Dazed and confused with PhD


Hi all,

As a new member, I'd just like to say how useful it's been to read other people's experiences of their own PhDs, so thank you for that.

My issues at the moment are about continuing with my PhD. I've had some family issues recently which have made me re-assess doing this. I wonder if it is worthwhile continuing when I feel unsupported by my principal supervisor who is really on a different page to me, my funders and collaborative colleagues are not interested and don't turn up for meetings and my confidence feels like it is eroding by the day. I'm not long into my 2nd year and feel that little progress has been made, not sure about my research questions and what I'm meant to show with this PhD! I'm also 33, feel like time is ticking and not convinced that having this PhD will result in a better 'career' than not having one. Oh dear! Dazed and confused indeed.
Is this just 2nd year blues? Do things begin to fall into place? Any comments would be useful. Thanks


Second year blues, first year blues, third year blues - it can strike at any time and it's best not to make any decisions while you're feeling like this. Think back through your first year very systematically and make a list of everything you have done so far. You'll probably find that you have done more than you think. Also, make a forward plan of what you would hope to have achieved by the end of the year, but make sure it is realistic. If your principal supervisor is not supportive, what about your co-supervisor? Can you talk to them about the situation? Failing that, is there another member of the faculty that is 'on the same page' as you, that you could talk to. It is possible to change supervisors if that would help.

I think we have all been where you are now. I have certainly considered quitting a few times. Mostly for family reasons. We could really use a more substantial income coming in than I'm able to bring in with my scholarship. I'm late thirties with two children and lots of financial responsibilities so it's a real struggle. I'm also not convinced the PhD is a great career move. I've gone through stages when I've been convinced that if anything, it will be detrimental to my career prospects, but I'm determined to complete, for my own satisfaction. To know that I have done it.

Find a sympathetic ear, make a few lists, and things will start to feel better. :-)


I think we all have these thoughts from time to time, sometimes I think supervisors forget what it is like to be a student - or perhaps they had a particularly easy time . Sometimes you just have to dig your heels in and think positive - and not 'positive I don't want to do this' either! :$. I've had doubts about my research question too, especially when the boards decide you need to make some changes to your work when you know that if they had actually read the thing they would see that their proposals are included etc.. however at the end of the day it is your bit of research and to have reached the second year you must be progressing, so go for it. :-)


Hello - Hang in there and hopefully things will resolve themselves! I've had the same problems myself so know how you feel! My principal supervisor is from a different planet too and not interested in my research! I'm lucky if I get a meeting with my supervisor and they are generally not very useful! I would probably go as far as to say the meetings are counterproductive! I do think that they either forget what it's like or they had an easy ride or the other option is you are the hired help. Don't worry about the research questions - they will come as you become more familiar with the topic and may change depending on how the project is progressing! The data collection is the tedious part as you feel like you are not getting anywhere and it takes so long! I never found out what my research questions were for a long time and felt like I was just going thorugh the motions of collecting data without really knowing why besides the fact that I hoped I could do something with it! It is very disheartening and I do feel like I've missed out and that I don't know nearly as much as I should do!! Almost like I just scraped through but I suppose everyone feels insecure as there is always more you can learn and do and not enough time to do it! Usually someone is willing to help! I've learnt that you've got to be resourceful and get help from where you can!

As for your supervisor and lack of supervison - that is sadly not an uncommon problem! Is there another supervisor (or somebody else) either in the dept or outwith the dept that you can turn to for help and advice? Can you change supervisors or have you had a word with your supervisor about your concerns (are they the type that will listen?) Depending on the person that could be the best policy of you stand up to them (maybe they don't realise they are having this effect with you) and voice your thoughts. Have you an independent supervisor/researcher in your research team that you can go to about problems with supervison/research? What about the postgrad tutor?

Finally only you can answer the question whether to continue or not. Think back to why you wanted to do a PhD - have the goals and reasons changed since you started? Do you want a different career to the one you thought you did? For an academic career I think a PhD is necessary but not for other careers, though I think it'll always help to have more qualifications! It'll certainly help with career progession. Do you like research and can you see yourself carrying it on in the future? If the answer is yes I would stick at it! Yes it's tough and certainly not fair esp on the supervisor/lack of supervision front! I feel that with a little help I could have achieved so much more! It has been a rollercoaster ride so far but I think it'll be worth it in the end so that you can prove to yourself that you can do it in spite of your supervisor!

I really hope that this has helped. It's understandable that your confidence feels like it is being eroded (I feel like that too) but at the end of the day you just have to believe that you can do it! You've got this far and you must have wanted to do it otherwise you wouldn't have applied. It doesn't matter what age you are as long as you do something you like and enjoy. Good Luck!


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Hi there "dazed and confused",

This sounds like a big fat case of 2nd year blues. I was in the same boat 8 months ago. I was literally walking into my supervisor's office to let him know that I was quitting and my phone rang. Something very small, but it stopped me. I went and spoke to a postdoc - had a very long cry and was told what I am telling you now... you're half way through it. Time is ticking indeed, but if you quit now the past year and a half would be a waste of the time ticking by.
I dusted myself off, took a big deep breath and made myself get into the lab the next day. It isn't easy, in fact its so hard - the isolation, lack of confidence and being totally overwhelmed - but when you get through this "dip" you will feel so much better.
If the support isn't there, get it. Take control and make some noise, let them know you need it.
I have realised now that PhDs aren't just here to test your intelligence or academic ability, its also here to test your character (half destroying it indeed, but... )


Blackbyrd - been there, got the t-shirt! You're not alone in feeling like this and it is not restricted to 2nd year. I am not trying to bring ya down, but it's just how you adapt an attitude of "F**k them! I am getting my PhD!" sooner rather than later. But that said, make sure you can do this without losing the fact that your PhD is only an means to an end - not to bring about a mean end! Don't let it get on top of ya and if you feel it is, don't give up and DO NOT suffer in silence!

I am certain that if you actually sat down and actually went thro' what you have done already, it is pretty sizeable. You are probably feeling about 2 inches off the ground after each meeting, which usually descends into farcical criticism from your supervisor (who probably uses the same lines as the last meeting).

Worst case scenario is that you go to your supervisor and demand he speaks to you and start setting up proper meetings. This will mean more work from you, but isn't that why you are in the PhD. Force the issue! Ask yourself a few questions!
1. Did your supervisor interview/look for you to do a specific project?
2. Was this project outlined at the outset of the project?
3. Was this agreed between all partners?
4. Are you experienced and organised (surely shown in your CV)?
5. Have you produced some work, even as insignificant as you may think?
6. Has there been an agreed protocol as regards meetings (frequency, taking of minutes, etc.,)
7. Was there an agreed list of reports due at specific points?
8. Were you an expert in this area before you started i.e. I thought the whole purpose of a PhD was to learn, so therefore you shouldn't know everything!

If you can answer a few of these without the blame falling on you, what do you have to worry about? I went thro' similar and am still in a bit of trouble but can see a way to get it done (but MY WAY!) and it was exactly at the same age that I had the same thoughts. I am now into my 3rd year (its gonna take 4-4.5 years) and have realised that why the f**k should I be groveling - it should be the other way! We are giving our time! Maybe its time to actually air your concerns to the supervisor, but in a manner that will be constructive i.e. state that maybe there is a need to focus your research and you would appreciate their help.

End of the day, your supervisor is actually financially and otherwise profiting from your research ... make them work for it! So what if he/she gets pissed off for five minutes ... I am still sure they will still put their name on any paper that comes out of your research as a result of the restructuring!

Sorry for the rambling nature of the mail - feel free to use this forum (or your friends at the college) to air your grievances. You are not alone and if you feel that you are inadequate, you are joking yourself!


As Bonzo said, 'been there, got the T-shirt'. I was in (and still am really) a similar position to you. My second supervisor, who was supposed to be the expert, gave the impression that he was great but I gradually came to realise was not capable of supervising me. He left and went into the private sector. My third supervisor was and is only interested in money - he has never even talked to me about my PhD. My first supervisor who was supposed to be managing my project couldn't actually manage his way out of a paper bag. Of 4 PhD students in the department over the last 10 years, I am the only one to submit - the others left. The way I kept going was to know that I was doing it for me, regardless of the fact that nobody else gave a flying fig whether I completed or not. Your PhD is for you so don't give up.

Try and find other theses in your academic area which should give you a good idea of the standard of work required and the structure and layout that is appropriate. I didn't do this but in hindsight it would have solved many of the issues for which I was given a re-submit. My other tip would be to get yourself an 'ideas' book. I used to take myself off to my favourite coffee shop and spend a quiet half hour writing down things of interest that I'd found from the literature, ideas that I wanted to try or conclusions that I'd come from fiddling with the data and my model. It gets you thinking about all the things you've already found out which is very positive. My other tip is to talk to people outside your academic area. I was lucky to have a close friend who had a PhD but not in my area and if I bribed him with coffee he would sit and listen to me talk about my PhD. Explaining your work to someone who you can't take short cuts with is really useful and if you're lucky they'll ask questions.

By the way, your age doesn't matter. I'm older than you and another friend of mine completed his PhD at the age of 50, so you're just a youngster ;-)


Thank you to all who responded to my 'dazed and confused' plea. I really do feel more enlightened and less alone than before. Lots of very useful comments and strategies and I will take your advice. I have meeting with aforementioned supervisor later on this week and am sufficiently irritated to be more assertive and not let him 'rule' the meeting. Fun and games! Could be a few fireworks, but not much to lose (except my temper) -tee hee!
I really appreciate the time you spent replying. :-)
Thanks again for all your comments.


Just picked up and read this thread -

"I'm not long into my 2nd year and feel that little progress has been made, not sure about my research questions and what I'm meant to show with this PhD!" (to quote Blackbyrd)

I could have written this! :-) (In fact, I just did in more subtle terms, to my supervisor!) We have a meeting on Thursday, and he is normally very supportive, so if he says anything that might be helpful, I will post something next Monday.

Hang in there.


Good to hear that we have been some help, but please get things sorted for yourself. I know reaming off quotes is cornier than the Green Giant but I think a few Mark Twain quotes are apt to a few of the issues you mentioned... you can apply them as you see fit ...

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”

“The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.”

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

And finally, this one is for all of us!
“It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.”8-)


Hi ya BB!!!
Well my name says it all doesn't it...only that was me quite some time ago...and things do move on and do get better. I'm now a 1/3 way into my third year and things are fine. I also have collaboartive partners to keep happy as well as the usual supervisors. Its difficult to get them altogether but I have come to count this as a blessing. Sometimes its a case of too many cooks!
Into my second year I also felt as though I had achieved little and it was only when I really got immersed in my field work and now into the subsequent analysis that things really are 'falling into place' and I am beginning to visualise the thesis as a whole and seeing answers to some of the research questions I asked and a few I didn't!!
I'm mid 30's so time also a factor with me but ultimately I know I did right to stick with it. Th start of my second year was most definitely my darkest days....hang on in there!!!
lol Dazed