Author Topic: Any PhDs out there?  (Read 1366 times)

Any PhDs out there?
« on: May 31, 2019, 08:45:36 am »
Just curious if anyone on this forum has a PhD or is undertaking one? I'm looking for information.

I've seen a fully funded one slightly leftfield of my degrees but I believe I could contribute. I'm looking for a career change and the money isn't an issue. I'm older than most PhD students I reckon being 40s. Experience is likely to be key since it's a long time since I was at university (Bachelor and masters under my belt a while ago).

Basically I know what a PhD is like having known a few doing them over the years. I'm a science / engineering background academically but this is humanities (management with a strong technology link). Usual interdisciplinary blurb but this sounds for real to me.

I don't really have a question just curious of there's anyone with or working on a PhD. Experience / advice I suppose. Although I do think I have to be creative in my application due to long time after last degree and difficulty producing all the application requirements.

Also why do the UK treat people doing a PhD as a student but other countries treat them as employees? I know a few EU countries do that and I believe around the world it's the first rung on an academic career ladder. It's a training post for academic research for sure but if you start work in other fields as a graduate you get trained on the job too. You're rarely the complete article coming out of university, even with a masters. What's the difference?

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2019, 09:49:10 am »
one difference is the amount and status of any teaching duties you might be expected to fulfil whilst doing your PhD.

cheers

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2019, 10:04:04 am »
one difference is the amount and status of any teaching duties you might be expected to fulfil whilst doing your PhD.

cheers

Is it more with humanities? In my masters research project I spent most of my time in the labs. Writing was initially less a part of the work. I guess the humanities equivalent of lab work is reading.

I must admit I don't quite understand humanities mode of work, it seems different somehow. Not sure what's the equivalent to lab work or the more practical work in science / engineering.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2019, 10:07:29 am »
dunno really; it might be one of those things that can vary enormously with the subject and the faculty/university in question.

cheers

caerau

  • SR x 3 - PBP fail but 1090 km - hey - not too bad
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2019, 10:11:16 am »
I have a PhD and I also train PhD's


PhD students ARE students, I'm not really following you in what you are saying at the end there.  One thing academia certainly teaches you (or ought to at least) is that you never stop learning.


It's kind of a world of hurt unless you are REALLY into it - much more work that a Bachelors or Masters - it is a higher degree after all (this is quite lost on some people believe it or not) - I hope that's true because it's not really very likely to gain you a massive boost in salary over time - possibly even the opposite.  And it pays to be good at what you are doing already.  A PhD in my discipline (chemistry) is a very very different kettle of fish to an undergraduate degree - it's where you *really* learn to be a chemist - not the theoretical stuff (though you better keep on top of that) - it's where you really learn to apply it and do some actual real-world chemistry - in a niche field.


It's certainly - in my area - an essential rung on the ladder in both academia and really industry (you tend to not get very far if you don't have a PhD as you'll never have done any real lab-work) - so the salary thing I said is not 100% true - but then mostly, if you want the big career - then converting to being a lawyer/businessman is much more lucrative.  not that it sounds like that is your plan of course.


Anyway, not sure I can be of that much help as this is in a discipline far from mine but ask away if you wish :-)
It's a reverse Elvis thing.

ian

  • fatuously disingenuous
    • The Suburban Survival Guide
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2019, 10:25:35 am »
I can't say a science PhD has been much direct use in my career, which skittered off sideways like a scared crab the moment I bailed from academia. Though it's nice to have and I'd generally look towards hiring PhDs in analyst roles even though it might not have direct relevance. For the reasons below.

Indirectly, it's been a big help, mostly because I did the sort of old-school PhD (that might not exist any more) where you were pretty much thrown in and expected to emerge with a thesis three-ish years later. That involved building a lot of skills from scratch and independence – there was really no other environment like that. It was kind of a Mission Impossible academic scenario. This is your mission, if you choose to accept it. There's was less dangling from ropes above lasers, but plenty of wholesome radioactivity and the sort of chemicals that make you go whomp.

That said, PhDs even then were very unequal. I went for one at Imperial and it was basically presented as a list of things my supervisor would expect me to do over the three years. Nah. I expect the toss em in at the deep end school is probably against human rights these days. Honestly, I'm not sure when we reclassified students as humans.
!nataS pihsroW

caerau

  • SR x 3 - PBP fail but 1090 km - hey - not too bad
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2019, 10:36:50 am »
No that is alive and well Ian - that's actually what the ideal PhD student should do really - but there are those who sink rather than swim.  We do provide a lot more support than was given back in the day.  And they are discovering human rights - which is frankly about time.  There is still some seriously slave-driving going on in research groups - particularly over the pond in the USA - though I do believe it is still the practice for labs in Japan to actually have beds in them so you never leave.
But that's science - it's dog eat dog competition - I suspect there is less onus to be the best-of-the-best-of-the-best-IMMEDIATELY in humanities - though I could be wrong.




It's a reverse Elvis thing.

Pedal Castro

  • so talented I can run with scissors - ouch!
    • Two beers or not two beers...
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #7 on: May 31, 2019, 10:48:09 am »


I've seen a fully funded one slightly leftfield of my degrees but I believe I could contribute. I'm looking for a career change and the money isn't an issue. I'm older than most PhD students I reckon being 40s. Experience is likely to be key since it's a long time since I was at university (Bachelor and masters under my belt a while ago).


Leicester Uni does a distance learning PhD, well it did do up to about 5 years ago the last time I was a judge in their PhD poster competition. Almost all of these distance students were of mature years or older!

ian

  • fatuously disingenuous
    • The Suburban Survival Guide
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #8 on: May 31, 2019, 11:05:01 am »
No that is alive and well Ian - that's actually what the ideal PhD student should do really - but there are those who sink rather than swim.  We do provide a lot more support than was given back in the day.  And they are discovering human rights - which is frankly about time.  There is still some seriously slave-driving going on in research groups - particularly over the pond in the USA - though I do believe it is still the practice for labs in Japan to actually have beds in them so you never leave.
But that's science - it's dog eat dog competition - I suspect there is less onus to be the best-of-the-best-of-the-best-IMMEDIATELY in humanities - though I could be wrong.

(I should have ETAed my post to mention that obviously, some PhDs are directly relevant, for instance data science.)

I'm am glad to see the independence aspect is still there. The US style of PhD was very different – a continuation of taught courses, for a start. And they'd come and ask me – every five minutes – what to do next. Seriously, go formulate an idea and then come back. And if it's a bad idea I'll drop a themocycler on your head. I believe in motivation.
!nataS pihsroW

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2019, 11:31:25 am »
Depends slightly on funding, but research councils are keener on the 'treat them like employees' model these days, at least inasmuch as they expect there to be a certain degree of training and support for the PhD candidate. How much of a sink or swim environment there is depends on the field; the 'here's a list of jobs you're going to do for me for the next three years; figure out how to turn that into a thesis' model is much more a lab sciences thing, though all funded PhDs will have a vague outline they want you to work towards, at least initially.

What's the project brief? Though I wouldn't call myself a business studies person, I've ended up teaching in a Business School, so I may be able to give some pointers on what might be expected.

(NB - a management PhD is likely to be more in a social science than a humanities mode; this might seem like semantic quibbling, but depending on what kind of approach it's taking calling it one when people think it's the other has the potential to cause a ruckus...)

Mr Larrington

  • A bit ov a lyv wyr by slof standirds
  • Custard Wallah
    • Mr Larrington's Automatic Diary
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2019, 11:39:16 am »
(NB - a management PhD is likely to be more in a social science than a humanities mode; this might seem like semantic quibbling, but depending on what kind of approach it's taking calling it one when people think it's the other has the potential to cause a ruckus...)

Oh!  The humanities!

External Transparent Wall Inspection Operative & Mayor of Mortagne-au-Perche
Satisfying the Bloodlust of the Masses in Peacetime

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2019, 11:47:42 am »
I have four PhD' s.





Projects half Done.
Soz.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2019, 11:53:44 am »
The job versus student comment is really about discussions I've had with a group of PhD students in the UK. They were almost all from overseas and some had experience of university systems in multiple countries.

The gist of the conversation was that in some countries they were employed by the University with the employment rights that entailed. Things like pension contributions, employment rights, etc. PhD students in the UK are given a stipend not employed so they have less rights. The point of employment versus studentship is as a research assistant or post doc. At that point you get employed, albeit into fixed term contracts until you become a lecturer.

It is clear that both the UK and those European universities expect their PhD students to do a similar function within academia but they're treated differently. Not saying one is better than the other just wondering why. They are both in a training position which tbh is no different to any graduate at the start of their post graduation career. A graduate civil engineer for example spends 3 years minimum training in their role, it usually takes 4 or more years. At the end of that you're considered a civil engineer competent to do that job. You get a chartered engineer status and letters after your name and your uni degree letters (e.g. BEng, CEng, MICE). There's parallels with a PhD student there I think, except in the UK they're still students in every sense without the rights wrt employment and benefits that entails.

I've been reading up on doing PhDs but tbh I know a lot about the day to day aspects already. A PhD student is a workaholic. I've more experience of humanities than science or engineering due to friends doing humanities. A year of reading and a few written reports. In that year they've finally worked out their argument direction. Then 2 or more years expanding on their argument and writing it up. Bouts of further reading, conferences, internships and out in the public research / surveys. Then if you're ambitious and want a career in academia you get something published. More articles, book chapters and credits (first or second name a must) you get the more likely you'll get a career.

As a chemist friend moaned to me once. "I did a better PhD than my mate but he got an industry research job. I worked very hard on it but he was always out to conferences." Truth was his friend got his name and research noticed. Networking was his success. My mate had the reward of filling in someone else's spreadsheets recording waste materials. A job a graduate or even A level student could do.

It's a gamble I know and 3 years later I could be unemployed with no better prospects. The difference is the potential and the success of getting a PhD. I'm in a job without challenge, sense of achievement or prospects. Pay isn't great but it's the challenge and achievement aspects I hate not having. It leaves me with needing a change whether PhD or career change. The PhD has its appeal right now.

In the US there's a higher rate of failure in PhDs. The research I've seen on that indicates that supervision has a great influence on success rates. The EU / uk system there's likely to be more supervision. Although from the PhD students I know that's not always present even when the system has it supposedly in place. Some very hands off supervisors out there.

The other aspect is post PhD success in academia or industry. Things I've read seem to say best departments in the best universities aren't always the most important factor. More important is the reputation of your supervisors. They're the one giving out your references. If they're well known in academia or industry or both then you're better off even if in a least institute. I know oxbridge PhD graduates who aren't doing any better than PhD graduates from Plymouth University.

It's as complex as the normal employment scene I think, especially if you're changing careers. Not easy to know what is for the best. All I know is I like to learn and discover new things. Doesn't matter what. I like to have a messy 3 project I can sink my teeth into. A challenge or something that gives a sense of achievement. Whether that translates well into being a PhD student I don't know.

In the past writing things up was less important to me than learning any something or finding something out. Now I like the writing aspect too it's a function of age perhaps but it does bode well, at least in the past a PhD would never have suited, now it's a possibility.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2019, 11:54:50 am »
(NB - a management PhD is likely to be more in a social science than a humanities mode; this might seem like semantic quibbling, but depending on what kind of approach it's taking calling it one when people think it's the other has the potential to cause a ruckus...)

Oh!  The humanities!



Is that a 'you wanna take this outside' icon, M. le Maire? Deconstruct *this*!

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2019, 11:58:05 am »
You're right! It's social sciences. But to be fair I've never been interested. I was headed towards science / engineering from the age of 8 or 9. I never really thought about other areas. To me it was science, engineering and the others (humanities was social sciences too as far as I knew). So is sociology a science or what? In some areas it's treated as a science but nobody outside of it accepts that. The sociologists I've met seemed to be psychologists by degree.

caerau

  • SR x 3 - PBP fail but 1090 km - hey - not too bad
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2019, 12:16:44 pm »
Sounds like you've done your research already and you've pushed all the right buttons for me regarding being well motivated to do one.


One thing about the 'lack of rights' of a PhD student is that it's very very difficult to get rid of a PhD student once they're through the year 1 progression monitoring thing - so you're essentially unsackable - that's not true for a PDRA.  However that doesn't mean you're going to get the PhD - you *do* have to work hard- very hard - but you know this  :thumbsup:   You're also not a tax-payer (obv VAT on things you buy etc excluded).  I didn't start paying NI until I was 27 because of this - YMMV if you want to put in voluntary NI contributions to make up the gap in your contributions when they ask it of you.


It takes an awful lot longer to get a PhD (and other degrees) in most other countries.  Most of our overseas PhD students don't even start a PhD until they're 27 years old or more - and elsewhere they may take up to 7 years or more to get it.  That's very different to here where you must now be done within 4 years - assuming all disciplines are the same as in science.  My experience is that PhD students from abroad tend to be much more mature, well trained and rounded as scientists than our British equivalents as they have had to do much more to get where they are - but at the expense of much of their early years.

It's a reverse Elvis thing.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #16 on: May 31, 2019, 02:16:57 pm »
I think that's dependant on where they're from. I've met EU nationals doing PhD in the UK and they're straight fun school to uni degree to PhD. One's from South America were older but that's down to their system of working through a degree, certainly a masters which is needed for PhD anywhere other than their country it seems. Still only a few years older. Typically masters take 2, 3 or more years. A lot of other nations do 2 year matters like USA.

I think the maturity from South American PhD students come from having to fight more to get to the UK. IIRC their masters are self funded and it's getting the money that leads to longer times to achieve them.

caerau

  • SR x 3 - PBP fail but 1090 km - hey - not too bad
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #17 on: May 31, 2019, 02:36:44 pm »
Absolutely but straight from school through a uni degree still takes much longer in France/germany/spain/italy than it does in the UK in my experience.  I never see 22 year old PhD students from Europe - yes they often have a masters already too though.


Also, with a sarcastic nod to our current A-level system* - current UK students are in the main - no longer really taught to be independent thinkers as far as we can tell - all we hear from our undergrads now is 'we want marking schemes' and model answers.... :facepalm:   and they have almost no long-term memory for anything.
I sometimes wonder how they manage to go to the bathroom without written instructions and a video each and every time.


I think advanced UG material is still on a good level elsewhere - here in the UK our A-level system is disappearing into Satan's bottom and they are often ruined by the time they get to us - it is very hard to deprogramme them once they get here.  We are currently developing a year 1 module for our students when they get here to attempt an immediate reprogramming from week 1 as it's getting disastrous.


Being more mature and actually having done some independent work yourself is not going to do you any harm at all methinks.




*Not slagging off teachers OR students here - it's the system that has developed due to government league tables that has led to all this.
It's a reverse Elvis thing.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #18 on: May 31, 2019, 03:14:48 pm »
A while ago I considered doing a PhD in a business-related discipline.

I had some advise from a lecturer at my previous university, including the recommendation of a book 'Research Methods for Business Students', by Mark Saunders, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill. I still quote this book to anybody who is considering a piece of research, with chapter 2 'formulating and clarifying the research topic' being very relevant for research at any level.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #19 on: May 31, 2019, 04:18:24 pm »
I failed to complete my science/computer PhD (a good few years ago), so I have a few questions.  ;)
When you say "fully funded", is it through the university or via some sort of industry? Mine was through industry - I was expected to work out of their office and had 2 supervisors. This meant in general I had a supervisor at university who was hard to get hold of, and one in my office who was super busy. A supervisor who you can actually talk to (or even other PhD students who are in the same field) can make a huge difference to how fast you can progress. Being off campus also meant I did no teaching or supervision of anyone else, and with no peers it was much more like a job (with no boss!) than academia.
Do you know what your title is (or at least the specific area you would be digging into)? The PhDs in my department were really specific, which mean that we could spend all 3 years in the narrow, but made us vulnerable to someone else publishing something similar. On the other hand, I know of people who only really rationalised their material into some sort of well defined idea when deep into the writing up process.
Do you have sufficient funds that you can survive for a while after the end of the 3 years to complete writing up? It makes life much harder if you have to get a job in addition to finishing everything off.

Finally, do you love the subject you are going to be working on (or at the least are you fascinated by it)? I wasn't and I think that contributed to my failure - in many ways a PhD is a test of motivation and stamina.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #20 on: May 31, 2019, 05:10:41 pm »
Yes, the Saunders et al. Business Research Methods is the standard textbook we recommend to our UGs; Colin Robson's _Real World Research_ is also a good one to look at. The social sciences are a broad church; at the one end you've got the humanities/literary studies-influenced lot who are interested in social meaning and how it's constructed through language etc; at the other end you've got the experimental-psychology-leaning bunch who want to run experiments on test subjects. Management studies are probably somewhere in between.

To repeat some of the points above: you've got to have a minimum level of interest or enthusiasm for the topic; PhDs are as much a test of stamina as they are of the intellect. Don't go in expecting an academic job at the end; the academic job market is a raging dumpster fire, and is unlikely to get better any time soon. You will pick up many skills that should make you very employable, but employers often will need convincing of this, especially if they've not hired PhDs before. Depending on your industry and seniority, you may not see a pay boost afterwards, but having the opportunity to spend 3 years on a project learning stuff can be incredibly rewarding in its own right.

Wowbagger

  • Dez's butler
    • Musings of a Gentleman Cyclist
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #21 on: May 31, 2019, 08:26:14 pm »
My younger son did his PhD and was funded by some research council or other. IIRC his grant was £14000 a year or thereabouts, and was tax free. That meant that the money he earned through teaching undergraduates, under £6000, was also below the rate of income tax.
Oh, Bach without any doubt. Bach every time for me.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #22 on: June 01, 2019, 09:57:21 pm »
The subject is very relevant to modern times being related to research into lifecycle and development of non - petroleum based, biodegradable plastics. That's the research group area. There's material scientists working on developing novel new plastics but others are looking into the business model and lifecycle from production, use through to disposal and it's biodegradation in a reasonable time scale.

Right now biodegradable or compostable plastics take at least 6 months to degrade. A recent published research (WHO funded iirc) found shopping bags made out of the most common of these types of plastics were still intact after 12 months in one of four types of locations (earth, seawater, air and iirc fresh water). One of the most common was still intact and strong enough to hold a bag full of shopping. It's certainly a very interesting and relevant area of research.

This PhD would be about the life cycle and is more about the business / management side. It's in the school of management in my local university which is among one of the UK's most highly rated management schools. It's funded by leverhulme and also with another research organisation. Basically two big name institutions and leverhulme which is a major funder of UK research across many disciplines and fields. Definitely too high falutin' for me I reckon so perhaps just a shot in the dark for the experience.

On a more general subject, getting a career in academia I think an area of research that's very topical in a department that's got one of the highest research reasons in its field of if any UK university can't hurt. I've read the esteem that the supervisors are held in by others in their field has a big impact on job applications later on at the end of the PhD (successful).

A former friend landed on his feet once. He started doing an architectural degree, realised he didn't like it a matter of weeks into it. He learnt of a mate who changed courses so he tried it, successfully changed to ecology or something like that. Didn't know what to do after his degree so literally applied for one PhD and got it. Cue research into soils and microorganisms. PhD under his belt he suddenly found he was in the middle of a rush to research global warming. He found out that soils were a good indicator of climate change. He ended up managing million pound research programmes for a directly funded government research establishment specialising in climate change research. He found the funding and managed the PhD students and post docs. Often sending them to far flung parts of the world to carry out the fieldwork. He often got the chance to go there too (being an outdoors guy he liked the budget he was given for clothing for various climates around the world to make site visits to where he research was). Basically his whole adult life after school was down to luck, chance and taking the opportunity when it comes up. It was luck to stumble onto the opportunities and rexognise them. BTW I'm not jealous, honest. I fell into bad opportunities and was unable to spot good ones. Older and wiser now I see the good opportunities need to find out how to land them.

Anyone got any advise for PhD applications?

One point though, I'm getting nowhere in my current job so the tax free stipend actually works out not far off my current salary. If I get onto a PhD and last beyond the first year review of expect some teaching role to come into play. Every PhD I have met so varying amounts of teaching depending on their needs. But AFAIK the tax situation on that work ignores the PhD stipend so you'll have to work a lot of hours to earn enough to be taxed. Certainly if you can work that long you're not really left enough time for a PhD. All PhD students I've met seemed to work long hours. If you're ever late at universities the offices with lights will most likely be with 2 or 3 PhDs working in them.

Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #23 on: June 01, 2019, 10:08:06 pm »
I've met PhD students from Latvia, Denmark and a few pye EU nations. They were all the straight from school and uni in their country before coming to the UK for a PhD. They were all 21 or 22 when they started apart from one who did a masters here first and was 22 or 23. In the UK a bachelor degree takes 3 years and masters 4 (or 3 for bachelor and 1 for masters or simply 4 for a single masters). Sometimes there's a foundation year if needed. Although I've heard of some subjects who are often for part time study while doing a related job can take 1 year for a foundation and 2 years for the bachelors degree part. Unless things leave changed drastically.

School systems across EU are also different. IIRC Scandinavian countries often start later at all, but others start the more serious education in nurseries before school proper with language courses. At the end of the day a certain degree level across the EU should come out as equal with other country's degrees at similar levels. Quality of the department / institution dependant obviously. You can't compare equally the Sorbonne with Plymouth for example.

bludger

  • Randonneur and bargain hunter
Re: Any PhDs out there?
« Reply #24 on: June 01, 2019, 10:20:32 pm »
I used to work for a company that had over 20 former graduate recruits doing full time PhDs with a couple of light duties relating to internal consultancy and public relations. If you were to do a STEM-y PhD I think that would be the best way to do it. All the fees paid for, plus a full time salary.

Of course once the PhD was done they all immediately went elsewhere... 

What was pretty rotten about it was that when I worked there I asked around for how one would apply to be one of these sponsored PhD students and never got any info, even asking the relevant manager directly, and didn't get a straight answer. This made me pretty livid and disillusioned at the company since the whole thing seemed like a neoptistic stitch up which I'm mad about even having left the company a while ago.
YACF touring/audax bargain basement:
https://bit.ly/2Xg8pRD