Just thought I'd have a moan - perhaps I'll feel better once I've got it out of my system!
I'm in the third year of my PhD and, mainly because of a lousy supervisor, feel that I'm getting nowhere. I have barely enough work to make up one chapter, and don't really have a set idea of what to do next. I've spoken to my supervisor about this and he gave me some vague ideas, but nothing concrete - basically along the lines of 'go and read lots of papers to see what's already been done'. I agree that I need to do that, but I feel that time is running out, and it takes me so long to read papers, let alone understand what's actually been done. I was also told by another member of staff to stop worrying so much. I have funding for three and a half years, so it's not as if I have a tight deadline looming (as long as we finish in 4 years, we're ok).
I feel like such a fraud - every other student seems to be working away and knows what they're doing. They also seem to know so much - I worry that if I ever get to the viva stage, I'll be totally clueless! It's partly my own fault - I procrastinate too much when I don't know what to do next, and often look at a paper and feel that it's completely beyond me to understand it.
Anyway, rant over. Just thought I would share my woes with you all!
If you can't understand a paper, put it to one side and read something else. Frankly, some papers are written in such a specialist or convoluted manner that it's just better to cast them aside and read other literature.
Ultimately, you need to write, and submit more material to your supervisor. Don't be a perfectionist about this.
The more papers you attempt to read, the more you'll understand because you'll start picking up bits of terminology and an understanding about the way ideas are expressed in your field (both necessary for your own thesis-writing). Once you've made steps to do something positive about the situation, you'll feel much better.
Why not give this a go:
1. Get together some of the papers you want to read and decide at first glance which seems the most manageable.
2. You, the chosen paper, a notebook and a pen go to the library together (I'm suggesting a non-computerised form of note-taking to avoid the temptations of wi-fi).
3. Read the paper and summarise the content of each paragraph as you go - don't get hung up on the meaning of specific sentences but go for an overall sense of what the author's saying.
4. Underline any sentences or terminology that are impeding your understanding (but be strict - only the ones that really, properly, truly get in the way of meaning!)
5. When you've finished reading the whole paper do some research about the terminology / expressions / concepts that have stumped you: Google them, refer to text books or manuals, ask other people, ask your supervisor.
6. Consider these details in light of your paragraph-by-paragraph summary.
Hopefully after doing this you should have an overall understanding of the paper. It might also be worth trying to do your reading and researching in a set time limit depending how long the paper is, and as you move onto the next paper it will get easier and quicker.
As the others have said you really now have to get up and get on - you can't procrastinate, and if you do you will feel worse - get some reading done, get some writing down and you'll feel 100x better. There is nothing worse for feeling down and out of your depth than letting things run on and on and not doing anything about it. Sometimes the reading is tough, but to be honest I'd hope that by the 3rd yr of a Phd you'd understand work within your own field - if not fully at least have a good idea of what is being written about.
Maybe take a few days off now as the Christmas season is upon us and then get your head down and go for it big-time as soon as Christmas is over.
In the words of The Smiths / Morrissey: "How Soon is Now?"
I agree with Ju-Ju, just get on with it straight away. Also, don't take the whole pile of papers with you - collectively they can be intimidating, just take one or two and concentrate on those.
I would forget about what anyone else is doing as this inst going to do any good. clearly it doesn't make you feel very good when you think everyone is flying along with their PhDs and you are not. Remember that no two projects are the same: Some projects are more challenging than others, some will have a steeper learning curve, some people will have better supervisors.... there are many reasons why people may appear to be having a better time of it than you but none of this is of any consequence to you. Just concentrate on your own business. Your supervisor may well be shit as a lot of them are but regardless of how bad the supervisor is, it will be you that has to submit and be examined on your phd thesis. If you feel your supervisor is really bad then you could enquire about changing supervisor but that this late stage that might do you no good.
I think it might help if you read through some PhD theses in your field. This can help you to understand just what exactly is expected in terms of the contribution that will be required in your thesis as well as the appropriate style and structure for writing.
also consider reading this book as it gives advice on many aspects of researching and writing up ( finding a topic, reading papers effectively, taking notes, drafting)
'A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition. Chicago'
hope this helps
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