I am a 5th year Ph.D. student in Computer Science. My advisor thinks that I have made a good progress during my Ph.D. and I should give my Ph.D. synopsis presentation. In the Ph.D. synopsis presentation, the student briefly presents the work to the research committee so that they give approval of writing the doctoral thesis or any final feedback. If done, it means the Ph.D. is almost completed.

However, I think that I have made good progress but not to a level that I expected. I do not have quality publications yet. I have 2 tier B papers, 1 tier A paper, and 2 papers (average ones) currently under submission. How should I communicate to my supervisor that my Ph.D. might not be a good Ph.D.? Also, should I even communicate this issue to him or not?

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    Frame challenge: you're definitely ready for your PhD. Trust your advisor. You have plenty of papers. It is not in anyone's interest to drag out your PhD needlessly. Oct 27, 2021 at 11:31
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    @TomvanderZanden Thanks. It was good to hear. However, isn't it the case that the quality of a Ph.D. is judged by the quality of papers and not the quantity? that worries me.
    – IY2
    Oct 27, 2021 at 11:38
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    @IY2 isn't it the case that the quality of a PhD is also judged by the supervisor (who thinks you're ready..)?
    – Jeroen
    Oct 27, 2021 at 11:51
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    When I look at my first paper as a postdoc, I see so much stuff I could do much better today. I prefer to not think about my phd thesis at all regarding this. Perfection is the enemy of finishing because it is a moving goal. Assessing a phd thesis is basically like grading on a curve. You can't really do that yourself because you lack perspective and data, your advisor can do it.
    – user9482
    Oct 27, 2021 at 12:03
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    I think you're approaching this from the wrong direction. Talk to your supervisor about what you want to do after the PhD: whether those goals are currently realistic; whether they'd become more realistic if you spent another 6 or 12 months on the PhD. Of course there's some element of personal satisfaction involved, but otherwise a PhD thesis is just a means to an end. Remember, the sooner you submit, the sooner you can start earning (more) money!
    – avid
    Oct 28, 2021 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


Yes, have a conversation about it with your advisor and take their advice.

There are a number of good reasons to finish and move on to your next steps. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

It is a great thing to finish your doctorate with a bundle of things "yet to be done", "future directions", "work in progress". It gives you things to do as you start those next steps. You also have a lot to talk about in any employment interview.

You may have a mild case of "imposter syndrome", actually - "my work isn't good enough". Well, your advisor, who should know these things and has some experience thinks otherwise.

Once you begin your next steps, nobody (nearly) will judge you on the quality you perceive in your thesis. It is your first major work, but it shouldn't be your best work. Look forward.


I am apparently a somewhat rare breed - I have a habit of skimming through theses of potential collaborators. It is about as much of an impact as you might see on your future evaluation: to most, you would just become a PhD and that is it. Do I even bother looking up publications? No. I look for ambition, certain poise with the flow of ideas, the way this person has structured their work.

The work itself will very likely become irrelevant in just a few years. Unless you are a total genius who is incredibly productive their entire lifetime or get lucky to achieve something groundbreaking during PhD*, it is not that special, and people will largely look at how you did it, not what you did. This applies first and foremost to the thesis committee.

Now, I also can completely relate to being unhappy with the work while pretty much everyone around says I could just defend whatever I did these few years. It is not an insignificant milestone, but pushing back on the notion that it will be something perpetual for generations to come is much needed. Now is a good time to adjust your goalposts. I have struggled for quite a while with publishing "not top-notch" results as well, and the thesis itself is similar. What helped was Hamming's "You and your research" talk: spend your energy on something important. When the time comes to showcase some big work you have done, write a book or two! Until then, publish and move on to the next problem.

*If this was the expected outcome, all we'd be doing was PhDs!

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