Monday, 7 January 2013

Finishing a PhD and managing an industrial partnership

Finishing up a PhD isn't a swift and easy process (something my family can find difficult to understand). It's made slightly more difficult if you move away, start a new job, or if your supervisor moves half way across the globe which is something many PhD students have to contend with. Although, supervisors are always busy even if they are in the same city as you are.

I'm reaching the final stretch now. My final hand in date is the 29th of January. I wrote my first full draft back in October and immediately sent it to my supervisor to look over. I took a break over Christmas, and I started my new job in October, went to the Abu Dhabi science festival and then went home ...  all great career stuff, but it delayed me a little getting the final bits of thesis completed.

My supervisor didn't have too many comments or corrections, so I have only got a few final tweaks (and the dreaded references) to sort out before the end of January. I am finding it useful to have had a complete break from it for a few months. Getting back into it feels less of a drag, and I don't feel like I have read every sentence 500 times which I did when it came to proof reading my final draft. Sending my completed draft of my thesis seemed to work well with my supervisor too. I was planning on sending drafts chapter by chapter but I got carried away and just wrote the whole thing.

I think it might be difficult reading a lone chapter without the introduction (I didn't write everything in order.. it went something like this -
  1. 3/4 of methods
  2. 3/4 of chapter 1 (which is the biggest chapter)
  3. all of chapter 2 (when I went back in the lab to do some extra bits)
  4. half of chapter 3
  5. the final quarter of chapter 1
  6. chapter 4
  7. rest of the methods
  8. introduction
  9. discussion/conclusion

I had discussed before I started writing anything the chapter structure, order and flow of my thesis with my supervisor. So she was aware of what I was doing. We were in agreement on how it should work too which was nice. I know many people have arguments at this stage about what should/shouldn't go in the thesis and the order it is written.

One thing I wasn't quite expecting is the amount of results I have. My thesis would have been a 700 page epic with them all in.

My PhD is funded by an industrial partner and I have spent a good portion of my time screening certain compounds (drugs) that they have created. I developed the screening and that is detailed in my thesis.  I/we didn't feel that endless drugs in a thesis would make very interesting reading, especially as I don't have the chemical structure of them. So I have concentrated on what we have learnt (or in some cases not learnt) about cell signaling pathways and behaviour in response to the common agonist and antagonist (pharmacology chat, apologies) that is well known in the literature.

So I have found myself writing two theses, one for my final examiners and another for our partners that contains all the work I have completed with their compounds. My PhD life has two sides. I have enjoyed the partnership and like working with our partners. The big downside to this is the lack of publications, as a lot of the data will be held by the company and permission needs to be sought about everything we wish to publish and talk about. My topic is a very new area too, so there is a delicate balance between holding on to information you have discovered before sharing it with the world (when you have confirmed it) and sharing it, as that is what gives you credibility in research. I was only able to present my work externally in my 3rd year at a conference.

Some of the things I have found could give the company a competitive advantage over others when it comes to drug development. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong. It's just the way it is with this kind of work and PhD at the current time. We aren't hiding things either. I have been working on this project as a lone ranger for 3 years only. Most of the 'findings' have been found in the last year and a half, and we are putting papers together to publish it at the minute. The way publications work at the minute means this process takes time.

Doing it this way also means my PhD thesis can be made public, if I had results on unpublished compounds in there, we would have to make it confidential.

I will let you all know as I start preparing for my viva... and when it is available online.... 


  1. Great post. I'm in the final stages of my thesis - doing my final write up now to submit to supervisors on 25th Jan, but we're expecting a pretty quick turn around time in terms of their review & my final edits before submitting - like a month. One of my supervisors has a research-only position this year (and I'm his only remaining PhD student) and the other is moving to a different state within the next few months and is trying to finalise all her PhDs now.

    What I'm finding difficult is that it's taken this long (3.5ish years) to actually get to a point where I can even collect most of my data, as my theory chapters had to be solid before I could even build a picture of what I'm trying to do. I'm in social sciences so it's a little different, but now with just a couple of weeks to go I'm really struggling to find the time to get everything finished. I'm resisting the temptation to take it in the direction that I want to, and reminding myself that I will have plenty of opportunities to discuss everything else I'm interested in when the PhD is finished.

    Anyway, best of luck getting yours finalised & submitted!

    1. Thanks Erin. As with anything in a PhD... everything just takes longer than you imagine. Setting deadlines has helped me get finished though looks like you are working along the same lines! I started my PhD 3 years and 4 months ago so I think I am doing OK time wise really. I'm interested in how social science PhDs are different and the unique problems and challenges they have. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Good to know that your thesis is doing great. And it’s true that finishing up a PhD isn’t an easy process. Some even get stress out physically and mentally by it. I think it would be just good to always keep control of the situation, and plan ahead what you are doing to avoid mistake.


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