I'm an industrial PhD student (Europe) and recently I'm finding myself reflecting over some events.

As industrial student I'm working for a Company. It is important to note that the Company (superiors/supervisors) have decided what subject (and its scope) I'll be working on. Basically, it was their idea for a new product.

It is worth noting that my boss is also my main supervisor (she is doing 20% at university and 80% at the Company).

Having this in mind, I'm finding some things odd:

  1. I had to write PhD project description (milestones, etc. ) on my own.
  2. A year after PhD commenced, my supervisor commented that "she still does not have vision about the project".

I just want to make sanity check and establish how often this happens and is it normal thing or not.


2 Answers 2


I had to write PhD project description (milestones, etc. ) on my own.

This doesn't sound unusual to me. Writing project plans and drafting milestones is a part of graduate studies, but your supervisor should definitely be involved.

A year after PhD commenced, my supervisor commented that "she still does not have vision about the project".

This is clearly unsettling for you, but sadly not that uncommon*. The unusual part is the supervisor actually saying it. Nevertheless, I think it's a serious issue and your supervisor is apparently not taking his/her responsibilities seriously.

Having a too loose mentoring/supervision during a PhD is a very good way of finding oneself in hell after 3-4 years of wandering. Your concerns are by all means valid and you shouldn't let this slip. I would suggest to politely tell your advisor that you need a more precise direction to follow, otherwise you risk loosing precious time (and money) for you, him/her and, off course, the company.

I've heard frequent bad reports of peoples pursuing a PhD with a commercial company. But as stated by @nivag in the comments, people in industry tend not to have much experience supervising students. Try to be proactive: if you feel you need more support say so, very clearly.

*I'm assuming that, being in Europe, you have a Master's degree and the PhD project is intended to last 3-4 years.

  • 12
    Having loose supervision is a good way to end up in trouble, but it's also a great way to ensure that you're an independent thinker at the end of your thesis.
    – aeismail
    May 15, 2014 at 13:49
  • 1
    My issue here is that because of such loose attitude, and lack of vision, we failed to secure some very fundamental resources (access to data sets, labs. etc.) while my time-to-PhD-completion is decreasing. This was presented as research issue, although (in my opinion) this is purely logistic/business related stuff.
    – qoobit
    May 15, 2014 at 13:54
  • 1
    I would agree with most of what you have said. Just two points: 1) PhDs in industry aren't always bad. If you are treated as a cheap researcher for 3 years I can imagine it would be terrible, but if you have a well defined, well supported project at a company with a strong research ethic they can be a good, albeit different alternative to a traditional PhD.
    – nivag
    May 15, 2014 at 14:44
  • 2) I would be both concerned and reassured by your supervisors comments. They obviously care enough about you succeeding to tell you they think there is an issue. I would discuss with them how you can improve the situation, hopefully they will give constructive suggestions. Final point, be proactive, people in industry tend not to have much experience supervising students. If you feel you need more support say so, very clearly (and try and be specific).
    – nivag
    May 15, 2014 at 14:52
  • @nivag If the project was well defined and supported then my boss/supervisor would not have said that she is without a vision.
    – qoobit
    May 15, 2014 at 15:35

Having thought about this a bit more I feel I should probably expand my comments on Jigg's answer into a full answer.

On point 1. I agree with Jigg that this is fairly normal. In fact these requirements normally come from the university. My university requires me to write a project description and plan of work to be updated each year. You should definitely discuss what goes in this with your supervisor.

My personal opinion is that these documents tend to be bureaucratic pieces of rubbish that no one reads and only vaguely stick to. However, I suspect that is beside the point. The process of thinking about it is what is important as this should help you get an idea of 'the vision of the project' as you put it.

On 2. while the statement itself is obviously concerning I would be slightly reassured that your supervisor has told you this. I suspect there are some supervisors who wouldn't.

How you respond partly depends on whether you agree with the statement or not. If you agree that you don't have vision that should be your priority, it is hard to do research if you don't know what you're doing. Discuss with your supervisor what your plans for the project are and how you should go forward.

If you disagree with your supervisor there are several possible explanations. They may not know what you are thinking, especially if you do not talk to them that frequently. They may have a different idea of where the project should go than you. They may think your plan for the project is insufficient either to achieve what they want from the project or to get you a PhD. In any case you should meet your supervisor and discuss what your vision is for the project and what issues they have with it.

As a good starting point to understand the vision of your project I would look to answer these questions:

What is your project going to do/show/make?

How are you going to do/show/make it?

Why is it important to do/show/make it? (Why does anyone give a f***?)

A final point is to not get too downhearted. One of the biggest drawbacks of doing a PhD in industry is that you have much less contact with other students. I think many PhD students go through a stage where they have serious issues with their research or supervisors or things. But as you probably don't deal with many other students on a daily basis you end up feeling that it is just you that has problems.

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