PhD blues

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  • PhD blues
  • podman

    I’m nearing the end of the first year of my PhD and according to this thread I’m in the unusual position of overall really enjoying it.

    I’ve taken a less than usual path into starting my PhD. Rather than doing A-Levels at school I stupidly did a National Diploma, followed by a Higher National Diploma at a local college as I couldn’t get into any of the universities I wanted to. I then completed a distance-learning top-up degree as I couldn’t afford to leave work and live away from home. This meant that I didn’t actually start at a university until 18 months ago when I started my MSc. A piece of my first semester MSc work was accepted into a big conference- attending this conference was basically what encouraged me to apply for a PhD.

    I then managed to get an EPSRC funded position based on a proposal I helped write, so I’m working on something I’m really interested in with some great people who I have a lot of respect for and have became close friends. I’m working in the area where CS and Psychology meet (HCI), researching methods using ubiquitous computing to encourage increased walking and cycling and generally I’m really enjoying what I do- I think this is really the best motivation for completing a PhD! If I was just running studies for my supervisor or researching something I wasn’t interested in I think I’d be struggling a lot more.

    However, even so the PhD is not without its downsides. Right now I’m laying awake on a friends sofa because my stipend and teaching wage doesn’t pay enough to allow me to live in London (and pay off my MSc debt). The hours are unusual and long- I’ve not been home since Sunday, I’ve been working (running participants) until gone 11 at night whilst trying to write up an end-of year report on basically no sleep. I enjoy TA’ing, teaching and writing lesson content more than I ever thought I would, but this also means I receive hundreds of emails most days, making life very stressful at times. I’m also earning a lot less than almost all of my colleagues who finished the MSc 9 months ago and it’s likely that I’ll earn less than them for a few years after I graduate (and probably forever if I stay in academia).

    Ultimately I’m enjoying it because I’m working on a topical area I feel passionate whilst doing a lot of other research-related things that I enjoy (and a number I don’t!). I think most of my colleagues feel similarly most of the time, but it does come with its ups and downs, it’s obviously a hard slog and there are a lot of times when we wonder why we’re doing it.

    For a couple of my colleagues the PhD was really not the right decision and they’ve ended up leaving and been much happier as a result. I really think you need to think about why you started the PhD in the first place and why you think leaving might be better. I’d really recommend that you speak to your supervisors, peers and other researchers in your department before you make a decision: I’m sure they know you much better than we do. Many of them have probably been in a similar position to you and talking things out will hopefully help you come to the best decision. Maybe inviting your colleagues out for a drink after work might you decide either way?

    Sorry for the massive reflective post- this is what the lack of sleep does to me! Now, I’m off to finish transcribing today’s interviews…


    I have lost count of how many bad patches I have hit during the Ph.D. They come and they go, just like in any job. The end of the first year is hard. It is like Tuesday. You have just had to go through a hard Monday, and Friday seems so far away.

    I know is sounds trite, but set your milestones, be they daily, weekly or monthly. Complete those, and things will come together. It is also very important to not let it take over your life. Tasks will fill whatever time you give to them.

    There is no need to be isolated when doing a Ph.D: meet your supervisor a little and often, even if they just tell you that you are on the right track; present at conferences; organise a workshop for the Ph.D community in your department or school. Research is collaborative.

    Premier Icon DaveRambo

    I did a PhD about 20 years ago now and had very similar first year feelings and so did a fair few of the people in our research group.

    Several quit when things got tough, when they got no results, when the subject became boring, when they just got fed up with it.

    I had several periods of being down the pub and riding my bike. I also had periods of doing all nighters as I was getting somewhere.

    Looking back a PhD teaches you how to get through these times, how to push on and make some progress when it’s easier to run away – writing it all up is the worst part.

    You need support – talk to your supervisor, take a sideways look, do something related that you can use in an introductory chapter – it will make a refreshing change from the exact stuff you’re working on but still add something so it’s not a waste of time


    ride your bike every day for a week, 3 years is a heck of a long time so a week is nothing but if you want a doctorate you have to get over this.
    For me not quitting was one of the better decisions I’ve made.


    @DaveRambo – that’s a good post, totally agree.

    I probably had more “down-time” than most – both in terms of being down about stuff and in terms of taking time off. But it worked out in the end, and I don’t regret having taken those moments of relief out of what could be a very stressful period of your life.

    It’s important to take plenty of time out of study when you’ve gone ‘down the hole’ (as image above), as it makes you more productive when you’re on a roll. Just remember to enjoy your time off without guilt! I suffered terribly with an inability to separate work and life, though in the end it was exercise – riding and running – that made the difference productive for me.

    Outcomes? Did you speak to your supervisor?


    Didn’t expect to see this up at the top again, but as it is I’ll give an update.

    I had a word with my supervisor, and the meeting was very positive. After some thought I’ve decided to carry on with it.

    I think I’d forgotten why I got myself into this in the first place. IA, your replies particularly helped to remind me of this, so thanks.


    Just remember to enjoy your time off without guilt!

    Two days riding planned this weekend and I will not be thinking about work!

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