Feeling stupid


I'm really hoping that you all groan when you read this, because hopefully it gets posted every year (fingers crossed).

As I have mentioned, I am right at the beginning of my PhD, well, actually the beginning of my 1+3, but will obviously be working on my PhD during the first year too. I was obviously ecstatic when I found out that I'd got my finding and a place on the programme, and have been so very excited about starting. Well, that lasted until I finished my full time job (last week), and started really thinking about my research. I'm now absolutely terrified. I just feel completely overwhelmed with it, and like I haven't the faintest idea how to make a start. I have a VERY rough idea of what kind of methods I will be using etc, but because my research experience is minimal, I don't feel like I have the skills or knowledge to know how to plan to implement them.

On top of that, my first MRes lectures terrified me because it's all very new. I keep telling myself that's kind of the point, and I realise that I'm just used to sitting classes where I know quite a bit about the subject at hand to start off with.

PLEASE tell me this is normal? Has anyone got any tips other than breaking it down into chunks? Even when I do that I can't focus on the individual chunk without relating it back to the entire project, and then and up back at square one!


This is normal, but don't expect to run before you learn to walk, or rather crawl in this case! It's a steep learning curve. Your MRes lectures will teach you a lot about research. So allow yourself time.

Just take it one small step at a time. Don't worry too far ahead. You'll be fine :)

Avatar for Pjlu

I've completed my Masters and am awaiting thesis results and examination now. It was set up a bit like an MRes and I felt exactly as you did at the beginning. Over the course of the time (I did it part time so it really took the better part of 3 years all up-including course work and methods), I went from knowing very little about research-to knowing enough at least to take the next step.

My supervisor said that you learn it by doing it-and I would have to agree-you read and read and read but you actually learn how to go through with it by sweating through it so to speak. But it is hard to encapsulate this. I was doing qualitative methods and found 'How to write a Master's thesis' by Yvonne Bui pretty helpful. But then, I had to redo everything once I had followed her structure because my supervisor pointed out it was 'too textbook'-not the research but the write up-had to really structure to honour my own research (so to speak) and really individualise my chapter headings and structures. But that's a way off anyway.

It does come to you but it seemed mainly to come to me-one step at a time-I worked out how to do step one by reading and doing and asking and then I could move on to step 2. Finally at the end I had to go back and edit everything a hundred times because what I had learned months before no longer represented the complexity of what I was trying to establish later-but if I hadn't done it the way I had, I would never have got to the end stages anyway-if that makes sense?

Sort of a chicken and egg thing-you WILL be fine though. It is really normal to to feel like this. Best of luck with all the journey ahead of you.:-)


Hey Jen,

The feeling's perfectly normal. I am also on a 1+3 year program and left my full job a week before starting the research, as well as relocating several hundred miles north to do it! I did think the start would be intimidating, but I quickly realised how everyone else around me is in the same boat. The point of the first year is to ease you into the subjects, so that you have a broader understanding of what research you would undertake and you will also pick up essential skills along the way.

Remember that you are a research student, which means you are learning how to become an effective researcher, the skills and knowledge you would need will be picked up throughout the 4 years of your course.

All the best

CB x


Hi JenJen :)

Firstly, congratulations on starting the MRes - it's a big step! I am in my second year of a 1+3, having just done the "1" bit last year. First, let me tell you that it's not easy. In fact, most of the people on my pathway say that the first year is the hardest of the lot.


It's also an amazing opportunity, that you don't get with a normal 3-year PhD. You get to meet loads of people, and network. Second, it eases you in to the PhD. You'll get more help than you would starting a PhD straight off, and there'll be a learning curve rather than a "learning cliff". If I took one thing from the first year (I'm in biomedical science), it's that there often is no right or wrong. Unlike undergrad, where you get given a protocol like a recipe, a lot of research appears to be seat of the pants-type stuff. You'll not only learn more about your field, but it'll give you a really important insight into research. The reason that the year is hard is because you'll probably have more deadlines than a conventional PhD student would have. The flip side is that you get good monitoring of your progress, more chance to ask questions, and in the end you'll be able to make a better go of the "3" bit.

The way you're feeling is totally normal. In fact, I'd bet that at least 25-50% of your coursemates feel the same. The only problem is that people put on a brave face, and only shout about things when they're going well, making everyone feel inferior and worried.

Oh, and another advantage - you get four years of funding :)

Feel free to post any more questions or worries here - it's far better to do that than to bottle things up...



Thanks guys, appreciate it. I have real problems having the confidence in my own abilities, so although the rational part of my brain is saying it must be normal, there's always that element of doubt.

Can I ask, especially to those on a 1+3 route, at what point did you have a really good methodology planned out?