Anybody else out there doing it by distance?


Hi there, I've been lurking on this forum for a while now but have only just started to post. I'm really interested to see if there is anybody out there in a similar boat to myself. From what I can tell most of you seem to be in the UK, and most of you seem to be full-time, internal PhD students. I'm full-time, but I'm doing my PhD by distance which compounds all those feelings of isolation. As you can tell from my username, I'm in Australia, and I'm not sure how much our system differs from the UK. I imagine they're fairly similar, but being a distance student I feel very cut-off from how the whole system works anyway.

I have two supervisors (who I haven't seen in person for almost a year). We email regularly and have telephone conferences when necessary, but sometimes I just long for someone to have a professional conversation with. I'm finding it very isolating, not having people around that I can talk things through with. Especially now that I am getting to the pointy end. Luckily I work pretty well on my own! I am on schedule with my research, but I would love to be able to talk to others going through the same things - that sense of inadequacy, of not really being smart enough - and to share tips on data analysis strategies and writing. The forum is obviously great, but it is no substitute for actual, human contact. My university is a seven hour drive away, so I can't exactly pop in.

Is anybody else in a similar boat? Any tips for getting through a PhD by distance?


I know your feelings. I live about 2 hours away from uni and even simple things like going to social event just arent on the cards because of transport home etc. I know 2 hours isnt exactly 7 but I relate and it is really hard because you do feel really isolated and it harder to stay motivated because you arent in uni every day.
Well done on being on schedule, Im not but thats all my own procrastination. I think one of the things I notice is how well I gt on when im in my dept for occasional supervisory meetings, talking and getting information from people is so good.

The tips I will give you are:
cultivate a relationship with some people in the department, email relationship, ask faculty members things send them emails, read their research etc, just talk to them, even by email it still helps. I know people who sit in the same office 2 desks away and email each other. If you email people you can build up some kind of relationship even if it is as basic as they know your name.

Do you have any universities near you? If you do you could go in and talk to their faculty as a researcher. Ive done this before and it works quite well. I usually just send an email and ask if they have a research seminar or coffee meeting-a lot do. And you could go in and listen to their meetings and contribute. It might not be your uni but contacts are always good.

Get a hobby. Sounds stupid but get something to get you out of the house, it isolates you terribly when you can go for a few days without leaving the house because your work is in it and you dont need to. If you have something that you do with other people and you enjoy it will work wonders.

We all feel like we arent smart enough- I mean that- I feel useless most days. But the only thing to do is keep on going and hope for the best.

Good luck.


Thanks for your reply Liminalplace (interesting username!) and for your tips. I have tried cultivating relationships at my closest university, but without much success so far. It's a fairly new university with not a lot of research going on. I've had a couple of friendly meetings with the head of the education faculty (that's my field) and she keeps saying she'll keep me in the loop with any postgrad things happening, but then I never hear any more. There seems to be a fair amount of apathy - or maybe they're all just incredibly overworked and haven't got around to setting up any research student meetings. I'll make a fresh approach in a few weeks. The new semester doesn't start until mid February so I don't think they'll be much happening yet. All the academics are on holidays. It's the same at my uni. One of my supervisors is on holiday at the moment, but still replies to my emails which is good.

Getting to know other people in the faculty is good advice too. Last semester I did some marking, which was good. They just posted the assignments out to me and I posted them back when I was done. That really helped me to feel more of a connection with the uni. I had a protracted email exchange with the faculty secretary over some pay issues, and I got the feeling that she didn't exactly welcome them! Oh well.

As for getting out of the house, that's not a problem. I've got two children so there's always school things going on. I also do the odd day supply teaching (to supplement my scholarship!) and I have a few other things going on.

I've felt this isolation since the beginning, but now that I'm wrestling with my data analysis I feel it more than ever. Thank you for the tips though - I will definitely push my local uni a bit more.

What is your field, Liminalplace?


I would even go so far as to post a postgrad notice on the noticeboard of your local uni, get a group together of postgrads go for coffee and talk. Always great. I isolate myself more than I need to but I should really take my own advice!!!

Im in humanities specialising in performative limens. So much work still to do sigh!


Hi - I am doing a PhD in the UK but I live in Italy. I come over a few times a year but, yes, it is a bit isolating. I have set up a study group with a few other postgrad students at my local Italian university and we meet up to discuss things* which does help a bit. I won't lie - I find I am much more motivated when I am in the UK and can check in more often but this was never a possibility for me as I have a young child. I suppose I should have done a PhD when I was young, free and single but you can't have everything! I also use Skype to keep in contact with my supervisor - great as we can actually see each other and it works really well!

*OK, so far we have only had coffee and a chat but we will start discussing very important things in the near future.


I am in a similar position, too. I am doing my PhD in UK but I live in Greece, quite far away! And most importantly, I can't find any other postgraduate students in my town, so we could get motivated all together! Tooooooo bad!
I meet with my supervisors every 2-3 months, and we have 4 meetings each time. I believe that I work more when I am in the university, at least I get more tired, BUT moving there is not an option for me as I have a permanent full-time job, which I can't leave.
The good thing is that I have a very supportive family and very supportive friends, that keep encouraging me when I have my difficult moments.
I love my subject and I think that I can do it!!!!


I think doing this in isolation without others to talk to about your work is the hardest part. I'm only 7 miles from my dept, but I see my sup about 3 times/year for 20-30 mins with no communication in between. Like tortellini I have a young child so I simply cannot attend anything I don't have childcare for - and when I do have childcare I need to be working on my thesis and I work from home. I would dearly love to be able to have 'professional conversations' with someone. My husband reads drafts and I talk to him - but it's not his field so there is a limit. All the same, if you can find even one person - friend or family - locally to act as a kind of personaly trainer (i.e. nag about deadlines) come sounding board - it does help.


Thanks for the replies guys. It's good to know that there are others in a similar position, so it CAN be done. It's interesting to see that distance is not always responsible for isolation. Smilodon, it's weird to think that you are only seven miles away and still have little contact with your supervisor. Still, I guess they trust that you are getting on with it. I know I feel that my supervisors have an enormous amount of trust in me, as they just leave me to it with little in the way of accountability. I just think that talking about my research will get more important the closer I get to the viva. Any practice you can have in talking about and defending your work has to be a good thing. I don't really have any family here, beyond my husband (who doesn't really get it) and my kids, so I'll have to work a bit harder about getting some sort of group organised.


I'm in a similar position to Smilodon: only 5 miles away in my case, but due to progressive long-term illness I'm largely housebound and virtually never make it into the uni. Plus on top of that my main supervisor moved 500 miles away 2 years ago. For a year afterwards I had virtually no support at all, during a difficult writing-up phase. Now I have another member of staff who's helping me a lot, but I only meet up very occasionally.

As a part-time PhD-er I expected to be isolated, but I wasn't so restricted when I started the PhD and am not sure I would have started if I'd known how tough things would get. My department has an online bulletin board for students to use, but virtually none of the postgraduate students use it - just the genuine distance-learners and me. It's very difficult not being able to talk to others about this, or to share experiences. I find this board a godsend: helping to put my problems into perspective (I'm not alone!), and coming up with solutions/tips/advice.