3 months in, feel out of my depth..


Hey guys,

I started a phd in April. Trying my best to keep on top of literature which seems to be the only thing going well. I was asked to write up a protocol 1 month in and relied heavily on similar previous studies because I didn't have the confidence make significant decisions that early on.

I just feel I don't know enough to make these decisions. I was asked to choose a particular device to purchase, and having never even used this type of device before, found myself unable to make an informed decision. I started data collection last week- recruitment is slow- which is another thing that's bugging me. But my supervisor requested I put my raw data in a spread sheet and start looking at transferring it also to SPSS. I've never used SPSS! and the university course on stats isn't until September!

My supervisor is really great btw, always up for meeting up/giving guidance. I guess I'm just feeling overwhelmed, out of my depth and often very useless!


Hi mittow,

one month is a very short time period, and is only normal you are feeling overwhelmed!

1. Regarding the device you have to chose, if possible try to consult with a colleague that did similar work. I also had similar challenges, as different equipment may measure different properties (measurements depends on the equipment used!). Check the literature too, as other researchers may provide advantages and disadvantages of different methods/ devices. Get some quotations from commercially available equipment, price is a major limitation.

2. Regarding the statistics: it is very important to know which statistics tests you are using, as this will affect how you organise the experiments, the database and the population size. Is it possible to find a statistician, who could be involved in the project? I included a statistician in the list of authors of some of my publications, as they check my models, and also add validity to the paper (IMO).

3. Regarding the statistical software, it is a least important consideration, as once you know WHAT you are doing, it is relatively easy to find HOW to do it.

It is good that you started thinking about your methodology early on. Don't panic, everything will fall into place.


3 months in is very early on. A lot of people are still doing literature surveys, for the first year. At least you are getting on with research.

Basically it's normal to feel how you are at the moment. Maybe not so normal though to be encouraged to make some of the decisions you are making now, at least without guidance.

I think you should have a candid chat with your supervisor about some of the problems you've been having. Things like not having the stats course until September but being expected to do stats stuff now seems a bit unwise.

I agree that more experienced academics - e.g. PhD students and post-docs - should be able to give you tips / help. But you should discuss this with your supervisor.

And although it's not much encouragement, feeling out of your depth will probably continue in some degree or another until the end! The key thing is to learn how best to manage it, and that includes seeking proper help and advice about things that are troubling you, from those who are there and paid to help you i.e. especially your sup.

Good luck!


When I think back I thought I was a numbnut for 6 months lol…didn't have a topic, didn't attend a single training session because I was depressed, and wanted to leave desperately. You'll feel "out of your depth" during the first year but my advice to you to minimise this is to settle on a topic and read as much as possible. I don't know enough about your PhD course/uni/department/programme structure to comment but I only started feeling comfortable once I read at least 50 papers and 20 books on my subject.