Help Needed -- Time Management


I am in a difficult position with my thesis.

I am 2 years into my PhD and have one funded year left. I have collected all of my data but have undertaken very little analysis. I have about 18,000 words written but in extremely poor-quality and fragmented drafts. I know for certain I have not undertaken enough work for the stage I am at. Like many people, I have wasted weeks, perhaps months at a time on blind alleyways. I spent almost 2 months this year developing a methodology that I ended up not using.

My marriage broke up 6 months into my PhD and I was given a lot of extra support. Those issues were resolved in 5-6 months, and since there are other students with far greater issues who have still managed to achieve much more.

At the moment, it feels like far too much for me to complete in a year. I don't have anything written and have done very little meaningful analysis. Moreover, my primary experiment didn't work so it isn't clear now what my 'original contribution to knowledge' could be. My field is very different to that of my undergraduate degree and I still lack a lot of background knowledge. There's nothing specifically wrong. I just haven't progressed.

The emotional aspects are just as difficult and I hate struggling without reason. I don't want to quit, but I don't see how I can possibly finish this. I've tried many time management techniques without success. Does anyone have any advice? I would struggle to forgive myself if I had to give up.


Hi, this is my first post, I decided to join to see if I could help as I understand your plight. You can take or leave what I say, it is based on my experiences and feelings but perhaps there may be something helpful.

My first reaction is, have you asked your supervisor if they feel you have completed enough experiments? This depends on your supervisor giving you sound advice, which may not be the case.
You mentioned 'blind alleyways', perhaps these are not failures as you see them. In my experience, work which doesn't go as planned is an important part of getting you to where you are. For example, my final experiment involved human participants and failed quite spectacularly. However, I have to put this into my thesis as it explains why I took the approach I finally did, partially because I tried this other approach and it didn't work. Perhaps some of your blind alleyways are the same?

As for your writing, have you written any papers? I find the process of writing a paper (even if it doesn't get accepted anywhere) a good way of really ironing out my ideas, forcing me to write them down in a clear and logical layout which highlights areas where I require further analysis. I've finished my experiments and am now writing up (/editing the writing I had) and I have about 6 months till my 3 years are up, which I am told is a normal amount of time to be writing up in. My point being that you still have six months to do further analysis of your work.

Also remember a hypothesis is to be proven or disproved, you shouldn't really be going in with an experiment which you believe will result in a specific outcome. Have you got a research hypothesis? When I got confused over what I was doing, the end goal and contributions to research I did a "take stock" exercise, where I wrote out on a page of A4 what experiments I'd done and what I'd achieved from them. I then matched that up to my research hypothesis, and tried to see where the gaps in my work were and what I could do to fill them.

I think if I were in your position, the first thing I'd do would be the "take stock" exercise I described above, then I'd make sure I was clear on what my goals were and whether my analysis supported them (paying particular attention to the scientific method if your subject is scientific). I'd then write a list of all the different things I needed to do to answer my research question and estimate time scales for completing them. If at this point I didn't think I could complete them within 6 or so months, I'd maybe approach my supervisor and see what they thought and whether you could get an extension due to emotional difficulties?

I hope this has been helpful, and not just incoherent rambling.

Best of luck


Hi Cornflower,

There are a couple of excellent articles written in a document titled "A Word to the struggling PhD Student" that may help you a lot.
You can find it at: (top of left column) . I hope this helps you take a wise decision.

Maria Livingstone