most people on my MA course did have a History BA, there were a few who had other backrgrounds - mainly English Lit and Politics if I remember correctly.

Although I guess it's different for every course/institution, I could not see it being a problem doing an MA in this field without a BA in History. With Cultural History, it was very much a case of everyone had their own interest areas on my course (e.g. I was/am interested in female crime and sexuality in early 20th century Britain whereas other people were interested in race in 20th century America) and it was these individual interests which typically formed the subject of our assignments, whilst tutorials were concerned with learning about the broader methodological issues and techniques, scholarly trends and the sub-disciplines of history. So, I would reiterate what was said above about going into the MA with quite a concrete and concentrated idea about your research area - the MA is a time and chance to really get to grips with your subject and therefore its much more rewarding and beneficial (in terms of grades) to be quite focussed rather than trying to tackle a lot of different and new areas (something I learnt early on in the MA).

Having lived with Politics students at undergrad, I know that a lot of our modules did overlap anyway. Also, in my MA department there was a MA course called Twentieth Century History, which a lot more Politics undergrads tended to op for at MA level and I was say that was probably half history undergrads and half politics.

Perhaps it would be worth looking at some of the introductory texts to history which we were encouraged to use at both undergrad and MA (and indeed, I often still use them at PhD level). One which I would certainly suggest is the 'The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-century History and Theory' edited by Anna Green and Kathleen Troup. It's brilliant for an overview of the trends in historical research/ different schools of thought - and although it is quite dry in parts I think it may be of use.

Well, good luck with everything and I hope you are successful in whatever you choose to do

The Final Furlong

Good morning forum,

I am currently attempting to wrap up my PhD after 3 years and 4 months of study. I still have quite a lot of tidying up to do/ completing sections which I have been putting off/ and general editing - although I have the bulk of my content. I guess my problem at the moment is that I don't seem to have any perspective on what I have done. I feel like I have laboured over every sentence so much and re-read everything over and over that I am bored to death of what I have written and am finding it hard to see that anything I have said is really worthwhile.
Some days I feel excited that this is nearly all over, other days I think it is going to take me another year or so to get to the point of submitting! This means that some days I am very productive and other days it's as if the task ahead of me seems so daunting that I am unable to do anything. Sometimes I feel like I am a fraud and have somehow managed to wing my way through academia, other times I feel like I have produced something to be proud of.
So, I was wondering whether anyone else is at the same stage and/or having the same issues/feelings? I feel like I need to get a final burst of energy and then I could be done, but I don't seem to be able to find it at the moment! I think it doesn't help that my final deadline is the end of September because it means that I have this to fall back on.
I will stop rambling now!
Good luck to everyone who is undertaking a PhD :-)