Rohan, an Assistant Professor enrolled for a PhD program in a Central University in Delhi. To
be eligible for promotion, he desperately needed a PhD degree. He shared his aspiration
with his doctoral supervisor to submit his thesis well in time.
His supervisor Dr Sharma put forward a detailed timeline. He asked Rohan to complete his
literature review within first six months and then submit a chapter every three months for his
review. Dr Sharma ardently monitored Rohan every fortnight, checked his progress and gave
him detailed feedback on his work within a week.
Rohan managed to finish the fist draft by the end of second year and present it at the end of third year to the panel. Thanks to Dr Sharma, Rohan submitted well before the deadline.
But you know what?
Dr Sharma does not exist. He is a myth.
As per this Nature survey, half the students reported spending less than an hour one-to-one
with their supervisor on a weekly basis. Around 21 per cent reported bullying in various
forms. The scenario may be worse for Indian students. Supervisors rarely ask about work
progress, call student for meeting and share feedback on the work submitted.
The burden is on the student to be proactive and self-disciplined.
Most students realize this dynamics by the end of first year of doctoral program. A student’s
typical response is do-it-yourself.
Two, in absence of research guidance, a student tries to reinvent the wheel. Instead of
reading about his thesis, he has to read about research, literature review and many other
aspects of methodology and writing.
Very few students submit their dissertations in time. Most students either extend or de-
The dropout rate of doctoral candidates in prestigious Indian Universities is almost 40 per cent. It may be even higher. Because some universities may not include de- registration in drop outs, the actual rate is not clear.
What should a student do then?
Seek alternatives early on.
I. A student can reach out to other professors.
It may work. It may not. Other professors may also be busy with their PhD candidates,
research work and teaching assignments. Few would agree to go through a draft and share
feedback. For a student in the initial research stage, the chances of getting another
professor to discuss one’s thesis is slim. Regular guidance is unlikely. There is no
accountability in this arrangement in either direction.
II. Look for an accountability partner
You can ask a friend or another PhD fellow to be your accountability partner, if she is willing
to devote time and show interest. It may work out in some cases. However, your friend may
not be able to review your draft, answer your queries and give you feedback.
You need both – research guidance and accountability.
A coach can do both – guide and hold you accountable.
This is hiring expertise that you don’t have. A coach knows what you need and when. And
she knows it better than you. She will create a plan for you, hold you accountable to the
goalposts and check your progress. Once you have done your bit, you can submit your work
periodically to your supervisor and push him to give your feedback.
One, both the coach and the student are accountable to each other.
Two, a coach can fast track the process for you with her insights. You can up your game with her tips, templates and check- lists.
Unlike the above two solutions, it is not subject to chance, uncertainty or the whims and
fancy of the other person. The coach is competent and eager to help you. Reach out to her
right in the beginning, particularly if you want to accelerate your research process.
Moreover, a student can then keep shooting her drafts to the supervisor for review. It would
prompt the Supervisor to review and share feedback. A student is not helpless and solely
dependent on the supervisor. And the supervisor must get back to the student in time.
It turns the table around.