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Need Advice

  • Thread starter CStyles
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Main Question or Discussion Point

For the last 3.5 years, I've been working on a detailed calculation for my phd. I finished five months ago.

Because it was expected I would defend this semester, I applied for work and accepted a job, etc. I've started work and relocated, expecting to return to defend sometime next month. My thesis is written, etc. Unfortunately, my advisor and I just discovered that one of the foundational assumptions in the calculation was simply wrong.

This means I cannot defend on this calculation. Do I give up on the phd? Or do I quit my job, relocate back to my university and spend another 6 months/1 year in the hope of getting the degree?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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This means I cannot defend on this calculation. Do I give up on the phd? Or do I quit my job, relocate back to my university and spend another 6 months/1 year in the hope of getting the degree?
If you are six months/one year away from finishing, then you should be able to arrange to finish your dissertation remotely. Something like that happened to me and I finished my dissertation while I was full time employed at a job.
 
  • #3
I like Serena
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What kind of job do you have?
Or more specifically, how is it linked to your phd?
 
  • #4
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If you are six months/one year away from finishing, then you should be able to arrange to finish your dissertation remotely. Something like that happened to me and I finished my dissertation while I was full time employed at a job.
I'm amazed you were able to pull this off. My six months/one year estimate is assuming I can work full time on a project- generally assuming long (60-80 hour) work weeks. Were you able to reduce some of your work load at your full-time job? How were you able to get everything finished? My advisor believes I will have to scrap the project I "completed", because of the bad assumptions we made, and throw together some simple extension to existing work so that I have some finished project to defend on. Were you able to do something similar? How much longer did it take you to finish because of the full time work?

I'm currently putting in 50-60 hours a week at work, and traveling 2-4 days a week. I honestly don't think I can manage to complete the project if I can't work full time on it.

What kind of job do you have?
Or more specifically, how is it linked to your phd?
The job has nothing to do with my phd, and I doubt they care at all about whether or not I finish, which is fairly common. I am worried that if I quit only a few months after starting, it will burn a bridge.

So I guess I'm hoping to poll a broad audience- if you were in my shoes, do you drop the phd, or drop the job?
 
  • #5
Stephen Tashi
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CStyles,

You haven't made clear what the challenge is to finishing your degree. Would you be starting the thesis over completely? Or would you writing another thesis that used most of your previous work? Or is there some hope that you calculation can be justified by a new mathematical discovery? In other words, if you went back to school, is it perfectly clear to you what you would be doing?
 
  • #6
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I believe I have made it as clear as I can be without going into very technical details. I do (or rather did) physics, we made a bad assumption about a system that basically renders years of work somewhat meaningless. Science is a cruel, cruel mistress. If I return, my advisor and I would put our heads together to come up with the absolute quickest calculation possible. Since I'm already familiar with the physics involved I should be able to do something inside a year (according to my advisor).
 
  • #7
Stephen Tashi
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In my opinion, when it comes to the big decisions in life, you can almost never tell which choice is best, but you can usually tell which choice is the most interesting. So I say, go with the choice that's most interesting.

Do you like your job? Does it teach you new things? Would you look forward to returning to school for the intellectual challenge of that work? Or would you regard it as merely satisfying certain formalities?
 
  • #8
I like Serena
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In my opinion, when it comes to the big decisions in life, you can almost never tell which choice is best, but you can usually tell which choice is the most interesting. So I say, go with the choice that's most interesting.

Do you like your job? Does it teach you new things? Would you look forward to returning to school for the intellectual challenge of that work? Or would you regard it as merely satisfying certain formalities?
That's very close to what my next response was going to be.

Is your job the way to go for you?
Or do you feel the phd is the way to go, and the job only a sidestep or a stepping stone?

At the end of my study (20 years ago) I had the choice to go for a phd, to finish a second master's degree, or to start a job.
For myself I decided I did not want to go through the process of becoming a phd and I did not want to become a professor at the university. I was unable to find an interesting and fun project for a second master's degree. And I thought it was time to explore the world of jobs, which was new and challenging, and I found the perfect job.

There have been times that I wondered whether I should have done the phd, but I don't regret the choices that I made. I've never needed a phd for the things I wanted to do in life, and I've never wanted to work in a job for which a phd is a prerequisite.

Coming back to you, obviously no one can advise you what you must do.
Only you can do that yourself.
What we can do, is ask you questions to make you think about what it is that you really want.

So do you feel you want a job related to your phd?
What jobs are there that a phd would be useful?
Is it important to you to be able to say that you finished a phd?
Do you or did you like doing phd-work (forgetting for the moment the frustration you must feel)?

Is your job fulfilling your dreams?
Does your job give you room to grow?
What kind of opportunities does a phd give you that you'd otherwise not have?
 
  • #9
eri
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Too bad you realized it before defending; I knew there were tons of little problems with my research, but since I had moved past what my committee was familiar with, they didn't pick up on it and let me graduate. Now I'm fixing the problems before I publish it, but I didn't have the time before graduating to tell them and then fix them (had already started a postdoc a few months before graduating). It's certainly tempting to just keep the job and not complete the PhD, but I know that would have bothered me for the rest of my life if I hadn't, and it might bother you too.
 
  • #10
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I dropped my PhD when a good job came up and never regretted it. If I was in your shoes and I liked my new job more than I liked doing my PhD then I'd drop the PhD and concentrate on the job. If you like both equally then I would still drop the PhD - a job pays better! If I liked doing the PhD a *lot more* than doing the job then I'd drop the job and go back and finish the PhD - you can find another job later, and you might like that one. Life's too short not to keep doing what you like doing (if you can...) As you recognise, doing both job & PhD is probably a bad idea - you will look bad compared to work colleagues with full-time concentration on the job, and probably end up worn out.
 
  • #11
mathwonk
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I am a little concerned about the wisdom of working with an advisor who would guide you for over 3 years on such a flawed project. If your calculation is valid under a certain hypothesis that is only true sometimes, then you still have a theoretical result of interest. If the hypothesis is never true, what was your advisor thinking? PhD theses that involve developing and using concepts are safer than ones that depend on mere calculations. Anytime you try to prove something or verify something, you should have some good reasons to believe it is true. Or else you should work in a way that gives you useful results no matter which hypothesis is true. I.e. the best project investigates what is true, rather than just making a calculation whose outcome you have no intuition about. What likelihood is there that another year working with this guy will be any more fruitful? I would want to have that conversation with him, in a diplomatic way. I.e. some rethinking of the project seems in order, not just more months spent bashing away. Of course I am not a physicist. Is this typical for others?
 
  • #12
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I think mathwonk has a point worthy of consideration. (Even if it does end up complicating your decision)
 
  • #13
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I am a little concerned about the wisdom of working with an advisor who would guide you for over 3 years on such a flawed project.
Honestly, everybody missed this. I was working regularly with three collaborators with various pieces, and I've talked with probably a dozen big names in my field about what we were trying to do. For years, no one caught it.

PhD theses that involve developing and using concepts are safer than ones that depend on mere calculations.
This is probably a culture difference between physics and I'm guessing math. When doing science, getting the numbers out is the most important thing. A high level theory is nice, but if you can't make predictions in real world situations, its useless.

I.e. some rethinking of the project seems in order, not just more months spent bashing away.
To be clear, if I return I would start a new, short project in the hopes of finishing up quickly. Since its already pretty clear I'm leaving the field, what with my current job being unrelated to physics (theoretical physics have no real job prospects outside of academia, so for most, getting a job means quitting science), I won't be trying to set the world on fire, just get some result I can graduate on.
 
  • #14
I like Serena
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(theoretical physics have no real job prospects outside of academia, so for most, getting a job means quitting science)
How do you feel about spending another year at a new phd project if this is what you believe?
 

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