Four PhD Derailers and Their Solutions

There are 4 PhD derailers. Avoid them where you can. But if you cannot avoid them, here are some ways through or around them.


There are 4 things that slow down a PhD.

The first is the demographics, and sometimes we can't do anything about that. That is perhaps our age, our gender, where we're doing our PhD, and I guess we have some control over where we do our PhD but demographics are one factor.

The next thing that slows our PhD down is the ability to collect data, and that could be equipment availability or it could be loss of data at key moments in time.

Commonly, PhDs are slowed down because there is not a good plan or the plan isn't adhered to.

And finally, PhDs go slowly because perhaps you've got a poor relationship with your supervisor or you can't get access to the or supervisor when you need it.

So how do we overcome that? I think firstly, overcoming poor demographics is not something that you can change but you can be aware of, and being aware of it can help make you do undertake different decisions. For example, change in medical stasis for women that slows down their PhD but for men that can speed it up. Having a kid for women that speeds it up but for women that slows their PhD down. So, knowing what the things are might encourage you to make a different decision.

Having backups or getting data collection. Sorry, the thing is to have backup. So, there's two kinds of backup that I refer to here. The first is backup things to do. So, what else could I do in the absence of having access to my equipment, and that could be writing most often but it could be almost anything. It could be planning. It could be data analytics. It could be talking to peers. It could be getting reagents who could be setting an experiment up. So, having a back-up plan of things to do, and don't forget a back-up plan could also include other kinds of experiments that could hopefully achieve the same outcome or it could include other kind access to other equipment other locations. Then of course we've got backing up data, so we don't to lose data. So, I would encourage you to use your University's repository for data but also to think about backing up your own data. I wouldn't go crazy read stories of people emailing copies to themselves, and to their mum and doing that daily or ally. That's a massive waste of time. You want backups to occur in the background but what you do want to do is make sure that your backups are actually relevant, and they are actually safe. So, I'd recommend periodically trying to restore a backup and seeing whether it has the information you expect it to have. But certainly, lean on your University for data backup.

Planning is really important. More and more PhDs now are based around a PhD plan particularly in Australia, but I think a lot of people change their plan too easily. It's really easy to see a new shiny new object as it were and follow that down its rabbit hole but for a PhD all that does is increase time without much benefit. So, I would strongly encourage you to make a plan, and stick to it where possible, and have really strong reasons why you might change. Bear in mind that your job beyond your PhD might not be in academia. So, things like publications or better publications may be increasingly less relevant when it comes to the completion of your PhD. So, they might not be good ideas when it comes to changing your plan.

Finally, clear communication with your supervisor. So firstly, that means knowing why you're doing your PhD and making sure your peer, our supervisor knows that because there's nothing worse than you that your supervisor, and you having a different understanding of why you're doing a PhD, and that may change but make sure if it does change you. Let your supervisor know and then catching up with them regularly. I see a lot of students perhaps avoid or put off meeting with their supervisor because they're afraid of what the outcome might be, and I totally understand that meeting with your supervisor can be really nerve-wracking. But worse than that is not making progress because you haven't got the right advice at the right time or making the wrong kind of progress because you weren't steered in a better direction. So, make sure you get your supervision clear.

Onwards, and upwards for your PhD. Thanks!