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Confusion about a PhD offer...


User: abababa - 17 April 2023 19:12

I'll guess I'll do the counter-argument;

There may be 'red flags', but if your supervisor has a track record in blue-sky research through which they've supervised students to completion, doing this type of work for a PhD is not automatically worrying or a bad thing. It's also not necessarily a bad thing for a supervisor not to know much about the PhD topic itself; what tends to count far more is they're an experienced supervisor with connections who can firmly advise on 'how to do a PhD', rather than the literature/method/etc. as that, typically, needs to come from you as a PhD candidate.

'Failure' in academia means failing to propose a valid question, or methodological flaw. It does not mean showing what you did/made 'works', as that's bad science. Trying something new and showing it doesn't work is a PhD, if done rigorously.

Pragmatically, if you're doing a PhD, there's nothing stopping you applying for other vacancies/studentships - though it would add the slight hurdle of having to explain well why you want to leave the one you're on. It might also, though, open doors as you'll have connections to other professors/groups etc. in the process of the PhD that could lead to the discussion on moving; a far harder one to have if you're on the outside applying.

It's also generally the case any PhD candidate can, and should, shape their PhD, rather than just painting-by-numbers under direction. If you think the project has a flaw, then the goal should be to identify it, argue it, and fix it, rather than blindly continue. The biggest catch there, though, would be what exactly in funded - which may not be as malleable.

The tests for me, in discussion with the potential supervisor would be..

- How many PhDs have they supervised before? What were the outcomes?
- How much is the research constrained by the funding objectives, and how much is open to interpretation or change?
- How well connected/respected in the group in the general field?

The decision would be balanced between how well these are answered, vs the risk of not finding and equivalent funded PhD - which might mean they don't need to be brilliantly answered, just not awfully answered.

User: pte_ni - 16 April 2023 16:59

Hi, thanks very much for the input. Would like to hear from others if they have any thoughts on this please. Under a bit of a time crunch :(

User: tru - 15 April 2023 13:24

You are feeling so conflicted about accepting this offer because your heart recognises the many red flags in the PhD project and supervisors. Supervisors with absolutely no experience and knowledge in the field of your PhD is a recipe for disaster. I have never seen any happy, successful PhD project coming out of the situation unless new supervisors who are experts in the field are brought in later.

It's hard as an international student to obtain full scholarship. If you accept this scholarship, is it possible to change to another PhD project with a supervisor that you like later on? This approach will burn many bridges and is potentially risky. Another approach is to work as a technician and wait for PhD opportunity in that academic group. Yet another is to apply for an industry job and ask for sponsored PhD to upskill after 1-2 years.

User: pte_ni - 14 April 2023 14:04

Hi, I have recently secured an offer for a fully-funded PhD from a well-ranked university in the world (let's call it Uni1) on a CDT (structured PhD course). The problem is that the project is not really suited to my previous experience or interests and the topic is completely new for both my PhD advisors as well (they have absolutely no background in it). I am not sure if this is a good place to be considering I don't bring much from my side. I think the only reason I got accepted for this project is because the supervisors want to try out some blue skies science, and want somebody to work on it. There is a very high chance of failure for the project, which I am fine with but I am afraid I will end up having to somehow push through the PhD. As much as I enjoy scientific research and the process of it, the thought of all this is really scary.

I am an international student here in the UK and this is the only offer I have in hand right now. It has proven to be super difficult for me to secure a good place elsewhere due to funding restrictions for internationals. I cannot really afford to take a gap year.

At my current university (also well-ranked; let's call it Uni2), I am still in contention for a scholarship but the chances of my getting it are very very low.

I have informally accepted the place from Uni1 and am under pressure to make a formal acceptance soon. I know not taking it might prove to be the wrong decision down the line as I might be left with nothing. I don't really know what to do.