3rd year stuck in a rut. No results!


I’ve just entered my third year of my PhD (I guess you’d say it’s in Cell Biology – 4yrs CASE studentship). I’m just feeling that I’ve been doing the same assays over and over again and I’m just not getting anywhere! A few months ago I had some good results and we were talking about getting a few more and publishing. However, now the results are negative. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong – or if I did something wrong previously and all the results we wanted to publish were wrong! I’m just feeling like I’m getting nowhere.

For example, I also can’t get western blots to work – which are supposed to be very easy. I’m feeling now that maybe I’m just a crap scientist. It can’t be coincidence everything is going wrong? I’m only just starting to understand an assay I’ve been working with for 2 years and that makes me feel a tad stupid.

My supervisors think I’m doing fine (unless they’re just being nice?) and keep suggesting that it’s the reagents I’m using, or just that cells are hard to work with. But I just feel that I really should have something to show for the last 2 years! On top of this I have my CASE partners demanding results.

I just feel very unmotivated. I feel like I spend most of my time faffing around, on the internet, not doing PhD work at all. Although I don’t often take breaks at all and often work 10 hour days. I know I need to get myself organised but everything just seems a bit hopeless.

I think I’ll be fine with writing up (I enjoy it and already have my introduction done – and a review published) – just that no results and I feel that maybe I’m not cut out for benchwork.

I just wanted to let all this out, so thanks. If anyone else has been through this or going through this somehow I feel it would help get things into perspective…



Read your post. I don't have any constructive thing to say (cells are not really my area!), but could you take a day off? Exercise? It did me good last time when I was sooo stress. I went outside for a run and those endorphines started to kick in!


I am in the same place as you are and I get what you are saying. The only thing is you are luckier than me since your supervisors are happy with you. Mine keep reminding me (bullying me) how I am not a good scientist, hard worker, ect. Thanks for sharing your stories. I wish others do the same so it make us feel less of alone and losers.
I honestly think there is no advice anyone can give us because they are not in our shoes and the just don't understand the stress that we go through. I tried exercise, vacations and nothing works when you keep getting back to the same place you were before.


had the same problem when i did my phd. 3 years and no results.
one day, for no apparent reason, i had an epiphany on how everything could be solved.
i designed the framework, model, implementation and did the experimentation in one shot.
managed to get it all done in 3 1/2 years.
for me it was a miracle.
i knew then that it was divine intervention. :)
don't lose hope. miracles do happen. maybe not like the ones in hollywood, but they do happen.


Hi thanks for your replies. I excercise everyday as I cycle to work and I get to go on holiday alot as I get to travel a bit with my PhD. Thing is, I know I am very lucky with what I have. Its a good PhD, I get to go to conferences and to other labs. My supervisors are supportive (at least, they don't openly say I'm crap at what I do...). Ahmadian - It's awful that your supervisors bully you. Do you have mentors to talk to? I hope you stay strong.
And Pinkerkool - thanks - its good to know that things can take a turn for the better!
I guess I've just got to think that this is study - and not work. Its experimental and we are learning as we go along - its not always going to work out straight away. (although I still feel that it shouldn't've taken me 2 years to learn what I have!). Anyway, ta for your comments


Hi Maisy, Chin up, it’s not all bad, all in all its easy, it’s a very nice way to spend a few years, long hours yes, but the flexibility to those hours is something you may well miss when it’s time to do a real job and it’s not all about results, papers, etc. In the end chances are only half a dozen people will ever read you thesis, it’s really about learning a set of skills that the vast majority of people on Earth do not even know exist. You get to work on thinks no one else has ever looked at, hence the no results part (we have all been there) and after all in the end it is the highest qualification in the land and should one day lead you to fame and fortune, or at least fortune, plus you get to call yourself Doctor at the end, enjoy and keep smiling,


Hi Maisy,

I have entered my third year and don´t have results yet, and of course no publications other than some reviews. I work with cells too and I think that sometimes that makes it harder cause they take their time to grow, there is always the risk of contamination and they are so delicate that anything can kill them.

However, though it is really hard, I remain optimistic and hope that some day I will start having good results and will be able to publish, who knows. After all there are very few people that get to publish within the first PhD year.

Avatar for Pjlu

======= Date Modified 17 Nov 2012 21:45:59 =======
Maisie, I'm no physical scientist so I can't put myself in your shoes. I can imagine how frustrating it is though when you seem to be going in circles, or even just stopped for a bit. And it would make me anxious if I couldn't see beyond this or envison when things might work or start up again.

All in all, it sounds like a pretty tough deal. However, I'm wondering about whether having a short spell away from things might be a good idea. Another poster mentioned a holiday and you answered that you got away periodically on PhD related stuff-conferences, etc.

I go to conferences (like most PhD students) and while I really like them and enjoy the change of scenery, I don't really find that they are holidays or real breaks. On a conference, you are being stimulated, you are getting ideas, you are learning (well hopefully you are) and even when you are socialising at lunches, dinners, or what have you, it is a form of academic socialising. It really isn't the same as a holiday or real break. Just wondering whether a real break of a few days might help. It could just give you the mental space to either:

Move emotionally out of your current state of frustration and worry about the wretched cells (and what they are doing or what they are not doing!
Give you a breather, so that you are relaxed enough to start thinking or seeing things in a fresh light-worry and frustration do not actually enhance creative thinking.
Or even just give the 'cells' some time on their own-who knows maybe they will do whatever you are hoping they will do (last bit is pretty fatuous comment I know-but hopefully you get the gist).

Hope it goes well-ignore holiday advice if you really don't think it will help, but sometimes a little bit of real 'time out' can be remarkably helpful.
(I've just had to add the usual edits to my post again sigh-the more I go into this PhD and work overload, the worse my writing seems to become :-()


Hello Maisy,
Coming accross this thread just now. I was wondering how it all ended up? I'm sure you eventually graduated. Did you go for a post-doc or did you choose the industry?