I am a funded PhD student in the U.K working on a practise based project within the field of design, although it is at heart a multidisciplinary project.

I am currently 2.5 years in to my 3.5 year programme (4 years if I take an optional 6 month placement)

To put it bluntly I am behind on my degree and I am coming up to my 2nd annual progression which is now 5/6 months over due and is my second and final attempt at submission. I’ve just had to apply for an extra 2 months.

My primary supervisor is now leaving the university and our relationship has broken down. I was told by my supervisor bluntly that “I will not get a PhD out of this” amongst other extremely negative things. They are the person who wrote the project brief to which I originally applied. They are a well respected individual in their field however and their opinion is a valid one but it was definitely coming from a place of anger.

I started just before the pandemic and then had a really difficult time with my mental health. I come from a world outside of academia and although I have an undergraduate bachelors I was co running a start up which gained me access to the degree without a masters. Trying to steer and save the company is partly what led to my mental breakdown and this current mess.

Currently I do not have any published papers or journal articles.

After the relationship broke down with my primary supervisor and he wasn’t willing to assist I took my issues to outside members of the faculty to seek assistance. They have been extremely supportive and encouraging.

The university has assigned my secondary supervisor to work with me for the next few months and also a replacement supervisor should I pass my AP2. My second supervisor has told me that it is going to be an uphill battle for the remainder of the project.

My options are thusly.

  • Plough on and try to gain as much help during the process as possible to submit on time and then gain my PhD

  • Drop to part time study after my resubmission and then extend the timeline to submit for as long as possible to get things back on track. I would have to gain additional employment to support myself and my family during this time

  • Immediately seek alternative employment options with 2 months of funding to cover me during this period

Short to medium term I am not really seeking a career in a academia, especially after this experience, but would like it as a fallback for later life to move into lecturing or teaching. The degree would also help me gain employment in my field.

Has anyone experienced a situation like this, or had experience of a student having been in a similar situation to this and successfully completing?

  • 4
    I sympathise with your situation, but what is the exact question you want answering? Note that Stack Exchange sites are specifically designed for Q&A rather than general or personal advice (Reddit can be a good place for that). Commented May 24, 2023 at 12:27
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    We are just random persons on the internet. We don't know you. What could we offer you? Like @astronat I too sympathise with your situation, but I don't know what else to say. Commented May 24, 2023 at 12:43

2 Answers 2


As already outlined in a comment, this community likes to answer straight questions instead of giving general advise, but nevertheless I will try to provide some, assuming what you seek is an independent evaluation of your situation.

Facing this tough situation, I would suggest to focus on your motives behind getting a PhD in the first place. As you write you are aiming for an "academic career as a fallback", I can only say this is very unrealistic. An Academic career is usually only possible when you are dedicated and willing to give 100%. People usually see industry jobs as the fallback. I can only speculate for your particular situation because I don't know your field of research, but if this is your main motive, then staying in your PhD position might not be the best choice for you. And doing a PhD in part-time within 4 yours is already quite an optimistic aim. If getting a PhD for later employment outside of academia is your main motivation, then this is of course a different story.

A broken relationship with a supervisor is always bad and independently of the reason for it to happen it is usually the student who suffers more from it. Reading that you are well behind your initial work schedule might have something to do with your supervisor's attitude towards you. On the other hand, statements like “You will not get a PhD out of this” are highly unprofessional and should never be made by a higher-up. So I speculate that your progress might also be due to bad supervision. Reading that other faculty members are very supportive towards you sounds like there is more to the story than your supervisor's opinion - and it sounds encouraging I would say. It seems there is no reason to not try and pass the AP2, but keep in mind a PhD is not something that people do easily on the side. If you cannot raise the effort to wholeheartedly work on your PhD project then you are wasting your and your (new) supervisor's time.

As a side note: Minor and major setbacks happen for many, many PhD students. Things might not be as bad as you experience them. You already did the first and most important step and contacted other members of the university. Listen to them and trust their judgement on your individual case. If they encourage you to keep working on your PhD, do it.


Among the alternatives you suggest, I am going to say go with

Plough on and try to gain as much help during the process as possible to submit on time and then gain my PhD

You are in a bad situation, but there's a silver lining to it. I remember from my time as a PhD student, that a lot of time was spent waiting for others: collaborators to review papers, appointments to get trained in equipment in techniques, my committee to find dates where they could all meet at the same time (this was pre-Zoom times), etc. Everybody kept finding things I could do, revisions I could make, etc. since the deadline for finishing was so far away. And everybody kept delaying, delaying, delaying. I then developed the strategy of making artificial deadlines, e.g. "I need your revisions to my thesis chapter before date X, because of Y" (Y being out of my control, except for the fact that I added Y because it provided a deadline.) It worked.

Since you have real deadlines ahead of you, you can use this fact to motivate others to really help you, as opposed to just offering verbal support. For example, your interim advisor can then become your new advisor and give you a project they know will get you out quickly. That is, a quick project that goes just above the minimum acceptable threshold for what is an acceptable thesis. I know of two grad students who finished in about 4 months after switching labs, following this strategy. Since you are already thinking of leaving academia after the PhD, it won't matter that your project wasn't great.

Do not discount too much the idea of getting a job outside of academia. Graduate students waste a lot of time, and getting a job will limit the amount of time you have to do research, with the positive effect that you eliminate procrastination. Of course, ideally you would have lots of time, and not waste any of it. But with good time management, getting a part-time job can work well.


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