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I am currently a CS PhD student in an East Asian institution, in my fifth year, one year overtime over the normative period. I have passed all my qualification and thesis proposal exams and just need to submit and defend my thesis. Unfortunately, I don't have any serious publications in top conferences or journals (tried to sumbit several times but got always rejected), only a handful of low-quality workshop and medium-low tier conference papers. For these reasons I have been constantly blamed by my supervisor, and he may not be willing even to sign the thesis defense request, leaving me in the dreadful prospective of spending several years more just to see a paper accepted, and prolong my overtime and agony.

After confrontation with other students, and even professors of other university, I strongly believe that this situation is due mostly to poor guidance from my supervisor and senior PhD students and post-docs during my early years, poor publishing strategy, a not very feasible research project to produce concrete and verifiable results, and until recently obsolete equipment. I am also very frustated because I have been working almost every day, often many hours a day, and I have been collecting much less results than other people working only a fraction of the time and graduating in less than 3 years.

I tried many times to discuss the situation with my supervisor and other people in charge in my department to solve these issues, but they all repeat the same things, that it is normal to take many years to finish a good PhD, I should concentrate not on graduation time but on quality, I will easily find the job I want afterwards, and things like this. Unfortunately I cannot agree, since in the Asia-Pacific region, where I am interested to work, there is a very strong competition from candidates finishing the PhD in the normal 3-4 years time. Also coming (and with a Bachelor) originally from a country in southern Europe where the level of primary and secondary education and the level of the IT field is very low, I am already at a disadvantage with respect to other more skilled candidates, and is already making harder for me to obtain a working visa. I have in theory already found a job in one of the company where I would like to work, willing to sponsor me a visa, but it is only a conditional offer based on graduation that may be easily withdrawn if I fail to graduate in the timeframe they believe is reasonable, losing this opportunity may lower my morale even further.

I would like to ask suggestions about the current options I have:

  • I can consider withdrawing from the program and look for jobs. This has the risk of leaving me almost unemployable and force me to return back to my home country with just a Bachelor degree, unable to find a serious decently-compensated job, a career black-hole. Even if I look now for jobs I would have to state I am currently enrolled in a PhD, with companies assuming automatically I am going to finish it (because in Asia is the norm).
  • I can stay for at least one more year trying to publish and graduate. I would waste a lot of time just waiting for reviews, unable to develop any useful skills in the process and log useful working hours. And again, 6-7-8 years in a PhD would be a black mark on my CV, and I am already teased enough for this when I participate to networking events.
  • I may insist to submit my thesis at the first useful occasion (in a few months, due to university regulations). But keep complaining may not be useful and may ruin all my relationships even further.

I had to keep some of the details generic as I cannot disclose too many information. Please also note that my main goals when I started my PhD were to find a job in a big corporation about Research & Development, and maximize the chances to be able to emigrate from my home country. I still hope I can figure out the best course of action to come out from this situation. Thank you in advance for your replies.

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    Are you not allowed to list "under review" papers on your accomplishments at the defense? – A Simple Algorithm May 19 '18 at 13:45
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm In theory I am not required to list anything special, there are no regulations that require publications for PhD, and I know some people who got the degree with nothing at all. But my supervisor and other professors in my department keep threatening me every other day about it. – Arthnr May 19 '18 at 13:53
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    That's good. But I meant can you list papers that aren't accepted yet as if they were real published papers, just with "under review by journal-name" instead of the publication details? (because that's very common here) If so there's no need to wait for them to be accepted. Just resubmit them somewhere and proceed to defend as if you expect them to be published. Put them on arxiv perhaps and cite them in your thesis and CV. – A Simple Algorithm May 19 '18 at 14:12
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    @ASimpleAlgorithm Maybe it depends on the field but I really don't recommend specifying the journal name... "submitted" is fine but at least in math, people who see e.g. "under review by Annals of Mathematics" will usually think you're some sort of bozo. Just my two cents. I agree that there's no problem in general about mentioning work in progress though. – user399601 May 20 '18 at 6:59
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    Is it possible for you to state which country you are in? – xuq01 May 21 '18 at 18:42
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I suppose there is a difference in fields, but your research should be evaluated by a committee, and the level of research you have done is independent of where it was published. Even unpublished work can be part of the theses, so your argument of waiting for reviews is strange.

The committee should not really care where it was published or presented. They should evaluate your work - not the conferences/journals.

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Can you not pick up a Master's degree at least? That would make your resume look stronger and account for at least some of the time you've spent in the program. Most European and US programs will give you a Master's after a certain amount of work (I don't know options in Asia though).

  • I think in much of Asia you need a master's to start the PhD, so the OP may have gotten a master's years ago. – Kimball May 22 '18 at 3:37
  • I see your point. Nonetheless, the OP noted: "This has the risk of leaving me almost unemployable and force me to return back to my home country with just a Bachelor degree." .. so I figured there was no Master's yet. – Turtle May 22 '18 at 7:46
  • @Kimball No, I was accepted into PhD without a master. – Arthnr May 23 '18 at 3:40
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they all repeat the same things, that it is normal to take many years to finish a good PhD, I should concentrate not on graduation time but on quality, I will easily find the job I want afterwards, and things like this.

I don't think you should let strangers on the internet override advice from people who know the details of your situation and are familiar with this region of academia.

Rather, I would try to understand what they mean by "quality." If you're doing the right thing and just need to leave it in the oven a bit longer, then I don't see an issue. If you're just spinning your wheels and don't know how to achieve the quality they want, that's the real question you need to address.

keep complaining may not be useful and may ruin all my relationships even further

It's reasonable to make sure you and your advisor are on the same page with respect to your technical and career goals. But I agree that if he understands your situation and is still telling you that it's too soon to graduate, then you would be unwise to keep pushing the issue.

I can consider withdrawing from the program and look for jobs...[otherwise] I would waste a lot of time just waiting for reviews, unable to develop any useful skills in the process

No! Get your PhD at any cost. You should only withdraw if you think you will not achieve your PhD and are just wasting time (which does not seem to be the case here). Further, I don't think "waiting for journal decisions" and "doing useful, interesting work" are mutually exclusive.

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