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As a fifth year PhD student in chemical engineering (in North America) who's about to submit his thesis in 4 months, I have a serious doubt about my capabilities.

My PhD thesis was in an area not exactly in my PhD supervisors forte and I did not think that to be an issue when I accepted the PhD offer. Though, he was always available to offer ideas when I was stuck or guide me with a problem, I did not get much help on the technicalities of my works. Infact, he learned more about the future scope of my modeling technique, my research area as I continued to work on it.

However, since my PhD work is (in a way) entirely my own idea, it also meant that I was limited by my technical skills. I have tried my best to make my work as much rigorous as possible. But I think I did not do a good job.

My supervisor on the other hand seems very pleased by my work. He never complained about my productivity and rigorour of the work. The experimental collaborators also seemed satisfied by my work.

However, I think I have wasted my PhD time, which has resulted in a weak work. My manuscripts are about to be submitted, so I don't know if the work I have done is upto the mark in academic community or not.

I have been to many conferences, but I have neither got any praise for my work, nor any critique on them. So, I am not at all confident about my contribution to academia.

I am losing my passion for academia, and I don't think I have the necessary skills to survive in industry.

If I look at the quality of my PhD work, I think I am not the correct person to pursue further in academia. Can my PhD thesis be an indication of my suitability for a future academic career?

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I think you are overly harsh with yourself, actually. There are several things going on here. First is that you are now more mature intellectually than you were when you began the work so are more likely to discount it than others might be. You know it best and if you were starting now, with what you now know, you would start higher up the ladder. That is just growth.

Just as important to answer your wider question is that for successful academics their first work, the dissertation, is seldom their best work. The more you work, the better you get. Just like an athlete.

I'm impressed, actually, that you taught your advisor something about your methodology and, it sounds like, developed that yourself.

But, the work doesn't get easier as you go along. It is just as hard, but you gain additional insight into the nature of things, especially that which it is important to study. I'll predict that if you don't give up you will do pretty well. A bit of letdown burnout is pretty common at your current stage. Power through it.

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  • I'd add an obligatory mention of Imposter Syndrome, too. +1 specifically for mentioning "growth" as the natural reason that I feel my early work is not my best. I've never heard it put so succinctly. – Pam Apr 16 '19 at 12:45
  • @Pam, thanks. There are a number of similar questions here, actually. It is easily forgotten. Poets, I might add, sometimes cringe when seeing their earlier work. I was once told that if this didn't happen, you weren't growing. But good posts also refine their work obsessively. – Buffy Apr 16 '19 at 12:49
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I can tell from my personal experience that generally it is not. If you go in academia (or industry for that matter), people generally do not talk about what specifically you did in your PhD, but rather talk about the skills you gained and your future vision. No job or academic position will hire you for one specific thing you did in your PhD but for the whole suite of skills and ideas you will bring.

As a fifth year PhD student in chemical engineering (in North America) who's about to submit his thesis in 4 months, I have a serious doubt about my capabilities

I haven't known any PhD student who haven't said this. Somebody said this to me once at a meeting, "if your PhD doesn't break you, or if you feel you are doing your PhD very well, then there is something fundamentally wrong". Now that might not be the exact wording but I still use quotes because it is not mine. The point is, PhD makes you do things that you might not have planned before joining. In my case, my supervisor and I agreed on a project, but when I was hired, his funding got delayed for that project, and he put me on another project temporarily. And by the time funding got approved, he hired another student for that project and I was full time on that temporary project. But I couldn't be happier because I learned so much on that project and it gave me an opportunity to learn new things and expand my network.

My PhD thesis was in an area not exactly in my PhD supervisors forte and I did not think that to be an issue when I accepted the PhD offer. Though, he was always available to offer ideas when I was stuck or guide me with a problem...

My personal feeling is that this is what supervisors are supposed to do. Supervisors are not necessarily the experts in what they are doing. Maybe they have their forte, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't explore more. But as long as they are providing you the guidance when you get stuck, that is all that matters. If they can point you in the right direction and then you have to find a way to fix this, then it is worth it.

However, since my PhD work is (in a way) entirely my own idea...

This is your highlight. Not many PhD students can say this because their projects are already designed and planned by their supervisors. This might feel like one less thing to do, but in hindsight many students never gain this skill by the time they finish their PhD. You have designed your PhD and learned new technical skills on your own. So give yourself a pat on the back for this.

My supervisor on the other hand seems very pleased by my work. He never complained about my productivity and rigorour of the work. The experimental collaborators also seemed satisfied by my work.

It is probably because I think you did a good job.

I don't know if the work I have done is upto the mark in academic community or not.

Leave it to the other researchers to judge.

I have been to many conferences, but I have neither got any praise for my work, nor any critique on them. So, I am not at all confident about my contribution to academia.

Many people are not into giving unsolicited advice or critique.

Can my PhD thesis be an indication of my suitability for a future academic career?

My answer remains the same, NO.

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I disagree with the so far posted answers and in my opinion your PhD work is a quite good measure, especially for yourself to decide, if you should pursue more years in academia and even aspire tenure.

Your PhD work might not be the best and objective measure how competitive you are as a person and scientist, as the boundary conditions at other universities (supervisor, infrastructre, collaborators, colleagues...) are not equal. Yet, within your universisty, institute and research group you have a good measure how productive and successful you have been, especially in comparison with the PhD students in your group but also by the common PhD standards at your university (number & quality of papers, talks (not posters) at good conferences). 5 years are a very long time. Not doing some aftermath yourself to judge your own work and not explicitly asking the professors scrutinizing your thesis, if you should pursue an academic career or take another route can cost you many years. There are not much good reasons to become a post-doc if you are not looking for a fixed position in academia.

I really advise you ask other people in your environment knowing your work, but draw the conclusion on your own, otherwise you might regret the decision to have spend more years in academia without a success or to not have entered the post-doc phase.

Your advisor like most of the poster here will often encourage you to carry on and be nice, but it doesn't look to me like this is the advice you are looking for. There are also many statistics available, how many PhD enter post-doc phase and finally get tenure and this variates strongly among different scientific branches and should be a strong criterion for you decision, especially if you know your work wasn't outstanding in the light of above discussed criterions.

Another important criterion and measure I see among graduating PhD's is the ability to formulate research questions on their own that attract the interest of your professor and funding agencies. Writing an funding proposal 2-3 months, reviewing it with your professor and submitting it to an agency and the feedback you get is a good measure. If you are not capable to formulate interesting questions and your professor doesn't even invest the time to work on the idea with you and submit it finally to an agency, then I would personally question seeking an academic career. And from my experience the ratio of PhD's who can formulate ideas worth being funded is small. And the funding rate is often much less than 30%.

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