Feeling so detached from my PhD


I don't know it's normal at this stage (I am at the beginning of my second year) but I do not know where my PhD is heading, whether it's going to be worthwhile, and honestly what the hell I am doing with it.

I have just begun my field research, which has been slow going as I am reliant on busy people who I've had to cold call and ask if they're happy to be interviewed. I have managed to get one under my belt, with a few more booked in, but this is nowhere near what I need to achieve before the end of the academic year. Although that's months away, it's taken months just to get these organised!

Meanwhile, I am so detached from my PhD topic at the moment. I just can't seem to get my head back into it. When I do try to focus, I feel like I am flailing about, trying this avenue and that, none of which really feel right. Most of the time, though, I am just not focusing on it at all. It's like the more I try to get into it, the more my brain wants to avoid it.

I am very lucky in that I have a great supervisor, and she has been extremely supportive, but she keeps singing my praises and saying how great I am doing - I feel like a fraud! :(

Part of the problem is that I am a sprinter, not a marathon runner so we have been trying to work on smaller, shorter deadlines to keep me on track with the bigger picture. Unfortunately, I am so far into this lethargy that even this isn't getting me back where I need to be. Meanwhile, as I also teach, I am finding that my seminar preparation is always up to date, my house is sparkling clean and I am keeping organised with everything else in my life! So why can't I just get my head in the game on the most important thing??


Hi. The situation might not be as bad as you see it. Two good points, great supervisor and she likes you. Supervisors do not tend to "like" easily. So take a moment and believe you are not doing bad. I am also not the marathon runner style. If you and your supervisor understand this well, the strategy you do is in deed a good one.
I do not have a golden solution to the detachment issue. But I think more self confidence might help. For the field work, you do whatever is possible. The needed number is not a holy one. Just do what you can and most PhD theses do not include the "planned optimistic" results.



Could you tell me more about your research? Are you doing social science? Maybe you need to spend more time with people doing research, as you seem to be spending a lot of time talking to people outside academia. That may be the reason why you dont feel confident about your research.


Thanks for replying.

Mattfabb, there are a few postgrad research groups and informal events picking up again now that the academic year has restarted so I am thinking of going to some of them. My secondary supervisor also advised me to make links with some PhDs in close departments for this reason.

You're almost correct, my research is more legal but with a heavy slant on social sciences, so I know there are a few different schools I can get in touch with nearby.

It's also an issue that I am quite a perfectionist, and have always been really driven with my studies before. I don't recognise myself and my current poor work ethic, and that has disheartened me a lot. Now I'm back teaching, I've noticed a shift in my ability to crack on with things again. I've talked about this with my supervisor too, and we've already agreed that next summer, when I face another 3-4 months of no structure, we will set something in place to avoid another period of lethargy.



I am also in the process of arraging interviews for my postdoc research project. I just moved to Japan and am emailing people and contacting them on linkedin. Its not so bad, I have already interviewed 2 and have 4 interviews set up for november. Dont give up! Its a bit of a slow process, but also interesting because we get to interact with people and for me its always fascinating to learn about other people’s lives, practices and culture.

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Take a holiday or small break and completely forget about your PhD. It will give you a chance to come back with a fresh perspective and re-find that passion that made you want to do a PhD. If you never take breaks the PhD work can become all consuming and you forget that you actually enjoy the work.