Leaving Dilemma...



This is my first post but I have been following this forum for a while now and feel that I need some advise.

To try and cut a long story short, I'm currently 12 weeks into my PhD (Criminology) and having a number of lingering doubts about whether I want to continue due to a number of issues.

I finished my Masters about 2 and half years ago and loved studying (I achieved a distinction), though I wasn't the most hard working student and did have a bit of a party lifestyle, when I did knuckle down I was very productive.

Due to financial issues I was not able to move straight onto a PhD programme. I worked for two years in a number of low-paid, temp jobs (from pot-washing to admin) to try and save up to start my PhD. When I raised enough money to get started, I applied and got accepted to the University of my choice. However, I had to decide whether I wanted to accept this place or take up a secure job offer, I found the decision very difficult to make but I voted with my heart and decided to turn down the job.

Now that I've started I feel that I have hit a "brick wall" as it were. I started very enthusiastically, bit now I feel very daunted about the task in hand. I find it hard to motivate myself and I feel that my work is inadequate along with an ongoing "academic inferiority" complex. I feel that this is added by the fact that not only am I studying at a much higher standard university than the one I did my BSc and MSc courses at, also the people I share my office with are must smarter than me and I feel a sense of dread when I have academic discussions with them. I guess I just feel I'm out of my depth. This was compounded by the comments I received for my methodology chapter that I handed in to my supervisors... they pretty much academically ripped it up to shreds, I worked on it for ages and I can't even look at it again as it just makes me feel terrible.

I have a constant feeling of "am I working hard enough?". I guess a throwback of my time out working is that I like to have a set day where I work 38-40 hours a week, 11-7 (hate getting up early in the morning) Monday-Friday (and Sundays if I have a supervisor meeting in the week, never work Saturdays unless I absolutely have to). However, I find myself procrastinating a lot (looking on the net, going for walks around the department "to think" etc.) and I find some days it's difficult to get started. Though I always make sure if I'm in the office that I do at least 7-8 hours of pure work, but I do include reading in that "work". I don't know whether you guys consider that part of a working day as well?

But I find that I give myself the odd day off here and there in the week. I'm currently on a "week off" at the moment, I feel dreadful about it but I just feel that I need a break away to consider if I want to continue doing my PhD or not.

I just have this constant dread hanging over me that I'm not working hard enough and the work I do is inadequate.

I'm currently unfunded at t


I'm currently unfunded at the moment, though I saved up quite a lot before I started this money is running out fast. I rely heavily on parents for financial support and though I have applied for funding (I've been put on a reserve list) I have not been successful. This further adds to my own insecurities that my ideas and my research are not good enough to be funded. I feel that if I quit I will not only be letting myself down but also my parents because they have given me so much to move away and start my PhD (I'm too afraid at this point to discuss these issues with them). I know if I quit I will struggle to find work, though I may be able to get my old admin job back, this will probably only be temporary again and even if it was permanent there is no chance of promotion.

Sorry if it it all seems a bit waffly but had to get it off my chest.

All your thoughts and opinions will be greatly appreciated.


First, congratulations on starting your program! Sorry to hear you feel like you're "hitting a brick wall." Just my opinion, but I think it's good that you're stepping back and taking a rest.

Could it be that you need more time to adjust? What stands out to me is that you've been out of school for a while, and you said yourself that you're not used to the challenging work schedule. Also, is it true that your colleagues are smarter, or is it that you've been away from your academic field for a while? Actually, it sounds like a great opportunity to "pick their brains" (so to speak). I think it's normal to feel intimidated at the beginning.

Avatar for Pjlu

======= Date Modified 14 Apr 2012 03:13:13 =======
Dotdot, you are hitting an ordinary hurdle at present-not a major wall and, after your week off, probably need to resume what sounds to be some excellent work habits blighted with the usual procrastinatory habits that we all have.

I've just come back from my first intensive three day Grad Cert Research Course designed for new PhDs and will share some of the wisdom from the lecturers who presented at this.

One-four year PhD roughly should look like this

Year 1 Lit Review, Methods Chapter, Ethics Application (if in human or life sciences or similar)
Year 2 Data collection (think about publishing paper from lit review or data or methods if possible)
Year 3-4 Mainly Write up-although writing up is probably something started in Year 1-don't try and write up in last few weeks whatever happens. (For every person who says they did this successfully, there will be countless dozens for whom this is a recipe for disaster).

Rule of thumb guide was:

Highly important activities (Rocks)
Moderately important activities (Gravel)
Reading and keeping up with literature of the field
Admin tasks
Low priority activities (sand)
Formatting chapters (not these are not unimportant but are not as important or significant to progress as the first two and can be huge timewasters)

Things like exercise, eating correctly, maintaining relationships and having breaks so as not to get sick, carpel tunnel, gain weight or get bad back, etc essential. Breaks don't have to be long though. Turn off the sound to email warning so you don't get distracted and turn off social networking sites while working. My Tomatoes is a really good site according to many people here-it helps you manage sections of work so if you don't know about it, it might be worthwhile to check it out. I haven't used it so far but I can usually 'program' myself to work for a forty minute to hour stretch without too much of an issue, if I promise myself a quick reward. My Tomatoes just seems to formalise the arrangement and lots of people on this forum have given it rave reviews.

Just for the record, I seem to come across as far more confident than I feel, based on what people tell me-this is not intentional and is just my age and manner I think, I don't say an awful lot about myself at tutorials for example. However, when I was at the classes, all of the other PhD students seemed tremendously well informed about what they were doing so I think feeling intimidated can be really normal, especially if you are a younger PhD student (but this can also work if you are quite mature and coming back to uni after a while). These feelings are, in no way, useful guides as to whether or not you should quit. in my humble opinion they are very normal feelings that need to be felt and then packed away for a bit while you get on with things.

There is a great website of PhD cartoons called Piled Higher and Deeper that really makes me laugh everytime I feel a bit overwhelmed and seems to have a funny take on all aspects of the PhD. It might be helpful to check it out. And not having a grant yet doesn't make you or your work less valuable in any way-so please don't beat yourself up about this. You are not being fair to yourself and your persistence, talent and determination so far to get to this point. Take care of yourself and best of luck:-)


Wow - great comment, Dr. Pjlu. Take heart, Dotdot! Adjusting to a new working environment and rhythm takes time and every time you get insecure, you may slightly idealise the option you did not go for.


number one, don't panic. You are only just starting, new place, new study you need time to adjust. i would say that doing a PhD is nothing like anything else, including a masters, much more 'you are on your own with your own topic' and and probably more of an expectation that you will expect the kind of criticism you got thanthe type of thing that would be dished out at a lower level of study. It is probably a bit of a mistake on their part to go in with all guns blazing, not perhaps realising that they should have been rather more supportive and less eager to show their ability to criticise, but that's the way it goes. don't take it too hard, what you need to do is train your supervisors to give you the kind of guidance you need, so take what they have done as a positive thing and break down the problem into manageable pieces. Find their main criticism(s) (don't know your area, but bear with me on this one) say they decided that your data collection method would not give you the result you think you will get. Read some stuff about data collection, decide if you do indeed need to look more widely, or narrowly or have a different approach. Decide what your changes are and go back to your supervisors with new ideas - if you think they are fine, be prepared to defend your choice. Remember that time taken working should have a goal, make these quite small to start with, start with a broad outline of where you want to go, think about what you want to look at, then what methods you might want to use to analyse your data, then look at the kind of data you will need for this and how you will collect it. The planning is a vital step, time taken at this stage wlll mean that you will collect the right data, my guess is that this is why your supervisors were critical of your approach. you may have only one chance to collect your data, and it would be remiss of them not to try to guide you towards getting this right. They may just have been a bit heavy handed and over eager to make sure you are getting it right from the start. The first year is time to reflect and consolidate where you are going and how you are going to get there. Three years is not long, but it is long enough to allow you time to do this. time away from the office is not wasted, it is thinking time, there is a lot of that involved in the journey so don't regard this as not working, it is just different and just as vital as any other activity and doesn't necessarily involve being in 'the office' in fact, it is often better done elsewhere. It has been said that doing another task actually helps your brain in processing material you have plonked in it, so going for a walk or shopping or whatever takes your fancy is a positive thing and helping the process of sifting and analysis.

icidentally I woudn't worry too much about others knowing more than you, they just know different things, bet you know things they don't, you just haven't told them yet.:-)

Take it slowly, don't be downhearted, you can do it.



First of all producing a methodology chapter in the first 3 months looks already like an achievement!
Take the comments and see how you can improve the draft. I normally submit more than 5 drafts before my supervisors are close to satisfied. You are really lucky having supervisors that provide feedback so fast and so detailed.

I also felt like I was not working hard enough during the first months although I was the first to come and last to leave the study room. I also often felt overwhelmed by the amount of work. It seemed reading and new information were never ending, every journal had 10 more references I should read. And then I was feeling like missing the bigger picture.
The first few months are hard and confusing.

Moreover if you have colleagues that study on a similar topic then you will have a friendly ear. I was very often feeling isolated as I had no one to talk to, even my supervisor could not follow some parts.