Education: Letter - I felt cheated as a postgrad

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The Independent Online
I have recently completed a degree in medical microbiology at Edinburgh University with first-class honours. I decided that I wanted to remain in academia and applied for a PhD.

It is unsurprising that many students are disillusioned by university life ("Unprepared and disillusioned: 60,000 student drop-outs", Education+, 29 January) because they come to expect a certain dream passed down from their parents, teachers and friends. For the most part, university life can be very lonely, and the need to be disciplined is something that comes with time.

I started my PhD at the beginning of January with the similar feelings I began university with. It would be an intrepid exploration of the mind, filled with intellectual stimulation. I unfortunately found myself stuck in a lab from 8.30am till 5.30pm, largely left to my own devices and desperately trying to understand the techniques required to carry out experiments by asking my colleagues.

My supervisor, my supposed mentor, did not even acknowledge my existence for the first two weeks, until I simply declared that I didn't know what was going on, my foolproof experiments were not working, and that I needed help. Although help was provided, I felt an increasing sense of suffocation, the lack of atmosphere, the non-existence of other students and the poor quality of the library - equipped for medical students rather than molecular virology.

What happened to the student unions, the societies, and the tutorials where ideas are debated? In short, my brain was positively cramping, and the PhD was simply a cheap form of labour with a reward at the end - if you managed to find anything of significance and got yourself published.

I made the decision to give it up, as I felt cheated. In retrospect, I should have researched the place I was going to more thoroughly.

My advice to would-be undergraduates and postgraduates alike is to get a good sense of the place first. Try to either stay with a friend at the institution so you know what you are in for, and in the case of post-grads do ask for a week's grace in which you simply observe the life of other postgrads.

Su-yen Thornhill, London W8

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