Confused over too many research questions!


I have been working on my PhD for 6 months now. The idea of my topic was proposed by my supervisor. It is an area that I am very interested in, sleep and depression, however as it is such a broad area I am really struggling to get my research questions down. Basically, I am doing a longitudinal study where I am measuring several types of sleep over several time-points, and also comparing 2 different groups.

As I am working with NHS patients I had to work quickly to get my application into ethics. However, now I have done that I find myself feeling overwhelmed with my research questions. I am not sure whether I should just focus on one main question / hypothesis, or whether I should be trying to focus on answering everything (which is obviously not possible!). I have had so much paperwork and NHS stuff to sort out in the past few months that my conversations with my supervisors tend to focus on practical elements, rather than my deep concerns over my research idea! I am struggling to get this across...

It would be interesting to hear if anyone else has experienced a similar situation, and any advice would be much appreciated! :-)


Hi! I've been in a similar position, uncertain of direction & feeling overwhelmed. I'm not sure there's one answer, & certainly not a quick one - in my case I only really got a handle on my research question 2 years in (I'm part-time)! Have you got any data yet?
I would certainly talk to your supervisor now that the practical hurdles have been overcome; talk about how you feel & about all the different strands of information you have & the best way to narrow these down.
I think this struggle is all part of the process!
Good luck, M


I was/am in a similar position. I am also working on a predefined project and have spent the past few months reading and putting together an initial literature review and learning the technical aspects of my project. I am doing computer modelling and initially had very limited programming experience so my sup has been focussing on improving my practical skills but up until last week we hadn't really discussed in detail the research questions. But we had a meeting where he told me his vision for the project and I chipped in with some ideas that I have about what I could focus on. During the meeting I wrote down all of the ideas mentioned and have been spending the past few days thinking about what I want to do. It turns out that meeting was really helpful as it stopped me from feeling quite so lost and overwhelmed.

Perhaps you could arrange a meeting with your sup just to discuss the ideas you have had to see which would be the most feasible/interesting etc. If all of the practical stuff and paperwork is now out of the way then hopefully you should have more time to discuss ideas with your sup. After my meeting it felt like a light bulb had been switched on in my head and the confusion was almost gone!


Hi Pixie

Thanks for your reply. It is good to know that someone else is feeling the same way! I think I do need to discuss this with my supervisor. I think the problem is that he thinks that I am doing fine, and whenever I want to meet with him he normally has someone else to see 20 mins later, so its not really enough time to have a deep conversation! I only really have 1 supervisor, and sometimes I feel a bit neglected! I have been thinking about trying to get someone else in the team but also don't want to hurt his feelings, as he really is a good supervisor overall.

How far are you into your PhD now? I agree that this is probably something that everyone goes through, it is just very frustrating! But at least I have now put my finger on what it is that has been holding me back for the past few weeks. I will try and discuss it with my supervisor this week :-).


Hi Mog,

Thanks for your response. It's good to know that you have been through a similar thing. I think my fear is that I will start collecting my data without actually knowing my hypothesis and what I am actually going to do with the data! Hopefully I will sort it out :-).


Hi Lauren, I am also about 6 months into my PhD (started October). The main reason I had to get up research questions sorted is because I have to go through the upgrade procedure and submit a report at the end of May/early June in order to transfer from MPhil status to PhD status (everyone in my uni has to do it). So up until last week I was panicking a bit about what my questions would be but my sup was brilliant and I feel a lot happier now. My sup had also assumed everything was fine and is also very busy with other students but I managed to grab him for over an hour last week (probably helped by the fact that it was vacation time) and we discussed ideas.

So definitely try and speak to your sup. As you are working on a predefined project it may be that they have some idea of the direction you should take with your research so it is important to discuss ideas to make sure you are on the same page.

Good luck :-)