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Supervisor concerns

  1. Jan 18, 2008 #1
    I am in my 6th year of a phd and am concerned that I am not receiving the kind of guidance that I need to publish and write a thesis.

    I am interested in particle physics. I meet with my supervisor once a week, and tell him about the papers I've been reading and thats about it. I pretty much decide which papers to read and I am at a loss on how to publish something by myself. The kind of papers I read I can just about understand, but could never create something like that by myself, but the impression I get is that's whats expected of me before I am ready to write my dissertation.

    My supervisor says he wants me to write 2 to 3 letters and 1 or 2 papers (15 pages) and that will be sufficient to start writing a dissertation, but I don't even know what I'm going to do, or how to do it. (i know what I'm interested in, but can't think of anything original to add).

    What kind of supervision did anyone else get for their PhD's???
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2008 #2
    How can be in your 6th year of phd and just now starting publishing a paper?

    What about your thesis for undergrad?

    I just finished undergrad and have 4 publications...
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  4. Jan 18, 2008 #3
    Well since you go in and tell him about your papers all the time, why don't you switch it up and ASK QUESTIONS? It's your job to get your own questions answered. He's not going to know what you need help in, unless it's fairly obvious. You need to ask the questions.
  5. Jan 18, 2008 #4
    What is scarier is that he does not seem to have a project at all... OP what have you been doing for the last 4 years (assuming you did coursework the first two)?? Is this a university in the US?
  6. Jan 18, 2008 #5
    What percentage of all PhD students fail to generate an acceptable work before time's up?
  7. Jan 18, 2008 #6
    hmmm...is this advice, or rip into a guy when hes already pretty low?
    My school has challenging qualifying exams and only 20% pass 1st time.
    I didn't take until my 3rd year and didnt finish up til 4th year so only began research full time in 5th yr.

    Am international and TA so had to take FULL schedule of classes (now totalling over 90hrs) to maintain visa status until I passed qualifying exams, also had to teach/grade, and do extra private tuition as salary is barely above US poverty level...very bad salary for us grad schools.
  8. Jan 18, 2008 #7
    I apologize if you took my comment this way. It is just very surprising to hear about someone being a 6th year PhD student without a specific project. I have heard the average is 5-7 for completion, but I think in general coursework is done within 2 or 3 years.
  9. Jan 18, 2008 #8
    I just looked up my university. 80 PhD math students, with about 6 to 10 earning their PhD's per year. So does that mean about half of all PhD students walk out with nothing?
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  10. Jan 19, 2008 #9
    A lot of Ph.D. students walk out with an MS. :smile:

    I have to agree with the general sentiment though... this advisor has really let the OP down. At the six year mark, you should be up to your neck in a project... perhaps questioning if it will ever lead to a thesis, but you should have more work than you have hours in the day.
  11. Jan 19, 2008 #10
    So sad. Half of all PhD students with several years wasted, having earned nothing at all. I remember one of my high school teachers, quite mature-looking with all grey-hair. He said that he was a first year teacher because he just was declined his PhD after many years of work.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2008
  12. Jan 19, 2008 #11
    There is still a lot of good to be said about grad school. You will learn a lot, even if you don't manage to complete a degree.
  13. Jan 19, 2008 #12
    You haven't been assigned any semblance of a research project? I would expect you to have been assigned a project by your advisor immediately when you begin your dissertation research. I would agree that your PhD guidance is very vague...then again, graduate school often is this way, with foggy expectations and requirements....but still, you should at least have a reasonably concrete project by now.

    I assume you are being support full in grad school with a stipend and tuition waivers. I would expect your advisor to attempt to provide adequate assistance to get you prepared to work on you research.
  14. Jan 19, 2008 #13
    You say you are "interested in particle physics." Your interests seem incredibly vague for someone in their 6th year of a PhD program. Don't misunderstand me though...I am not blaming you for this. Your advisor could certainly be at fault here.

    Is your advisor new to the advising game? Is he an assistant prof, or a tenured prof?
  15. Jan 19, 2008 #14
    ...no you are right...it goes deeper than that. I know specifically in detail what I am interested in and it is deep deep deep and I am at that level now.

    I know an awful lot about a little so that is good. Its just that what I originally wanted to do, i discovered has already been done and I don't think my supervisor is sure what he wants me to do now.
  16. Jan 19, 2008 #15
    Welcome to the wonderful world of research...

    Well, your advisor should have a list of possible projects for you to take on instead. Ideally, these will be tangentially related to what you have been working on so that you don't have to start from scratch.
  17. Jan 20, 2008 #16


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    Troll rolls through my mind.
  18. Jan 20, 2008 #17
    At our school and the two others I'm familiar with, this percentage is very small or zero. When the limit is up, suddenly big names in the department mobilize, and in a few weeks those students go from having nothing to being almost done. It's almost magical, watching it happen.

    To me, a more interesting question is, "What percentage of PhD students produce a dissertation that's worth the paper its printed on?"
  19. Jan 20, 2008 #18
    Indeed, I've heard from many postdocs that such situations happen all the time. Big names tend to retain their nobility by giving PhDs that are never meant to be completed, than the opposite. Furthermore, those who earn a PhD without deserving it rarely continue in research fields. Thus, everyone is happy in the end.
  20. Jan 20, 2008 #19

    Did he say why he was declined his PHD? Was his dissertation just not good enough? Poor guy.
  21. Jan 20, 2008 #20
    He said he never finished his PhD. I took that as being that he was declined his PhD, especially considering that he looked like he spent many years on it. Also, I've known at least 5 teachers (not all mine) who did get their PhD, and then several years later became a high school teacher. Which to me sounds like they earned a PhD without really developing the ability to produce good research (or efficient research) and so resorted to becoming a high school teacher in the end, which supports:
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2008
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