Have you ever privately wondered...


======= Date Modified 26 Jan 2011 21:54:33 =======
If your project might not actually be that great after all? I'm four months in and have attended enough phd seminars to get a good idea of what other phders are doing and when I compare it to my project I feel a bit crap. I'm supported by great supervisors but I can't help feeling that their other phd students have better projects. I've tried talking to phd friends in other unis about how I feel and they've suggested dropping out which is extreme in my view considering I like where I am, I like my supervisors, the dept is great, the subject is great and the uni is prestigious. The only thing I'm not confident about is my project. One of the other phd students commented that my project is interesting but not useful. I disagree since all research is at once useful and useless and so their research could equally be considered 'useless' in the vein they meant.

I'm sure that my sups wouldn't let me do something totally off the mark but then why do I feel like my project is the horse and cart to everyone else's shiny Mazarati's?

Anyone else felt like this? Any suggestions?


Hey Milly_Cat
I'm only four months in too, so I can't come at this with any wise words, really. Just understanding. My guess is that most people will get project envy at some point so doubt that you're unusual!

You don't say what discipline you're in and whether, therefore, you got to choose the project yourself. I did, and I am really into it, of course, but I often think I'd be just as into a few other aspects of language education (esp. when I get really scared at the idea of researching with kids...!).

I think you probably feel your project is a bit dull just because it's not new to you, like other people's projects are. I agree that your sups would be unlikely to support something that isn't worthy of it. And, possibly more important, you're (and I am) only four months in, so our projects WILL change. And yours can be as exciting as you can make it - maybe investigate if you can tweak to give you the right feel.

Definitely don't quit - that's pretty poor advice, I think!


Hey there! I think it's quite natural to have some doubts about your project- I think most people do at some point. I wouldn't worry too much about what your fellow PhD-ers are saying though. I have 'friends' who are really competitive and love to talk down other people's work and insinuate that it's useless etc, but I think these people are just a tad insecure about their own work or maybe even jealous because they think you have a better deal or something. At the end of the day, your supervisors wouldn't be supporting a project that's not worth their time or energy, so I don't think you have anything to worry about. But when you say other people's projects are 'better', how do you mean? More useful? More interesting? As long as you're happy with what you're doing, try not to compare it to what others are doing and remember, the grass is always greener. I've got friends who are doing cool projects too, but things often look rosy from the outside and when I speak to them, they always like the look of some other project or are cursing their own! Don't let others talk you down, but if you really are concerned then why not speak to your supervisors about it? You are early enough in to have an influence on what you're doing and how you're doing it, so if you want to change something, then go for it! Best, KB


I used to worry about this too; most students probably do. But I got the PhD in the end. What are you actually writing about.


I think this is a case of 'the grass is greener' and forgetting that it still needs to be mowed. Yes, I have wondered about that myself until I remembered that the insignificant blip of knowledge that any PhD will add is about the same unless it is just 1 in several million. Just have to find a way to make it interesting to you, maybe make it 'yours' with some tweaking as was suggested. If it was really that useless, it wouldn't have been thought up enough to be turned into a PhD and passed on to you (or anybody).


Yes I have. All the time - I think it's part of the nature of doing a PhD.
but I got through the probationary review of my work, and the annual review, and the college have no interest in having a student fail, so when I'm really feeling crappy I trust in that.

You are four months in - give yourself some more time! Giving up at this point is bad advice, you probably haven't had time to write anything yet, or do anything substantial.
In my first six months I realised I needed to learn all about translation studies to be able to do part of my project, so the next two months was spent essentially 'catching up' on something new. Compared to some projects it seemed like I was way behind, but my supervisor was great and reminded me that this is a three year RESEARCH project - if you knew everything at the beginning, and had exciting results straight away then you wouldn't need to do it.

Also remember, people only show you the best of their stuff and you are comparing their external presentation to your internal worries. I think your 'colleague's sound a bit insecure. And I'm a bit angry that someone would put you down like that.
Other PhD students are not the best placed to comment on the validity of your work - trust your supervisors. There are checks in your course to make sure you're on track.

I'll say it again - Four months is not very long at all, give yourself time - your project will change over the year anyway.

Look over this forum, plenty of others feel insecure or like they aren't really able to do it. Emotions go up and down in this sort of job. If you're interested in your project then it is worth giving it the best attempt you can.

Keep going.



Hi people

I finished my PhD mid last year, I frequently wondered if my PhD project was any good at all, and in fact it probably wasn't. It was based on flawed data that was in fact made up and fundamentally wrong, and the supporting literature all used different models, so also not much good. If it had been sent to a proper research council for funding, i don't think it would have got funded, even before the recession, it got funded because it was paid for by a charity that my ex supervisor had a long association with. It was essentially a poorly designed project, then again a lot of PhDs are. I still got through in 3.5 years, currently i have 1 paper (2nd author) from it, the best I can hope for if everything gets accepted is 4 2nd authorships and a 1st authorship.

If you consider your project usesless, maybe think about why you think it is useless and push it in a direction of making it not useless would be my advice ,you never quite know where this may take you

Avatar for Pjlu

"One of the other phd students commented that my project is interesting but not useful. "

It is always best just to ignore this kind of statement. Says far more about the person making the comment than it does about your project and could be reversed. Maybe they are secretly worried that their project is 'useful' (whatever that means in whatever context related to whatever issue?!) but really boring.

I'm wondering also about the advice your friends are giving you to 'drop out'. That's a bit over the top isn't it when you are just having a bit of a confidence issue. Don't listen to this advice and do listen to your supervisors (who sound great btw)-hang on to them!


Thank you everyone for your helpful messages and advice it's really appreciated. I'd never heard of project envy so yeah maybe it is a case of that.

I chose the res questions in collaboration with my sups. But I'm doing a phd in a field that's different to my undergrad and maybe that's why I'm lacking confidence and thinking my project is crap. I think on reflection I was impressed with the other phd students confidence in their topics but when I thought about it rationally last night all the presentations I've been to have been by 2nd and 3rd years so I shouldn't really be comparing myself but aspiring to be in the same position. It's just that the vast majority of the projects are hard science based and mine is more social science for clinical practice (palliative care) and maybe I was overwhelmed a bit by the preciseness of other people's data. I don't know it could have been an off day. Sometimes I'm really into it and other times I wonder if I understand it at all. But then again that's the nature of academic enquiry I guess.

Still it was nice to hear your suggestions and advice. I'm definitely not going to drop out - that would be like winning the Lottery and declining the money!