The Student Room Group

My MSc is harder than my PhD

Years ago I did a PhD in computing with the same University I did my undergraduate at. I went straight from BSc to PhD (no masters). It was an accredited British University but that's about all I can say about it. My first mistake was choosing a uni for my undergrad based on a whole bunch of weird factors that mattered to a 17 year old me while completely ignoring the elephant in the room: the actual academic rigour of a degree matters! The first warning should've been that the entrance requirements were a fraction of what I was expected to get in my A levels (I received above average but certainly not exceptional A levels).

My PhD was followed by years of being miserable in various postdocs. I knew I had none of the skills or scientific knowledge to do the job. I was only employed because in computing, in contrast to every other field, mediocre postdoc positions are ten a penny. Low self esteem led to full on depression and in the end I pretty much had a mental breakdown. I ended up moping around at my parents house in an age group where to say my peers had all started families and bought houses would be an understatement! That would've been true 10 years earlier!!!!! By this time I had developed something of a loathing for computing.

Anyway, at this point I took the only option I could think of - pick something I'm interested in that's not computing - do a masters but this time making 100% sure that I didn't make the same mistake last time and it's in a leading department. And for what to do afterwards cross that bridge when I come to it.

I'm not going to name the subject as my story is rare enough that someone might be able to figure out who I am. It's in a science though, not close to computing and obviously with much worse career prospects.

At first it was going well, I was genuinely interested in the subject for the first time in a decade. I started thinking about what to do next, decided I still liked research and started asking lecturers how to get a research career when one has a PhD in an unrelated field. The advice was generally that if you already have a PhD you've proved you can research and there's plenty of scope for your computer skills to be of use so just network and take any opportunities going.

But then as assignments started to kick in and especially when details started to emerge about final projects one thing hit my like a ton of bricks:

My entire PhD at a nothing department was no more academically rigorous or challenging or independent than the MSc project I'll be doing at this leading department.

I don't have research skills. I don't have computing skills. I learnt nothing and gained nothing in all those years of wasted life. The only way I could get a research job would be with a second PhD. I guess that would be the dream but I'd be ruled out straight away by the funding body simply due to already having one. And even if that wasn't true it would only lead to me being even older with a CV even more of a red flag when I finish. And even if neither of those things were true I doubt I'm smart enough to do a real PhD.

So now I'm about to enter an industry where the job market is competitive (having only ever worked in an industry where jobs are given out like candy) with a CV that might as well just have a big red "failed at life" stamp plastered over it. That's if I even pass this degree.

And I don't even have going back into computing at a bottom rung as a back up. I know it's where all the jobs are but only up to a point.

Guess Amazon warehouse it is till I die.

Edit: Didn't realise I'd posted this in Postgraduate applications. Sorry should probably be in Postgraduate general. I'm new to TSR. And I know this isn't a question so delete if not appropriate, just wanted to get it off my chest.
(edited 2 years ago)
Reply 1
Original post by eroieruiew
Years ago I did a PhD in computing with the same University I did my undergraduate at. I went straight from BSc to PhD (no masters). It was an accredited British University but that's about all I can say about it. My first mistake was choosing a uni for my undergrad based on a whole bunch of weird factors that mattered to a 17 year old me while completely ignoring the elephant in the room: the actual academic rigour of a degree matters! The first warning should've been that the entrance requirements were a fraction of what I was expected to get in my A levels (I received above average but certainly not exceptional A levels).

My PhD was followed by years of being miserable in various postdocs. I knew I had none of the skills or scientific knowledge to do the job. I was only employed because in computing, in contrast to every other field, mediocre postdoc positions are ten a penny. Low self esteem led to full on depression and in the end I pretty much had a mental breakdown. I ended up moping around at my parents house in an age group where to say my peers had all started families and bought houses would be an understatement! That would've been true 10 years earlier!!!!! By this time I had developed something of a loathing for computing.

Anyway, at this point I took the only option I could think of - pick something I'm interested in that's not computing - do a masters but this time making 100% sure that I didn't make the same mistake last time and it's in a leading department. And for what to do afterwards cross that bridge when I come to it.

I'm not going to name the subject as my story is rare enough that someone might be able to figure out who I am. It's in a science though, not close to computing and obviously with much worse career prospects.

At first it was going well, I was genuinely interested in the subject for the first time in a decade. I started thinking about what to do next, decided I still liked research and started asking lecturers how to get a research career when one has a PhD in an unrelated field. The advice was generally that if you already have a PhD you've proved you can research and there's plenty of scope for your computer skills to be of use so just network and take any opportunities going.

But then as assignments started to kick in and especially when details started to emerge about final projects one thing hit my like a ton of bricks:

My entire PhD at a nothing department was no more academically rigorous or challenging or independent than the MSc project I'll be doing at this leading department.

I don't have research skills. I don't have computing skills. I learnt nothing and gained nothing in all those years of wasted life. The only way I could get a research job would be with a second PhD. I guess that would be the dream but I'd be ruled out straight away by the funding body simply due to already having one. And even if that wasn't true it would only lead to me being even older with a CV even more of a red flag when I finish. And even if neither of those things were true I doubt I'm smart enough to do a real PhD.

So now I'm about to enter an industry where the job market is competitive (having only ever worked in an industry where jobs are given out like candy) with a CV that might as well just have a big red "failed at life" stamp plastered over it. That's if I even pass this degree.

And I don't even have going back into computing at a bottom rung as a back up. I know it's where all the jobs are but only up to a point.

Guess Amazon warehouse it is till I die.

Edit: Didn't realise I'd posted this in Postgraduate applications. Sorry should probably be in Postgraduate general. I'm new to TSR. And I know this isn't a question so delete if not appropriate, just wanted to get it off my chest.


Did you complete the MSc? Even if you didn't, I hope you're ok.
You're not a failure. You're way more successful than many. I've gone through some terrible detours in my life, can't even share my story on TSR.
(edited 11 months ago)
Original post by eroieruiew
Years ago I did a PhD in computing with the same University I did my undergraduate at. I went straight from BSc to PhD (no masters). It was an accredited British University but that's about all I can say about it. My first mistake was choosing a uni for my undergrad based on a whole bunch of weird factors that mattered to a 17 year old me while completely ignoring the elephant in the room: the actual academic rigour of a degree matters! The first warning should've been that the entrance requirements were a fraction of what I was expected to get in my A levels (I received above average but certainly not exceptional A levels).

My PhD was followed by years of being miserable in various postdocs. I knew I had none of the skills or scientific knowledge to do the job. I was only employed because in computing, in contrast to every other field, mediocre postdoc positions are ten a penny. Low self esteem led to full on depression and in the end I pretty much had a mental breakdown. I ended up moping around at my parents house in an age group where to say my peers had all started families and bought houses would be an understatement! That would've been true 10 years earlier!!!!! By this time I had developed something of a loathing for computing.

Anyway, at this point I took the only option I could think of - pick something I'm interested in that's not computing - do a masters but this time making 100% sure that I didn't make the same mistake last time and it's in a leading department. And for what to do afterwards cross that bridge when I come to it.

I'm not going to name the subject as my story is rare enough that someone might be able to figure out who I am. It's in a science though, not close to computing and obviously with much worse career prospects.

At first it was going well, I was genuinely interested in the subject for the first time in a decade. I started thinking about what to do next, decided I still liked research and started asking lecturers how to get a research career when one has a PhD in an unrelated field. The advice was generally that if you already have a PhD you've proved you can research and there's plenty of scope for your computer skills to be of use so just network and take any opportunities going.

But then as assignments started to kick in and especially when details started to emerge about final projects one thing hit my like a ton of bricks:

My entire PhD at a nothing department was no more academically rigorous or challenging or independent than the MSc project I'll be doing at this leading department.

I don't have research skills. I don't have computing skills. I learnt nothing and gained nothing in all those years of wasted life. The only way I could get a research job would be with a second PhD. I guess that would be the dream but I'd be ruled out straight away by the funding body simply due to already having one. And even if that wasn't true it would only lead to me being even older with a CV even more of a red flag when I finish. And even if neither of those things were true I doubt I'm smart enough to do a real PhD.

So now I'm about to enter an industry where the job market is competitive (having only ever worked in an industry where jobs are given out like candy) with a CV that might as well just have a big red "failed at life" stamp plastered over it. That's if I even pass this degree.

And I don't even have going back into computing at a bottom rung as a back up. I know it's where all the jobs are but only up to a point.

Guess Amazon warehouse it is till I die.

Edit: Didn't realise I'd posted this in Postgraduate applications. Sorry should probably be in Postgraduate general. I'm new to TSR. And I know this isn't a question so delete if not appropriate, just wanted to get it off my chest.

Hi @eroieruiew

I’m so sorry to hear that you have been struggling, finding something that you are passionate about can be really difficult.
I would recommend, if you can, to speak to come career guidance professionals. While there is nothing wrong with working in an Amazon warehouse, it sounds like you have invested a lot in your education, and explored many different areas, without finding something fulfilling for you.
At Cranfield, we have the Careers and Employability support team they help students improve their CVs, gain interview skills, and even negotiate salaries once they get a job offer. However, they also have a lot of experience speaking to employers across many sectors, seeing what skills are in-demand where, and can connect students with representatives from companies that might be a good fit! Your current university may have a similar service, which seems like it would be helpful for you.

They may also be able to help with your CV, which I guarantee doesn’t say “failed at life”! Nobody’s career path looks the same as anyone else’s, and having someone experienced at highlighting transferrable skills, learning experiences from past jobs, and helping you get some confidence going into the interviews.

Another thing to remember is that when you are out of practice for certain things (e.g. sitting through long days of lectures, writing assignments that fit a specific and rigid brief) they will naturally be more difficult than you remember. When I was 10 I could do the splits with no problem, as danced regularly. Now, I think I would end up hospitalised! You have been doing research for many many years, it’s completely natural and expected that returning to education would be difficult. Just think of it as using skills you haven’t practiced in a while, work on improving those skills.

I know it sometimes sounds cheesy, but you have a wealth of resources online for improving your confidence that would be really valuable in interviews. I find LinkedIn Learning helpful for these short videos (I have free access as a Cranfield student). Another thing I like watching are TED talks (free), even if they are not specifically related to body language, communication, or confidence (which many are!), you can take cues from the presenters. An interviewer is not geing to believe you are capable of doing the job if you are not convinced of that yourself. If you feel it would be beneficial to you, you could also look into therapy related to self-image and self-worth. Cranfield offers its students professional help for these (and other mental health) issues, that are hugely common within academia.

Overall, look for the ways your university can support you, through career guidance, access to online resources, and even therapy. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) convince you that you don’t have the right skills for a great career!
Best of luck finding the right opportunities,
Ciara
3rd year Agrifood PhD student
Cranfield Student Ambassador

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