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Advice on PhD - should I ask for a deadline extension?

(2 Posts)
bathsh3ba Fri 05-Jun-20 08:26:15

I'm a second year PhD student in social sciences. I'm funded by the ESRC, so currently I have just over a year's funding left, though I intend to apply for a funding extension when this opens up due to the impact of lockdown.

At the end of last year I failed confirmation. Well, I passed the viva element but have to resubmit my confirmation report and draft chapter, which in my case is an article, as it's an article based thesis.

At around the same time, I finally faced up to the fact that I needed some mental health support. I was so terrified of failing the PhD that I had basically shut down my brain and I wasn't working at anywhere near full capacity. I was too reliant on my supervisors and took every constructive criticism as a resounding death knell to my chances of ever becoming a Dr.

I bit the bullet and got some support. As a result, it was February before I really got down to reworking my confirmation papers BUT I was in a much better state of mind. Come March, we were on lockdown and I was working from home as a single mum with two children needing supervision of home schooling. So it's fair to say I've had a rocky road.

I'm now 5 weeks away from my confirmation resubmission deadline. I have made a lot of improvements to my report and article. I have been working so hard but it's simply impossible for me to work absolutely full time. I've addressed all the issues the examiners raised, although whether I've fully addressed them is probably a little subjective.

My supervisors think the confirmation report is almost ready and probably can be made ready in 5 weeks - it is a matter of clarifying and giving better justification for some points. The article is not publication-ready, in their view, but it's subjective how polished the examiners expect it to be. To fully implement all the changes they want me to make to it would be tight in 5 weeks. However they haven't time to give me any more than brief feedback by email between now and then - so I'm on my own now really, albeit with detailed feedback.

They say only I can decide if I should ask for a 1-2 month extension as I have to weigh up the pros and cons. It obviously leaves me less time to do the rest of the PhD, assuming I pass. But it might mean I'm less likely to pass - although it's down to the examiners who were more positive at the last confirmation about the paper than my supervisors were.

Some added points: my supervision has been rocky. I have 3 supervisors. 1 has been on maternity leave most of the past year and I've barely heard from her cover. My main supervisor has been in regular contact and is mostly helpful but this is not really her subject area. My external supervisor, who started out as my main supervisor until she moved institutions, is sporadically in contact as she is so busy. When she gives me feedback it is very detailed but it is few and far between. Just last night, she sent me detailed feedback but I hadn't really heard from her much in the past three months. I had been told she had contributed to the feedback my main supervisor gave me, but I'm now questioning this as she sent me 100 detailed comments on the confirmation report and 150 on the article!

As an added complication, I submitted my article to a journal without telling my supervisors almost as a litmus test. If it got a desk reject, I'd know I was still a long way off. If it got sent to review I might get some additional comments which could help me improve it. I was fully expecting a desk reject but yesterday I heard it's been sent out for review. So maybe it's not that bad?

Anyway, any recommendations or thoughts on how I should decide what to do. I really want the PhD but I also don't want this uncertainty hanging over my head much longer, alongside all the added stresses of lockdown and school closures. I can't afford to suspend my studies and I'm not ill so can't take sick leave.

Thanks for reading this very long post, if you got this far!

OP’s posts: |
CatandtheFiddle Fri 05-Jun-20 19:03:26

Hmmm...

I'd be inclined to discuss this with your main supervisor.

It sounds as though you're getting a lot of really useful feedback, but not being supported in learning how to process it. A PhD is supposed to be independent - I tell my students I want them to get to the point where they secretly think "Oh Cat doesn't really know as much as I know about this topic"

And they're giving you feedback. But it sounds as though you need to find different and more productive (for you) ways to use it. So could that be a topic of discussion?

But in the end a PhD is yours and you need to rely on yourself, and learn to make professional judgements for yourself - I think the hardest thing we do as scholars/academics is assess our own work sensibly & professionally.

If the upgrade/confrmation work you're doing is getting you towards the final goal of your submission, then go for an extension - it may give you a release from anxiety which will free your mind up & enable you to work more productively.

Do you have a feasible realistic schedule for completion? With sensible doable milestones that get you to submission - targets which stretch you a bit but not too much? So that you get that lovely glow from achieving a milestone, and that positive reinforcement spurs you on.

Part of doing a PhD is a mind game with yourself & your confidence. Good luck

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