PhD Fraud #06: Hashtag Overly Honest Methods


Okay, as we’ve just enter a new year, I thought that it was time for an update on my ride on this crazy PhD Research Train. What’s changed? Well, a few things, but not a great deal.

Around the end of October, I started doing some additional, part-time post-doctoral research work to help pay the bills now that my PhD funding has come to an end. Thankfully, it’s completely unrelated to my PhD work, which means it’s actually pretty interesting and a nice distraction from the thesis slog. The work is more temporal though, meaning that the post-doc stuff has weeks where lots of work needs to be done and 100% of my time is spent on it; and others, like now, where there’s not much to do at the moment and I’m focussing pretty much entirely on my thesis. This blog was always focussed on the PhD struggle, so I’m not going to talk too much about my other research commitments, but stick to my thesis work. t’s probably not a huge surprise to say that I’ve lost almost all my motivation and interest for finishing my PhD – this comes despite the fact that the sooner I can finish, the sooner I can work on something else; somehow, I’m finding it hard to muster even the motivation to just “GET IT DONE”), and can find infinite amount of other things that I’d rather spend my time on. This has been made doubly hard, since I technically already have the job (the post-doc position) that I needed a PhD for in the first place, so it’s not like I need that Certificate of Graduation for a job interview or anything.

So what’s going on? The past few months have been super frustrating, as some significant problems were been identified with my scientific technique and have led to me kind of not being sure whether what I’m doing is right, wrong or whatever. I’ve had doubts about my results for a while, but have largely put these to the back of my mind because the scientific models are complex and the theory is very confusing: recently, though, I’ve had to really tackle the mathematics and it’s left me completely baffled. It’s time like this that I wish that my project/thesis was on something that somewhere here (i.e. my university) knows about, because no-one aside from me really does and neither are there a bunch of resources (aside from those I’ve collected) that I can draw on if I’m in a bind. My work is quite distant from my supervisor’s field, and so he’s not really able to help with any of the technical details, use of models or analysis of results except in a vague quantitative way. My PhD always started from a position of isolation, as my main remit was to do some exploratory research into a dark region that no-one’s really looked into before, and essentially been given a flashlight and told: “right, go and find something interesting, and bring it back here when you’re done.”

It’s a matter of slight pride that, with everything I’ve done, I’ve done off my own bat: except some gentle comments from others, I’ve gotten where I have purely because of my own work. All the way, I’ve largely driven myself in the direction that I have, and have been given limited guidance on what exactly I should be looking at. From a research point of view, maybe that reflects well on me in that I’ve managed to be pretty much autonomous for the last 3 years, and developed things of my own accord; on the other side, though, this means that I’ve had to search everywhere for the ‘right’ way to do, hitting many dead ends along the way and absorbing considerable frustration. Of the work I have done with my results, I’m pulling together ideas and concepts from a number of fields and trying to make them compatible, but in a way that I’m not really an expert in any one of them and there are considerable problems in integrating the scientific model in the way that I have. I’m woefully aware of the meaninglessness of my results (or what results I’ve actually managed to get) and am not entirely convinced that my efforts are truly at the sort of standard to which they hand out doctorates. Maybe I’m overestimating how ‘good’ or ‘novel’ the final thesis needs to be, but I’ve got super-mega worries that what I have so far is painfully below the mark.

Over the whole of my PhD research, I kind of feel like I’ve squandered my time and expertise. I feel like if I’d have focussed on the right things, I could be somewhere good with my research, but that in reality, all I’ve managed to do is find problems everywhere with what I’m doing and flaws in the models/techniques that I’m using. Sure, this might be valid ‘research’ in finding out the wrong way to go about science/a PhD/[insert relevant title here] and technically no science is ‘useless’ science (unless someone already proved it), but it’s no match for actually doing something positive with your work. I kind of feel like the only positive thing that will have come out of my PhD is that someone, somewhere might read my thesis and not have to go through the same three years of frustration and errors and wrong directions that I did. I’m currently trying to formulate a title and general approach (the story, say) that my thesis will describe, and it’s a brain-breaking task. My work feels just like a smattering of ideas that people elsewhere already came up with, but thrown together in a way that things haven’t quite been looked at in this form before, or with these methods. Maybe my thesis can be called: ‘A Bunch of Science Thrown Together with Blunderbuss Accuracy‘ or ‘How Not to do a PhD (and 101 Other Useful Tips for Going Completely Crazy Before You’re Thirty)‘, and that’ll summarise things quite well.

Yes, yes, I know I’m being pessimistic. I know that I just need to Yvan Muller the PhD, and get the bloody thing down. Maybe it won’t be the best piece of research ever, but maybe I can fill it with enough pretty pictures or flattering writing that the examiners will overlook the significant lack of content and ‘pass’ me, largely out of pity. We can but hope.


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