one month in, how much am I meant to have done?


Hello all,

I am 5 weeks into my phd and I don't know what exactly I am doing, nor how I am going to do it. I don't have any case studies in mind, I have no idea what my variables will be and worst of all, I have no clue as to what empirical approach I will be using. :(

I thought I had discovered the gaps in the literature, but now I realise that those gaps have been filled! The more I read, the more I feel like I have nothing to contribute.

I am feeling rather depressed. I would like to know what I am supposed to have done by now? And also, by the end of the first year?

Many thanks


It took me 6 months to settle on my topic in the first year lol. In other words, don't worry just yet. At the end of the first year, however, you are expected to have a topic and usually (at least in my uni) you submit a 10,000 report detailing your project, literature review, etc… on which you'll be examined. Should you perform to their satisfaction you become registered and confirmed as a PhD student (technically in your first year you are a probationary student- not confirmed yet). I wouldn't worry about it- 5 weeks is too early and I knew a guy who changed topics mid-way through his second year and now he's a doctor after 4.5 years. Doesn't mean you should just party- just means no need to get stressed and keep reading on your field and discuss potential PhD topics with your supervisor.


Hi hella13,

in the first few months of the PhD try to get yourself familiar with the literature. Make sure you keep good notes. Try to attend some seminars to improve your skills, like writing, statistics etc.
At the end of the first year, you are expected to:

1; know what you are doing (overall aims and objectives),
2. why (where is the gap) and
3. how ( a good methodology).
4. Some supervisors expect to have conducted a pilot study, and have some preliminary results, understand shortcomings of the methodology etc.

Those are all requirements for the upgrade report in my Uni. Finally, you should start the ethical approval procedure if necessary around mid-summer.


Just read, speak to people, ask your supervisors on advice. The first few months are about finding your feet and shaping your research. Your PhD (especially if in social science/humanities) can potentially considerably change in nature and direction as you go through, so this is the time to work out where the gaps are and how you can fill them. Don't stress out as all of us have been through this. It's a massive thing starting a PhD and you will naturally feel like you should have done loads already. But don't jump the gun.

I got through about a year and a half in and then discovered a piece of work that had done exactly what I was doing. How I missed it I don't know. But as I said, your work will evolve. You don't need to have a ground-breaking idea right now and you don't need to reinvent the wheel. This will naturally come the more you read. What helped me a lot was to conduct some preliminary interviews with academics (of course depending on what type of PhD you are doing), as they all have a deep knowledge of the literature and were able to say, 'Oh I think a really interesting under-researched area is such and such'.

Also, keep an eye on this forum. It really helped me a lot in my early PhD life.

All the best! x


Sounds like you're in a field that involves no bench work so I'm not sure where you should be at really. In my field it's thought that you've done very well if you have a couple of figures you could put in a thesis after your first year!