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Lit Review - Absolute Panic

So, with my first two months down, my supervisor has asked to see a first draft of my lit review (required by the end of the first three months) in eleven days time. He does know I haven't written it yet, but on Friday evening I was feeling optimistic.

Monday morning, and I've just sat down to write, and I'm not feeling optimistic at all. For the first time I'm having that, "what have I got myself into" sinking feeling.

Okay, it isn't the actual writing that is the problem. I've set aside today to design the final structure. Nor is it the references -- I have just under 100 that will cover around half of everything I need to show. It's not the subject -- I have a good question and understand roughly what I need to show in order to answer it.

It's just the sheer overwhelming task of having 11 days to write 10,000 words. What is getting to me is how utterly disorganised my "system" is -- I can't remember which article said what, and my Endnote keywords only get me so far. It's not what I need to write that scares me, but the depth to which I have to write it. To write a very long document, to go into depth of the literature, to explain the weaknesses and controversies of a subject I knew nothing about before the first of September, whilst also retaining clarity and flow from one part to another, seems impossible right now. Impossible and terrifying.

Incidentally, as arrogant as this sounds, I know I'm a good writer (forum posts excluded). I'm a writer and have written seven full-length novels, hundreds of short stories and dozens of nonfiction articles. I feel confident that I can roughly getting my point across.

I'm just overwhelmed by the depth of the topic that I need to go into, the narrowness of the question and the amount that I still don't understand. What if I simply can't read enough between now and the submission date? How do I pull out the information that I need and present it in a way that is readable, understandable but rigorously scientific?

I honestly feel totally out of my depth right now, and my supervisor is away. The document is needed as part of my University's formal internal review, which is at the end of November. My supervisor has a very full schedule and needs to have the time to read and correct it, so there is no flexibility on the date. There's no flexibility on the wordcount either, that's just what's required by the panel.

How on earth am I going to get it done?? How can I possibly understand my subject at the level required in under two weeks, and condense that down into a readable, 40-page document? Oh, and it needs to include equations, too...

Honestly, any lit review suggestions, advice, help, stories AT ALL would be greatly appreciated... I am having a complete Monday morning freak-out here!!

I am an incompetent fruit bat.

I feel a bit better -- I made the effort to meet people doing similar work to me, going to seminars etc. It's good just to talk to people doing similar things to me even if they aren't experiencing exactly the same problems.

Right now I have steep learning curves in six or seven different areas and it's hard to get going. The ones I am worst at cause me the most trouble but are the ones I need the most in the long run. But I don't like feeling like I'm not progressing, so I'm spending "time" trying to do little bits of other things to feel like I'm still moving forward. But then I'm not focusing, I'm falling behind etc. I get on well with my supervisor so I've told him how I feel, but the answer is always just to work hard. I suspect that's true, but I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall because I AM working hard (at least, I think I am) but I'm not getting anywhere at all.


I'm only a month in and I can see I've got myself into bad habits already...

Wake up at 6:30am (though, to be honest, I don't sleep well and am frequently up at 4am)
Read textbooks or write notes on the train
Get into Uni by 8am (I like the peace and quiet)
Procrastinate for an hour, start work at 9am
Start up mytomatoes.com -- 1st pomodoro is the daily to-do lists and structures, then breaking things into 1/2 hour chunks
11am, get a coffee and end up checking FB, email, and blogs for an hour
12-1pm, get lunch, read the news and blogs online
1-2pm, accept that I "can't concentrate in the afternoons," spend another hour checking FB and email etc...
3-5pm, start tackling problems again
5-6pm decide to work overtime because I've procrastinated all day
6-6:30 read more textbooks on the train
7-10pm pretend to catch up on background reading (+ writing projects) whilst actually getting dinner / having a bath / watching tv / playing with the hamster
10pm -- go to sleep and wake up at 4am, lay in bed until alarm goes off at 6:30

Not the most productive routine ever invented.

I am an incompetent fruit bat.

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I feel bad about whinging. I woke up at 2am and was awake until 4am having a very real panic attack (trouble breathing etc). I dropped out of my first degree 10 years ago and it affected me badly. It made me abandon my field and go into a much less quantitative science . I've spent a decade fighting to improve my "real" skills whilst working in the field I ended up in. My new PhD is everything I ever hoped for, the perfect blend of quantitative analysis and environmental science, plus my supervisors are amazing, I get to help out with teaching etc., everyone is wonderful.

Except I suck. I obviously rated my math and science skills as higher than they really are and now I'm waking up in the night with panic attacks over how stupid I am for not being able to do basic data analysis and b) choosing an "easy" degree over a, um, real one as an undergrad.

I don't want to be anywhere else but here. I love this PhD, it means so much to me. But I feel so incredibly stupid and incompetent that I feel that the high promises I made (and believed) when I started are proving to be nothing but me making things up, having no scientific skill at all.

I know I'll get over this but I'm really hurt. I am not making any progress at all. I feel I'm suffocating when I wake up in the night, then I go back to sleep and get up in the morning and feel fine again. I half want to tell my supervisor that I'm struggling but he is such an incredible academic that I don't want him to lose all respect for me so soon. I already feel like he probably has -- well why wouldn't he?

I hate feeling so down and anxious. Being terrified of failing and making mistakes is making it impossible to make any kind of progress at all. There is a steep learning curve for this PhD and I need to get on with it. I'm not a procrastinator by nature (last year I wrote two novels, achieved membership of two societies and studied a demanding undergraduate course whilst working full time and balancing family) but right now I feel... awful. I might stare at the screen for five hours a day, checking email and FB just to get away from the fact I don't know what I'm doing. When I try to follow tutorials, I learn a little but can't reapply that knowledge, or feel like I'm spending ages learning something irrelevant.

I feel like I'm setting myself up to fail. I just need to think things through logically... but I'm blocking that logic process on every level. I can't understand why. I'm an adult, I should know better.

I feel like $£!# :(

Just about to start a PhD...doubts already?

Hi there,
I haven't read all the replies but I do hear ya -- I have also just started a PhD at an NE University (feel free to PM me if you ever want to chat), after moving from elsewhere, changing subjects quite considerably, and having been away from academia for three years. I do want to say that whatever Uni you're at, both Newcastle and Durham are fantastic cities and the North East has a heck of a lot to offer. I've moved around the country a lot but it hasn't taken long to feel like this is home.

I do feel much older and out of touch with other students though -- I'm 8 years older than the new undergrads and 3 years older than my other PhD students, which doesn't sound much but in terms of outlook and expectation it is. It's weird being treated like a student again and knowing nothing at all about the subject (and therefore feeling all the time like my prior expertise isn't counting for anything). People keep asking me about my A Level results as well. I keep trying to politely explain to them that my BSc and MSc and my professional certifications and the three years work in the real world mean a lot more to me than some past exam results... but that's just me. Grr.

Anyway take care, and deep breaths, the NE is great. Even if the Uni / subject stinks (and neither of mine do, it's just the change of attitude that's hard), you'll almost certainly make tons of friends and have a really good time. After all, you have a strong incentive to.x

Office problems..I want to work at home!

Minnie, I understand this situation. I'm glad that the bitchy one has left, I hope that helps. It can still be difficult though: I'm in a small office which is usually quite quiet, but can be very noisy at certain times. My supervisor has said I can work from home as much as I want (he does!!) but one of the other students asks where I've been every time I WfH. I just politely say that I was working from home, and don't answer any follow-up questions. In the end, it's not their business -- my supervisor seems mostly happy with my work, and it's his opinion that matters. My aim is to spend at least 3 days in uni and 2 at home, possibly more at uni depending on the workload. There is a balance between "being visible" and being productive. I knew a guy who would go into his university and sit on Facebook all day, then go home and work very hard all night. It seemed singularly unproductive to me, but he was under pressure to be seen, and yet he was someone who worked best at night. Not developing great discipline for a job at the end of it, but it seemed to work for him...

mortgage, rent and finance?

Ubu, Stressed and Pamw,
Thanks for your comments. Stressed, that's an awful situation. I got evicted when I was 16 after my parents fell into arrears with their mortgage (complicated situation), it resulted in bankruptcy and my parents split up as a result. I don't want to do anything to piss off a bank. There are just way too many databases for everything (mobile phone bills, council tax, electoral roll, tv license, insurance) that if someone shows up too many times in some place they're meant to be, that's it. I do quite like the idea of renting to theatre folk though. Especially as it's within an hour of Edinburgh. Other than that, there is a possibility of re-furnishing it and letting it out as a holiday home, but I think the tax situation becomes quite complicated.

On Wednesday we will find out if we will be allowed to rent the second place whilst paying for our mortgage. We were supposed to be picking up the keys on Friday so it's all very last-minute. If we get turned down, I don't know what we'll do -- living with family is already difficult.

I only realised last night how much the stress was getting to me. I didn't achieve any real work last week, and I've been incredibly wound up this weekend -- inexplicably angry, emotional, and unable to sleep. Then I try to relax and I'm fine.

On one hand I think it might be alright, that we will manage on a shoestring for another few months just like we've done before, but on the other I am just so annoyed that this has happened just a few weeks into my PhD. Still, several of my friends are in identical situations (albeit not with doctorates) so I think it's just society and the economy. I'm waiting for that to make me feel better...

Books for the Bathroom

Actually, I read in the loo, although it's usually just to read the post in the morning (considering most letters get recycled anyway). I've never understood reading in the bath -- what happens if you drop it? The pages would get all mushy and stuck together then you'll never find out what happens in the end...

Would you do this?

"I suppose in one way I just want to prove to myself (okay, and others!) that actually you can suffer from a severe mental illness and still do everything just as well as everyone else can..."

Keenbean, I don't really know you at all but that really jumped out at me: in my perception you are proving that you are, just by doing a PhD. I know an awful lot of people who use extremely minor reasons to stop them from doing the things they want to do. I have absolutely no idea what bipolar feels like, but I have suffered from severe depression in the past and know just how incredibly proud I am of myself from going from a state where I essentially spent several years of my life hiding under a duvet to someone who is strong and confident and able to start a PhD. Suddenly I look back and see friends and colleagues who have never suffered mental health issues (and in many cases, no major stress or adversity) give up completely at the tiniest hurdle, whilst I'm here withstanding twenty times as much pressure.

You ARE doing things just as well as everyone else can. I know several PhD students who reduced or stopped their teaching committments for several different reasons. Every single person who works hard will, at some time in their life, will have to stop doing something because doing it would be unhealthy to them. And I know people with no mental health concerns at all who think it is far too much pressure to take the kids to an art class after school... you are, without a doubt, doing amazingly.

mortgage, rent and finance?

Thanks, I hadn't even thought about the insurance situation.

I've spent the day trying to make alternate arrangements. It looks like we're stuck for the next six months, although our estate agents suggested we still let it through them without telling the bank. I don't mind the suggestion of quietly renting to friends and family (though I don't think I would because I went through an eviction as a teenager and I'm terrified of getting caught), but I'm extremely unhappy at my estate agent recommending that I break the law, and so overtly (the propertly would be advertised through them... think of all the databases that would show up on!!).

I decided against complaining to the Financial Standards Authority on that one, but I was rather curt with my estate agent.

Anyway, I've decided to give it six months until the end of my new tenancy (if I still get it with all this going on -- won't find out until Wednesday), and see if we can survive financially without getting into arrears.

Of course, six months time is precisely when I am due to go overseas for fieldwork for six weeks. Great timing, but then, it would have to be...

I've spent the day searching desperately for schemes, funds and services. I've applied for two grants already and shortlisted five others. There are a few I will keep in the back of my mind in case this really does get scary.

The thought of mortgage arrears, CCJs or bankruptcy during my doctorate doesn't appeal to me, so I'm eyeing the situation nervously.

Ideas anyone?

I've done the academic writing / freelance thing before. It can be extremely hard work, often of questionable legality and there are times when it is a battle to get paid (especially if your agency offers the client "complete satisfaction") -- a proportion of people using an academic writing service will have no moral concern about claiming they are dissatisfied with the work and refusing to pay (whilst stealing the thesis and submitting it as their own). There is usually little protection for the author in those circumstances. Besides I can imagine that trying to write / research a completely new topic to a given deadline and specification, AND write up a thesis would be absolutely exhausting. I know some people who have had great success with that kind of work, but for me it was extremely draining. Just my thoughts.

mortgage, rent and finance?

Yeah, that's kind of what I'm thinking -- borrow some money and pay off more, then take a six month payment holiday, whilst living on a budget and saving up anything left over at the end of the month. It might be the only option.

mortgage, rent and finance?

ps I really don't believe it's going to sell, at least not in the near future, which is why it seemed so important to rent it out. There are other houses near our flat that have been on the market for two years.

Apparently the buy-to-let rules are very specific with this lender, and they will only allow it if the rent is guaranteed to exceed the mortgage by an extra 25%. In our area, we wouldn't even cover the mortgage, let alone make a profit, so I doubt they'll budge. It's so frustrating. I just feel like they've said "no" at every stage, without even trying to listen to the situation.

What worries me is leaving it empty then having to deal with some huge structural repair cost (boiler, roofing etc). We've already paid out for damp-proofing and timber treatment this year. It's becoming such a drain.

mortgage, rent and finance?

Thanks. Sneaks -- I phoned them up earlier and asked for a payment holiday but they said no because we haven't paid off enough of the mortgage (it needs to be below 85% -- we've only reduced it to 88%. grrrrrr). And we can't adjust the rate because it's fixed term (and a pretty good rate anyway).

I'm going to leave it over the weekend and reapply on Monday. In the meantime I've been looking at our finances: I think we might just about manage (at least for six months or so) if I can get an ALF grant or I can get some teaching work. But I'll definitely have to tell my supervisor...


I know this has been asked before, but...

Can you just write it, then reference yourself? How long is the section?