Supervisor with failed PhD students

Watch
berhnadette
Badges: 2
Rep:
?
#1
Report Thread starter 1 week ago
#1
Hello all. a quick question - if a supervisor has a history of failed PhD students, does this speak about the quality of the supervision? How likely you will be the next failed student/student that quit due to bad supervision? Would you be concerned? What number of failed phds is still fine and what already is concerning?
Last edited by berhnadette; 1 week ago
0
reply
mike23mike
Badges: 13
Rep:
?
#2
Report 1 week ago
#2
It's a major red flag if you are thinking of getting supervised by someone who has previously supervised PhD students who subsequently failed. A fully-funded PhD place is not a cheap option for a Uni - the £15k a year funding equates to a lot of money for the uni. Even a waiving of the annual fees is not a joke. Plus there is lab space and chemicals and equipment for a science-based PhD. So unis want to recruit the best students and ensure they are supported.

A supervisor is given hours off their teaching workload in order to supervise their PhD students so it's not like they are doing the student a favour; it's a part of a lecturer's job. Lecturers supervise because they cannot get promoted if they do not show the department that they have successfully supervised students so it's in their interests too.

Sure each year some students do drop out of their PhD programme through no fault of the supervisor. Each year there is a 'progress board' to ensure PhDs are supported and do not fail. This is the safety net to avoid students failing.

In short, if you know of a supervisor whose PhD students have failed/ dropped out then steer clear.
Last edited by mike23mike; 1 week ago
3
reply
PhoenixFortune
Badges: 21
Rep:
?
#3
Report 1 week ago
#3
(Original post by berhnadette)
Hello all. a quick question - if a supervisor has a history of failed PhD students, does this speak about the quality of the supervision? How likely you will be the next failed student/student that quit due to bad supervision? Would you be concerned? What number of failed phds is still fine and what already is concerning?
As mike23mike's thorough post says, it's definitely a bad sign. Excluding students who leave for personal/financial reasons, it is not 'easy' to fail a PhD if the supervision is adequate. (Good) supervisors would rather encourage interruptions/suspensions than allow a student to continue at a failing rate.
Last edited by PhoenixFortune; 1 week ago
0
reply
xxx0xxxo
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#4
Report 1 week ago
#4
Can you get more information on the circumstances and frequency of those failures? I know a few people who quit their phds for various reasons, one of them was dissatisfaction with the supervisor.

Having a decent chat with the supervisor before you enrol and making your own mind up about your communication, chemistry, and their availability to support you is important.
0
reply
mnot
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#5
Report 1 week ago
#5
(Original post by berhnadette)
Hello all. a quick question - if a supervisor has a history of failed PhD students, does this speak about the quality of the supervision? How likely you will be the next failed student/student that quit due to bad supervision? Would you be concerned? What number of failed phds is still fine and what already is concerning?
That would scare the **** out of me.

A history of failed students.
PhDs do have high drop out rates I think ive seen estimations near 20%. I think if they have worked with a lot of candidates then you can expect people to drop out for various reasons but for them to have a known reputation would be a huge red flag.

PhD students need good supervision, frankly I think a bad supervisor could make it a very arduous 3-4 years. I would dig deeper or find another supervisor.
0
reply
Helloworld_95
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#6
Report 1 week ago
#6
It really depends on how many times it's happened. PhD students dropping out is not uncommon and most people drop out for reasons which aren't related to their supervisor. If I was to name the most common reasons why people drop out they would be 1) it's not what they expected it to be, and 2) funding, the latter of which is going to be more common for self-funded students, which will be more common in certain subjects and probably certain universities too. Sometimes you'll also see PhD students get sacked for offences, academic or otherwise.

Failing is much rarer, certainly failing after the 1st year report/viva/whatever your uni does after 1st year to decide whether you should continue. In general I've only seen people fail at the 1st year viva for internal political reasons or one of the panel being overzealous which were swiftly corrected, and after 1st year people generally only fail because they should have been drop outs in the "not what they expected it to be" category but because they had funding it was an easy life to just not drop out of the PhD until their funding ran out.

If the supervisor in question had one failed or dropped out student in the last 5 years/5 students (whichever accounts for more students) then I wouldn't think too much of it, if it was two then I would ask questions, if it was three then those questions have probably already been answered.
Last edited by Helloworld_95; 1 week ago
0
reply
PhoenixFortune
Badges: 21
Rep:
?
#7
Report 1 week ago
#7
(Original post by Helloworld_95)
Failing is much rarer, certainly failing after the 1st year report/viva/whatever your uni does after 1st year to decide whether you should continue. In general I've only seen people fail at the 1st year viva for internal political reasons or one of the panel being overzealous which were swiftly corrected, and after 1st year people generally only fail because they should have been drop outs in the "not what they expected it to be" category but because they had funding it was an easy life to just not drop out of the PhD until their funding ran out.
My supervisor has a PhD student at the moment who is on track to fail their first annual review, but it's down to the student having (previously undiagnosed) mental health issues which have caused them to not do any PhD work for months but simultaneously think they were way ahead of their timeline. My supervisor is pushing for the student to take a leave of absence, as understandably the former doesn't want an avoidable failure on her supervisory record, but the student's heart isn't in research anyway (she just wants the title), so I don't know if they'll choose to stay regardless.
0
reply
Helloworld_95
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#8
Report 1 week ago
#8
(Original post by PhoenixFortune)
My supervisor has a PhD student at the moment who is on track to fail their first annual review, but it's down to the student having (previously undiagnosed) mental health issues which have caused them to not do any PhD work for months but simultaneously think they were way ahead of their timeline. My supervisor is pushing for the student to take a leave of absence, as understandably the former doesn't want an avoidable failure on her supervisory record, but the student's heart isn't in research anyway (she just wants the title), so I don't know if they'll choose to stay regardless.
Yep, there are lots of reasons why people drop out or fail without it being the supervisor's fault. It's important, particularly as a future PhD student, for OP to understand that correlation does not equal causation in this circumstance.

Another thing worth noting is that you do get occasional people who drop out or fail their PhD and blame their supervisor despite it being their own fault, that's unfortunately something to look out for. My supervisor had two students in relatively quick succession who did this, the first committed both academic and non-academic offences, the second started to hate his topic after his first year review and basically gave up while dossing about for the remaining years of his funding, but to explain their failures they publicly blamed it on their supervisor. It's an unlikely circumstance but unfortunately it does happen and it's worth investigating. It's both the applicant's and the supervisor's job to adequately consider whether they are suitable for a PhD together.
1
reply
Mr Wednesday
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#9
Report 6 days ago
#9
(Original post by xxx0xxxo)
Can you get more information on the circumstances and frequency of those failures? I know a few people who quit their phds for various reasons, one of them was dissatisfaction with the supervisor.

Having a decent chat with the supervisor before you enrol and making your own mind up about your communication, chemistry, and their availability to support you is important.
Talking to their current PhD students without the supervisor there is really the way to find out about a group and the level of support and engagement. However, if you have been supervising PhD’s for long enough, odds are you will have had one or two problem students along the way, PhDs are tough and put people under extended pressure. I have had a handful of mine fail to complete, one hospitalised for about 6 months with a serious out of the blue medical issue, the near death experience changed their ideas about what they wanted to do in life, one had a pretty decent collection of papers published and a half finished thesis, but then got a job in the city and couldn’t be bothered to finish writing. You can’t plan for or control things like that, but some digging about supervisor track record is thoroughly recommended.
1
reply
X

Quick Reply

Attached files
Write a reply...
Reply
new posts
Back
to top
Latest
My Feed

See more of what you like on
The Student Room

You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

Personalise

What would make a great online university open day?

Virtual campus tour (68)
18.53%
Virtual accommodation tour (53)
14.44%
Find out about sports clubs, societies and facilities (17)
4.63%
Video content about the local area (4)
1.09%
Webinars with lecturers (11)
3%
Taster lectures or seminars (79)
21.53%
Speak to current students studying my course (84)
22.89%
Speak to current students about the uni in general (16)
4.36%
Fun online activities or experiences (13)
3.54%
Connecting with careers services or employers (8)
2.18%
Info about student wellbeing and support services (6)
1.63%
Something else (let us know in the thread!) (8)
2.18%

Watched Threads

View All