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Support needed for a final year PhD student!


User: YorkFuller - 04 March 2021 13:33

I'm currently in my final year of a 3.5 year PhD (engineering and applied machine learning), with 1 year left of funding.

I have one first author paper published, an additional second author paper, one conference paper (first-author) and a conference presentation too. I'm not writing this to brag, I just want to know if it feels like I have a hopeless chance of finishing on time.

The PhD experience has been odd for me, on the one hand I've really enjoyed the teaching work I've done, and I've got a lot better at scientific writing and programming. But on the other hand, I've hated what feels like a huge burden on my shoulders of this PhD - I feel like I would have much preferred the experience of research without knowing I had to get a PhD at the end of it and I do think I haven't coped too well with what feels like this burden.

I also know that industry suits me better, with shorter-term goals on the workload and so I do not wish to pursue a career in academia.

I've got a fairly clear view of what I need to do for the remainder of my thesis, and hopefully I can get two more papers out of it (maybe), but I'm finding it so hard to motivate myself to actually do it. I can't wait to be done with the PhD and to move on with my life!

Has anyone experienced similar? Do I even need 3 first author publications to get a PhD? At this point I would be content with doing what I need to do to get a PhD and then moving on.

Thanks



User: Nead - 04 March 2021 15:39

The requirements for a PhD depend on each institute. What have other students done in the past in your uni? What does your supervisor/s say you need to do in order to submit for examination?

In terms of finishing on time- only you will really know the answer to that. Why don't you set yourself some daily goals and weekly goals to help get motivated. I would stick to specific goals like write the abstract for the next paper, rather than things like writing two paragraphs or X amount of words each day. I also found that bullet pointing the layout of each chapter was the easiest way for me to write. I would have the heading following by what needed to be in each chapter and each day I'd focus on one paragraph at a time. When you feel like not writing do another task that meaningful, like references, formatting and editing graphs and tables to fit into your thesis.

User: rewt - 07 March 2021 21:27

Hi YorkFuller,

Nead is right, what have other students at your uni done in the past. I think the 3 papers for a thesis is something that guarantees you pass your viva and not the minimum requirement. First name journal and conference papers and a second name paper is still a lot. If you ask around in your department (or look at the university library) you will probably find people have gotten PhDs with zero publications. Your supervisor might be a bit biased in this scenario as they will obviously want as many publications as possible but you could just focus on getting data and writing your thesis, ie don't write any papers. If you are done with academia, just get enough "publishable" material and say that you will publish after your thesis. It might make your viva a bit harder but it shouldn't stop you.

I can understand your feeling with regards to the simplicity of industry. I am working as a research assistant on a project lead by a company and it is so refreshing. I didn't realise how nice it is having realistic goals with a real timeline without any pressure. I love that I can work flat out for a week so that I can have a chill 2 weeks before the next deadline. Not worrying abut the next part of my PhD is so relaxing. I told my supervisor this and she didn't get it, she enjoys the non-stop pressure. I might be rambling here but I genuinely belief that to succeed in academia you need to be a borderline workaholic. Academia is not meant for everyone and there is no shame not enjoying it.

User: glimmerbat - 08 March 2021 15:49

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.

User: springtime - 09 March 2021 15:35

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.

User: rewt - 11 March 2021 09:49

Hi Springtime,

Your understanding is about right for STEM fields at least. Although you get out of a PhD what you put in. If you put zero effort in, you are only gaining that sweet sweet Dr title and lose out on a lot of other valuable skills. Publications are not necessary but you still want to use the time to grow.
PhD by publication in my university at least, is an utter bureaucratic pain and for some reason people expect more from a PhD by publication. With a standard thesis you can put in extra unpublished data to bulk it pout and explain minor points more clearly without having to worry how your publication fits into your thesis.
Thesis chapters and publications have a different writing style that make copying and pasting difficult. Usually a thesis chapter is bigger than a publication but rewriting them shouldn't to difficult

User: YorkFuller - 11 March 2021 12:46

Thanks for all the replies!

Yes, I have decided I don't want to stay in academia. I think over a couple of months I could get the rest of the data I need and then write up my thesis in the summer. My supervisor is quite keen on dragging it out and getting as many papers as they can out of me, this is not something I want however so I will have to be quite firm with them.

Rewt, glad you are enjoying industry! This is exactly the reason I want to want to pursue a career in industry, I did feel shame in not enjoying it but I'm feeling more confident in my decisions now. I want to get enough work together to form a PhD and then to begin my career and move on with my life! My sup doesn't seem to understand this and it is frustrating.

User: glimmerbat - 14 March 2021 12:26

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.

User: springtime - 16 March 2021 15:08

Hey Rewt and Glimmerbat,

Thanks for clearing that up for me there!
I wasn't saying that I want to be lazy by the way I just wouldn't want to put myself under unnecessary pressure
when I don't see myself staying in academia either. Thanks again.

Yorkfuller- I am glad you came to a decision I wish you the very best in the future, let us know how it works out for you!





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