At my wits end!!!


Hey everyone,

I'm new to the forum, but I've been lurking on and off for the past few years. Usually i find comfort reading advice given to others, so thanks for that!Today however, I'm so wound up that I need to vent and maybe hear some advice from you all first hand...

I'm just over halfway through a fulltime 4 year phd in UK, and I'm panicking big time and it seems that not only does nobody understand what I'm going through, but that they're hell bent on making things harder for me.

I still don't have any publishable results, although I'm working on my first paper while trying my hardest to get my results from my simulations done within the next month. I'm not going to lie... I completely wasted my first year and I'm paying for it now. I didn't have any idea what I was supposed to be doing everyday for the first 6-12 months, and found myself jumping from one thing to the other and not getting anywhere with anything... it was a disaster! So the second year was spent doing what should have been done in first year: getting a better handle on my topic, reading more, developing the method I planned on using and starting to implement that method. If only I could go back in time, but I can't and I'm terrified I've ruined it now.

So here I am, freaking out that I'm going to fail in 2 years time. Of course, that fear gives me motivation to work harder and get the project moving. But unfortunately I can't seem to get on and stay on a roll, and the issue seems to be other peoples expectations from me. I've suffered from depression many years ago, so I know the signs of when it's starting to come back and I have to say all this pressure, stress and worry is causing it to come back, strongly...

E non-academic friends don't see the phd as a real job, so when I say I can't hang out with them becasue I have to work they don't believe I actually have to work. They think I can take as many days off as I want and if they do accept my excuse, they actually get kind of mad at me and I get a slight silent treatment. It's extremely frustrating because I have a few different friend groups, so at the moment I'm getting it from all sides!

At the same time, my boyfriends family are complaining because I don't visit them enough even though he has tried time and time again to explain to them what a phd entails and why it isn't possible for me. They don't respect the phd, and his mother has even made fun of what I do on numerous occasions... not exactly what a suffering phd student wants to hear when they take time out of their busy schedule to spend time with them.

I can't take any more of people giving me grief every time I decide I want to put the head down and concentrate solely on my studies, it's not fair and I don't know what to do.

The only people who do seem to understand and give me the space I need are my own parents, funnily enough seeing as people usually complain that their own families are unsupportive.

Does anybody else have any of these problems? Lets all vent together.
Advice on whether you guys think I actually have enough time to finish my phd would also be helpful, because that's the worry that is at the root of all the pressure.



You shouldn't freak out just because you think you wasted one year of your PhD, it is very easy to finish a PhD in three years if you work hard, and you say you are on a four year program, so definitely you can catch up and finish on time.

With that being sound, you do sound like you are stressing too much about this. People who have jobs still have a life, go out, socialise, meet their families, etc. It is not sustainable or healthy to work 24/7. If you plan your schedule properly and stick to a proper research timeline you should still be able to enjoy the evenings and go out with family and friends over the weekend. I am not sure of your situation and the demands of your family and friends, if they ask you to go out during the middle of the week or want you to vacation with them during the middle of the term that would definitely not be reasonable of them, but doing things during weekends and holidays shouldn't be a problem!


The important thing is that you've realised and you're back on track now. Have you had an end of year panel review at any point? That's usually a good opportunity to discuss your progress and review whether or not you are on target to complete at time.

And yes, I get the experiences you described all the time, people seem to think it's like an undergrad degree. Especially at this time of the year when people say 'so you're off for the holidays?' NO, I WORK ALL YEAR ROUND JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!!! I also have incredibly supportive parents so I really would hold onto that, they can support me through this like no one else can because they're always at the other end of the phone or willing to aid me financially.

In what way does your boyfriend's mother mock you? Might it be intimidation of what you do?

Avatar for Pjlu

Just a couple of thoughts 'el nino' ( btw I really like your persona name :) ).

I think lots of us coast through the first year and feel like we are just wasting time. I also think that for some of us, that's what we have to do in the first year, while we are finding our way about. It's funny but my way of working on my PhD (a part time PhD-I work full time) has been what I call the 'drip' and 'block' method. Large periods of time nothing much happens and I work away in drips or tiny increments then I get a block of time and in a few weeks do a lot. I've made progress but it isn't a nice even sort of progress-it is what seems like nothing for ages and then all of a sudden a big leap. But saying this, you do have to sometimes force yourself, even though it feels painfully boring to do so. I'm actually ahead of schedule at the moment, and not too many months away from submission, but for many years, I just didn't think I had made progress at all and quietly despaired (not that others would have known this-I tend to put up a good front).

As for the emotional blackmail...try not to let it dictate your behaviour or induce guilt feelings. Your boyfriend and parents seem to really have your best interests at heart-which is great. I'm a mother of three adult children and I can't imagine carping to my kids that their partners didn't spend enough time with me. I'm pretty grateful for any time at all that their partners want to spend time with me-they are young and obviously have different interests at the moment, so any nice time spent together at all is a bonus. The friends are just being a little self-centred. If they were in your shoes, they would get it, but unfortunately many people really don't understand what it is like for someone else without actual experience. Just set your boundaries, spend a little bit of time with people when you can and don't feel you have to explain when you don't unless you want to-and then only explain it once and then change the subject. Best of luck for 2016 :).


Quote From butterfly20:
The important thing is that you've realised and you're back on track now. Have you had an end of year panel review at any point? That's usually a good opportunity to discuss your progress and review whether or not you are on target to complete at time.

In what way does your boyfriend's mother mock you? Might it be intimidation of what you do?

We have an end of year panel review each year during the summer. I've had two good reports from my panel so far... all they wanted in the first one is a decent literature review, and they obviously expect more as the years go on- I honestly don't know how I slipped through the second one last summer. I know I have a massive dose of imposter syndrom to go along with all my other woes, but seriously I really didn't have ANYTHING done, apart from bits and pieces of experiments started and a few ideas for future work. My supervisor doesn't seem to think there is a huge problem. I have tried to voice my concerns that I'm worried about time but he said not to worry. That was a few months ago though, and I've since had to push back a Christmas deadline because my simulations are still not working! I think he is going to start worrying soon if he hasn't already...

With regards the boyfriend's mother... she doesn't seem to see any value in what my research is on, and has "joked" (read:snide remark) about how anybody would pay someone to do research in my area. I know a joke is a joke but to me it wasn't funny because a) it's actually my livelihood right now! b) It's possibly my future career c) The last thing a phd student needs to hear is somebody devaluing their research, we have enough existential crises as it is!


If you've been told that you're on track then it sounds like you're being a little hard on yourself. Which isn't a bad thing :) And pushing deadlines back is not unusual and tends to go alongside academia, lecturers and researchers are always doing it.

I think she probably doesn't understand the nature of research and is using humour to cover it up. Trust me once you're qualified she'll be boasting about how her son's partner has a PhD etc. etc.!


A mother who does not like her precious son's girlfriend??? Never!! ;)

My advice would be to laugh it off and forget about it. Life is too short. Be grateful she is not funding it! If she has another pop - you have two choices:
1. Call her a luddite
2. Politely point out that you do not agree with her opinion and to save any future disagreements - agree not to discuss it again

Me? I'd go for no 1 along the lines of "Wow... this takes me back.. back to 1811"


Hi, elnino. I am just wondering, sometimes we are worried because we push ourselves too hard, and other times it is because your gut feeling is telling you that something is wrong. Have you spoken to someone outside your group, another experienced professor/mentor so that he/she can give you an impartial thoughts about your progress? I stress on "outside", someone with no links to your group. If there is reason for concern, then you can always suggest extra help/co-advisor be brought into the team. If there is no reason, then you can put your mind at peace.


Hi everyone,
Thanks for all the good advice in your replies! As a few people have suggested it is possible that I am maybe being too hard on myself/stressing too much. I'm a worrier by nature and I was having one of those extreme stress-overload days when I posted and it felt like I was being pulled from all sides a bit... the problem is that those days tend to happen more often than I would think is normal. I am going to try to stop worrying so much about how much time is left and just work as hard as I can though. I feel like I need to get into a routine so that down-time can be worked into my schedule more easily and that will reduce conflict with friends etc. I am also thinking of asking my supervisor if I can take a week off to get organised and maybe rest a bit because I haven't taken any real time off in a long time and I think this is negatively impacting my overall productivity, as in even though I seem to be "working all the time" I'm still very slow to get anything done and my head feels like it's all over the place with stress and worry the majority of the time! I will also seek outside advice from someone experienced as tru suggested.

Thanks everyone!