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A year ago I gave up on my (first attempt at getting a) PhD because I could not stand the needed time management. I am a mosaic autist but I do live with it without major issues. My only apparent problem is that I get emotional very quickly at anything that goes differently than planned, i.e. I do not like surprises and I recover (emotionally) very slowly from surprises.

Do not get me wrong, I have been often praised for my talks and seminars. I have worked in industry for years and I can live independently alright. The only thing that I always need to do is to plan things in advance, and plan them extremely thorough. I need to admit that questions and answer sessions after a talk are pretty difficult, but I can manage with enough preparation.

I gave up at my first attempt at getting a PhD after a year in. After that time I got so emotionally distressed I could not continue. This happened dues to simple disorganization of the environment I was in, for example:

  • I needed to change office three times during that period;
  • switched (university) email systems two times;
  • all courses for the PhDs were announced with only two days of antecedence;
  • courses were canceled with hours of antecedence if there were not enough people attending;
  • reports were not scheduled, my supervisor literally popped in my office and asked for a report within a week (not once, a couple of times);
  • some (internal) talks were to be prepared on an short (a day or two) notice.

(By "courses" I mean small lectures available to the PhD students as Learning to use the Library or Statistical Methods, and yes they were mandatory)

I understand that a PhD is a training exercise, where one learns to do research. Therefore learning different things, performing talks and writing reports are things that I definitely need to learn over the course of the PhD. I just could not perform any of it with a decent performance because my mind was distressed with things appearing and changing too fast.

I did raise the fact that I need a more stable environment with my supervisor and with the administration. Yet, the only answers I got were along the lines of: If every other PhD student can deal with this you can deal with it too.

I gave up just before my 1 year report. I really wanted to write there:

I did almost no research work because you did not allow me a moment of breathing to do any actual work!

(Of course, I did not write that)

The Question

A year has passed since I gave up on my PhD. Recently a friend of mine which does a PhD in a different institution showed me a programme topic that I would love to work in (a very similar topic to my original PhD).

My question is. Is it common for PhD programmes to be disorganized and everchanging? It is very likely that I will find an unstable environment in the new institution?

My original institution (which I explicitly omit the name here) was within the top 100 of several world rankings. And my (possible) new institution is way below in these rankings. I need to admit that I do not believe in these rankings, but, nevertheless, I am very afraid that my previous endeavor may repeat itself.

This all happens in the UK, in the field of computer security.

Career note: I am not planning to follow an academic career. In the field of computer security it is common to get to a PhD and then work in research labs that perform bug hunting and security analysis. Labs that are not part of academic institutions in any way. It is true that a PhD is not strictly necessary for such positions but it is very common (some 70% of people working in computer security labs do have a PhD), and I would like to advance in that career path.

1 Answer 1

It is probably a cultural thing. In the Netherlands where I study, everything has to be planned months in advance. I have monthly status meetings with my promotors scheduled year in advance and I have a weekly meetings with my supervisor every week at the same day and time. Courses, lectures or some mini talks/seminars are also usually planned cca 6 to 12 months in advance. Even beers with your colleagues has to be put into your agendas first.