about to start and getting scared


Hi all,
I'm a mature age Psych student, who just graduated with a good Honours degree, and is about to start a Phd

I had been planning to take six months off study, and really think about the area that I wanted to pursue. However, a few weeks ago I found a interesting ad, looking for a Phd scholarship student. I applied, without too many expectations,

Anyway, long story short, I got the job. And my funding has just come through, so I will be fully funded for the next three years. That's great, and has been what I've been shooting for all along (since I went back to study three years ago)

My concern is that this is really an area of Psychology i know nothing about. That's fine, because I dont start still March, so I have a few month to do background reading.
My other concern is that, starting to look into this area, is that there is already a lot of research which has been done in the field. Specifcally, there are a couple of other labs which are specifically working on the topics which my supervisor suggested. I am worried that I am not going to be able to find an original research topic. And that I wont find that out until I come to grips with the topic, which will be too late to pull out without affecting my chances of getting funding for any other Phd.

So I guess I'm looking for advice/reassurance, from anyone else who has been in a similar situation - ie. starting postgrad research in an unfamiliar area. Also, if I do decide the topic is not for me, what is the timeline for dropping out of a Phd without it going on my record. Specifically, I'm Australian,and have got an APA which starts in March.

Honestly, I am interested in this area, and so excited about the opportunity. I just want to make sure I have a decent shot at getting my Phd at the end of it




Hi Geekgirl,
Don't be scared! I am a Psychology graduate and I entered into a PhD within health and life sciences, with much more of a sociological feel to it so I've been learning as I go. I am now 2 years in and although it's been a bumpy ride I don't think it matters too much where you've come from, as long as you have the skills required, which you must have or they wouldn't have offered you the job!

As far as dropping out without it showing on your record, I don't think such a thing exists does it? You need to decide now, before you begin, whether this is for you really. As for finding an original topic, I'm afraid the only remedy for that is reading, reading and more reading to try and find any gaps, or new methods, or an area that hasn't been explored much. I'm still not really sure how original my piece of work will be, because it's in a widely researched area, but the originality can come from anywhere. If you're worried, talk to your potential sup about it. I don't know much about how funding works to be honest, but I have colleagues studying for PhDs who have started and quit PhDs, then started and carried on with another.

Hope that helps a bit! (tree)


======= Date Modified 22 Dec 2011 10:14:54 =======
Hi there,

I agree with Lindalou's comments; a PhD thesis generally does come from an area that already has considerable research in that area (and more currently being done). In fact, a lot of academics will tell you that doing a PhD that fills a 'void' can be harder - as you have to decide which element of that void to fill, and with less background work done for you, you can have lots of areas that potentially could be covered.

If lots of other people are working in a similar area then obviously you will have to keep very up-to-date with their publications, research, etc, but it can also be a good thing. I imagine your potential supervisor is also aware of the extent of research being done in the area, but do mention your concern. :-)

To be honest, I wouldn't factor ''dropping out'' into the equation at this point. If you are interested in the research area and are dedicated then you should be willing to stick with it through thick and thin - since love/hate relationships are the standard in PhD-land. ;-)

Good luck with your reading/decision!


Yes, Lughna is right. To be honest, in the day and age we live in it's getting increasingly more difficult to produce something completely original, it's more a case of building on exisiting knowledge and looking at what can be done differently, are there any variables that you can introduce to change the angle, what is different about you as a researcher etc etc etc! It may seem scary now but I promise you it won't be once you get stuck in!


Congrats on getting the funding and on the PhD opportunities. I think your concerns are natural in the run up to a huge chunk of research and if people are honest, most people have felt these things to varying degrees not only as they start the research but during it and writing it up.... its just part of the whole PhD experience.

Will you be doing experiments, empirical work and the like, or be doing "desk based" research?

Your supervisors should be able to give you an overview of what sort of progress they expect you to make as you go. It is not at all unusual to have only a vague sort of idea where your research is headed during the first few months or even year of the PHD, you learn as you go and you adjust your ideas as you go. That shows you are learning and your knowledge is deepening and broadening, which of course is what you want as you go through the PhD. :p

Its also true for all fields that there is a ton of research. And it can seem like there is nothing new to do. But there is.

Many people start off writing a literature review. You do not index and summarise the existing research so much as analyse and critique it, contrast findings and positions in the field, and find the gaps in existing knowledge and what further research needs to be done. You will find in many research articles that the authors indicate what future research can be done based on their findings. You may well find your original areas of research from reading what authors say about their own work. There is always more work that can be done in any piece of research, to deepen knowledge, apply techniques or questions in a different way, to address an anomoly produced in the work. You might start a lit review with the idea in mind that you will discover that thing you want to do as your own topic in the course of it--- the lit review is a voyage of discovery.

Whether you start to write immediately varies by field and by your sups approach. I was writing immediately, producing about 10,000 words a month from the first month. Needless to say the first things I wrote were.... not great... but you have to start somewhere!

No one would expect you to have expert knowledge in your field as you begin... that is what you gain through 3 years of research!


Geekgirl here.

Hey, thanks so much everyone for the replies and reassurance! I was pretty sure i was just freaking out, and so its good to know others have felt the same way. And yes, this is going to be a summer (Southern Hemisphere over here) of literature reviews, and then if I am still concerned I will talk things over with my supervisor, who has been really great so far in answering my questions.

I am glad I found this place, I think its going to come in handy.


hey geekgirl!

happy christmas. Also, I don't think you should fret unnecessarily over this problem you have. I think that, because the PhD project is not of your own design, you can afford yourself a little comfort in the fact that thos who designed it obviously think you're good enough to do it and do it well while they drop about £60k on you! Be happy.

Myself and a few of my friends (although we are arts students) designed our projects and most of our pressure comes from keeping the design and flow of it all together and moving in the same direction- whereas a few of my other friends at uni picked up pre-determined projects and most of their pressure comes from the direction you are coming from- the 'do i know enough about this?' direction. so i think your situation is more normal than you think.

i hope this helps! congratulations on the funding. to be onest, i love my phd lifestyle. hope you enjoy yours!! :)