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PhD - feel like a fraud and failure

(25 Posts)
YellowJellyBeanz Mon 25-Jul-16 22:01:01

Are there any PhD students out there? I'm really struggling emotionally at the moment confused

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Mon 25-Jul-16 22:07:43

I'm a PhD supervisor, if that's any help? What's upsetting you?

YellowJellyBeanz Mon 25-Jul-16 22:34:54

Hi thanks for the reply, I just feel like I am not good enough, for example I worked really hard on a results chapter and gave it in, (am awaiting feedback) but I have a fear of impending doom that I'm going to be highly criticised.. Or worst they will say they don't feel that I am good enough to achieve the PhD ..... All my data is collected and analysed and I'm at writing up stage i just feel like I'm an imposter if that makes any sense?

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Mon 25-Jul-16 22:52:52

Do you know about Imposter Syndrome? It's very common in academia, especially amongst women. I feel like an imposter sometimes, and am a senior lecturer!

It is normal to receive criticism. It took me a while to get my head around this, but I now find criticism really useful in developing my work. I look upon it as a fast track to improvements that otherwise would have taken me a very long time to make (if at all). Think of it as helping to make your thesis as "viva-proof" as possible. It seems unlikely that you are going to be told you aren't good enough - most supervisors would not take someone on if they thought this. Did you not have an upgrade from MPhil to PhD at some point?

Butterchunks Mon 25-Jul-16 23:01:34

Hi there, I'm a fraud-feeling frustrated PhD student too. Currently in my 7th year (yes, 7th). I'm technically in the writing up stage but am on maternity leave right now, but before that I had severe and recurrent mh issues that very much got in the way of research and life in general. I've always felt underconfident and that my project (ie me) has been a disappointment and a huge failure. I'm never going to be able to publish anything (even though I hit up in a few intetsting minor things that could be publishable) and some days I doubt I'll ever get handed in.

I have got one chapter written up, 2intro chapters prepped and in progress but am dreading getting down to r+d (mostly because my project went v badly and I do not know how to present my so called results). I'm in a lab based STEM area. What area are you working on OP? You are not alone in feeling down, PhDs are tough even if they go well.

Any advice for me Lord?

Doik Mon 25-Jul-16 23:02:33

I'm not sure if I can help as I felt this way the whole way through mine, and still feel the same even though I passed last year! "Imposter syndrome" is very common, particularly when doing something such as this as the more you learn/research the more you realise you don't know. There are many sites offering help and advice on this, including those that say it is a good thing, so I'm not going to try to put it any better. All I will say is to please remember that what you're feeling is not at all unusual. PhDs are emotionally extremely hard. I hope you have friends and colleagues to talk to about it, but if not I'm more than happy to chat, on here or via pm.

Lweji Tue 26-Jul-16 07:20:49

What you have to remember is that you're still a student. The writing up phase is still part of the learning process.
And that most things that people write are criticised by others and often themselves.
A lot of red ink may mean your supervisor really read your thesis. Not much and it could be that they didn't pay much attention.

Make sure you go through and discuss any corrections and clarify any important points.

YellowJellyBeanz Tue 26-Jul-16 08:42:10

Thank you all for commenting, when I started my PhD 7 years ago I was a very confident person. I flew through my mphil- PhD transfer, also completed the PGCtHE (and graduated), my data collection went with ease and I have a significant amount of data. Probably enough for 3 PhDs. But.....during my 3rd year in (just as I started to write up) There was trauma within my personal life which resulted in me breaking down. I asked for a suspension which I was granted and I began to recover. I re-enrolled last year part time, and since then my work was very substandard (though everything that I do contributes to improve). I have come close to losing the PhD a few times. I am working to a much better standard that when I originally re-enrolled but I keep getting over whelming fear that the uni will get rid of me ......

YellowJellyBeanz Tue 26-Jul-16 08:48:18

@butterchunks I am multidisciplinary my areas are mainly a combination of health psychology and BMS

FoggyBottom Tue 26-Jul-16 11:54:09

but I have a fear of impending doom that I'm going to be highly criticised.. Or worst they will say they don't feel that I am good enough to achieve the PhD

Being "highly criticised" does not mean you're a failure. Think about it as scholarly rigour & scrutiny of the work - not you. Try not to take it as a judgement of your character.

It's how research & scholarship works: our ideas, results, conclusions etc need to be subjected to scrutiny. The ideas/assertions/statements/conclusions which resist critique & scrutiny most robustly are generally the conclusions which best describe or explain the phenomenon you're investigating, at this point in time, with the data you have (I'm resisting saying "truth").

Do some professional self-reflection: not "I am a bad person." but "why do I have a sense of impending doom?" If it's exhaustion (a PhD is just hard hard work, mentally & physically), take a break. A day off won't hurt. If your feeling of doom is in the work itself -

that is really a good thing!

It means that you are developing the required self-reflective professional knowledge & approach to be able to make a disinterested assessment of your own work. This is what a PhD trains you for, as you'll need to be able to assess the quality of your own work after the PhD - and indeed, supervise others in their PhDs.

You are probably exhausted, and have lost any sense of being in control. This happens particularly towards the end of the PhD. Your OP reads as a quite infantilised out-of-control state. Do what you need o do to take back control of your own work.

Research is tough, mentally & physically. But if you've got this far, you can cope. You will cope. Sleep, rest, exercise, do something else (I found that playing a musical instrument helped me immensely - something that engaged my brain & body in a different way, and I had to be in the moment).

YellowJellyBeanz Tue 26-Jul-16 17:17:36

Thank you so much foggy bottom.... I have a meeting tomorrow about my chapter, feeling quite anxious but what will be will be confused

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Tue 26-Jul-16 17:59:19

Hello! Another one echoing the reassurance on this thread. I finished my PhD a few years ago, and I now mentor PhDs although I've not supervised anyone past Masters level yet.

Something that has really hit me, since finishing and since I've been supervising my own students and preparing them for PhDs, is how rigorous criticism is such a compliment.

If someone is a poor student, they will not need or benefit from rigorous, detailed, nit-picking criticism. There will be basic errors and simple faults, even at PhD level. By contrast, someone who is doing high-level original research, will have a thousand things wrong, mostly tiny, and some of them complicated and hard to unpick. It takes a supervisor ages to come up with all of that criticism, so by the end of it, they've more or less come to take for granted that you're a good researcher - they may almost forget to say what seems to be obvious, ie., that you are good and were worth their time.

If you have got to the stage of writing up, you're past most of the hurdles, aren't you? Criticism at this stage may well be more of the positive kind, and if your supervisor has become so used to seeing you as competent, she or he may have forgotten to make clear that you are.

FoggyBottom Tue 26-Jul-16 19:58:50

rigorous criticism is such a compliment

Yes! If you or the work can't take it, no-one would bother. But if people nit-pick your work, it means that it's worth the time & trouble, and it's improvable.

YellowJellyBeanz Wed 27-Jul-16 20:43:07

Thanks for the support girls! Had my meeting today. Had constructive criticism but what I had done was ok just needed improving to be thesis ready. At the meeting, my supervisors were all of different views of how the chapter should look but finally made an agreement,.... So I feel much better about what's expected of me now smile

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 27-Jul-16 20:44:38

Yay! So glad it went well - best of luck with the rest of it.

Thundercake Wed 27-Jul-16 20:48:06

You are all brilliant for even starting PhD's!! A brainy lot.

flumpybear Wed 27-Jul-16 21:23:52

I'm 16 yard post starting my PhD in 2000. Believe me when I tell you that you're a student, you're not a professor who has 30 plus years experience. You're learning and it sounds like you've achieved many results in your work but personal life has interrupted your study. That's two different things!!! If your main supervisor can't fully support you and your studies then ask fig pastoral support. Honesty you're nearly there!!! Writing is s bitch, too long to procrastinate and self doubt .... Is your mind bit you or your results or work ... You KNOW your stuff better than most but you need some support - seek this, and block out doubt it's no friend to you / you can do it!!!!!!

Iamthegreatest1 Wed 27-Jul-16 21:33:58

Well done all. Please can you answer this question: Once you've obtained a Phd, are you expected to, publish a certain number of articles every year to keep your degree valid ?

if you don't publish anything or do any new research ever post Phd are you still a Phd? hmm

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 27-Jul-16 21:36:17

Yes, you're still a PhD, why?

It's like any other degree - it doesn't go out of date.

You can, in fact, achieve a PhD and never publish anything at all, and some people who do PhDs have no intention of publishing.

Iamthegreatest1 Wed 27-Jul-16 21:41:36

I didn't know that. I thought part of doing a Phd was that you commit to conducting continuous research in your area. I was obviously wrong and don't know where i got this idea from.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Wed 27-Jul-16 21:44:24

You might be getting it from people who've gone into academia afterwards?

These days, academics have to keep publishing, although that's not to keep their PhDs valid, it's to keep their jobs (a PhD is just the minimum qualification you need for most academic jobs, and usually you need either a credible plan to publish work soon - if you're very junior - or a good list of publications).

But some people do PhDs for reasons other than wanting to go into academia/research, and they might never publish anything at all.

Iamthegreatest1 Wed 27-Jul-16 21:52:07

You've hit the nail on the head. I think that's where i got the idea from.

haybott Thu 28-Jul-16 07:53:02

You can, in fact, achieve a PhD and never publish anything at all.

In some subjects. Minimum requirements in STEM are 1 or 2 published papers usually. Minimum requirements for getting a postdoc would usually be higher.

Lweji Thu 28-Jul-16 08:04:50

Not necessarily.
If you finish in 3 years and depending on the work, you could have no papers at the time you finish the PhD. And then never write up.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Thu 28-Jul-16 08:41:33

hay - sorry, I must have come across unusual STEM people (it's not my area).

As you see from my earlier post, I was making the point that some people do PhDs without intending to go on to postdocs, and they wouldn't be focussed on publishing.

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