Having the opportunity, not to mention the academic ability, to do a PhD can be a wonderful experience. For many students they spend years submerged in their area of interest developing a real expertise in the field. Most have the opportunity to learn from learned academics that help guide, steer and support their learning in a very proactive way.

But what about the students that come to me after years of frustrated studying only to make no or little progress? What about the students who have supervisors preoccupied with their own academic progression to really invest the time and effort into the student’s learning? What about those navigating the politics that can be a mine field in their Faculty of choice? What about the students who spend years studying only to be told at the eleventh hour that their work is not good enough for a PhD?

Over the years I have been approached by more and more PhD students who have become disappointed with the level of support and backing from either their supervisor, or the Faculty, or in the worst cases both. I do not believe this level of dissatisfaction has increased over the years, I just think students have found a source to air their annoyance through.

It has been really hard to shift the mind-set that speaking up, in a well-articulated manner, will not necessarily jeopardise your positon within the Faculty. I have been astounded by the deliberate and unashamed disregard some Faculties have towards University Regulations. I have seen students who have been offered supervisors who are aboard with no idea of when or if they will be returning, supervisors with no expertise in the students’ area of study,  no supervisors for extended periods of study, no feedback, no assistance with ethical clearance or guidance and the list goes on. How is anybody expected to succeed in such an environment? Is it any wonder then that they come to me having failed their Viva…

If it does not feel right, then maybe it just is not right. When you think about the levels of fees involved in this area of study, it is important that you do not let uneasy matters ride along for years, whilst the University rack up the fees.

There are always policies and procedures in place; it is just getting the University to follow them that can be the issue. I cannot stress enough the importance of a student feeling empowered to challenge the University if things just are not as you would expect. I have found over the years that Universities have been amenable to my involvement because it helps create that barrier to get things fixed for the better of all involved. I have also noticed, in most cases, that Universities do actually what you to be successful in your academic progression, they want you to be able to tell others about what a great University they are if nothing else…

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