mature student having crisis of confidence


Hi, have just come across this forum and hoped someone might be able to offer some advice. I am a mature student (late 40s) in my 3rd year of a funded PhD. I came from a practice background (social work) and know I am really lucky to have got this opportunity. However I think I have blown it really and am feeling quite down about it all. I have 7 months left before I am due to submit, most of my field work is done but I have very little written - just 3 draft chapters (not very good imo). I feel a bit overwhelmed by the task ahead of me i.e. writing up, also my supervisor has expressed concern that my data may not be enough to get a PhD out of. To be honest, she doesn't seem that interested in it. I also feel a bit inadequate in comparison to my colleagues (there is a small team of us all working on different subjects within a broader theme). They are younger (early thirties) and seem more driven, energetic etc and I honestly feel I'm not as good. I feel the past 3 years have been wasted. I probably should have been more focused, but it took me a while to get used to academic life - I'm probably still not used to it. I feel a bit of a fraud, not as intelligent/go-getting as the others, and am not sure how to turn things around. Any advice?


Hi Sunflower12,

The first thing I'd say is don't compare yourself unfavourably to the others. You are an experienced practitioner and you've been working hard on field work over the years. Everyone needs time during a PhD to adjust to the nature of research and the time hasn't been wasted.

That's great that you've got three chapters written. Once you start writing and revising, hopefully it will all start coming together.

For what it's worth, I felt like a total impostor all the way through and found it hard to keep faith with what I'd done when having to write up the results of my research. I think quite a lot of students feel that way.

It might be that your supervisor is preoccupied with her own research or with admin rather than uninterested in your work. Is it worth meeting up with her to come up with a plan for the next seven months?


My main advice would be to stop comparing yourself with other people. It isn't helpful, and doesn't get you towards the end result, which is to get your PhD. Yes they may have more energy, yes they may seem to be in better places, but everyone is different. It's not a competition. And it's very easy to look at other people and come away with negative views. Stop it!

Also if you have 7 funded months to go and 3 chapters written already (even if in very rough draft) you are in a good place. You have lots of time as a full-time student to finish your thesis.

I'd be a bit more concerned about your supervisor's comments, which I think many supervisors will honestly think about their students, but aren't helpful to express! However you should push ahead. Write up, and go for the end goal.

But please stop comparing yourself to other people. It's your own achievements that count, and it sounds as though you are in a good place. Sheesh lots of other people here would love to be in your position in 3rd year. Lots over run and over run and over run.

The last few months are the hardest though (I remember this well - my viva was only last March), and you can go through more crises of confidence than at any other time. But the key thing is to keep going.

Good luck!


Sunflower12, I can assure you that we all go through the same kind of feelings, no matter how old you are.
You need to be very focussed and when it's down to writing up all the excitement of doing a PhD wears off. Also, for how much you can plan and draft along the way, it takes some time to analyse all the material that you gathered in order to make the best use of it. If you have a supervisor that is not very supportive, it may become a daunting experience.
I had two wonderful years. I really enjoyed doing research, but it became very difficult to concentrate and pull things together after I returned from Maternity leave. It is only in the last few weeks that I had the feeling that the thesis was finally taking shape.
You need to look at your material - you and you only know whether what you have is good enough and how to play it. I re-drafted all the chapters at least three times and every time I find something that can be improved. Some days I feel totally demotivated, but there are also good days, and as I am not in my 20s I don't feel that I need to be extra competitive. I accept that there are researchers who are much more capable than me, but equally there are others who are there just because they were pushed by their supervisors or had the right opportunity at the right time. 
If I were you, I would try to draft the remaining chapters, read them all together and see if they answer your research questions, and where you need to improve them. Writing is a difficult task, and it is pretty impossible to expect a finalised thesis at the first attempt.

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Sunflower,
I'm not doing the doctorate yet but am the same age. I'm just gearing myself up for my doctorate which will probably start July/August. I am also a practitioner-an educator-teacher and administrator and I have just finished my Master's with thesis, just so that I could get to this step and begin a doctorate. (A dream of mine for around 16 years or so...) I will take at least 6 years to complete because I will be part-time and will continue to maintain my fulltime job. (Think about my age when I finish!!!It is really scary). the stats are over. I know that while I have a fair bit of energy and drive, it is not the drive of my youth by any means-and I'm sure by the time I finish, I will be even more 'mature' in my approach. Howewer, what I do have right now is stamina and wisdom. I'm in it for the long haul, I can run reasonable distances at a good pace and I know (believe me after this Master's) I know !!! what that long haul might be. My children, bar the youngest, are now the age of the very young PHd'ers here-I started on the children early in my life!! Aggh!!! But it is okay really, really it is...age is relative and we want and need people of all ages to try and do good things-both young, middle and old. Help, I know a woman who is doing her second Phd and she must be in her sixties easily-she wants to write a book and this way was the best way to get some support for her local history project.

As Bilbo said, you are in a place that many fellow doctoral students would envy by now. Heaps of people are three or four years in and haven't written anything at all. Three drafts is great and all your research is done!!! You will do it. You can never compare yourself with others in a project like this. Heck Colonel Sanders was in his sixties when he finally refined his KFC chicken and made it big-after decades of trying...where would my kids have been without KFC as a treat when they were young (and no they don't have any weight problems either to any fastfood nazis out there in cyber space).

You are by no means a fraud...we all feel like imposters. When I got a really good result (just this week) for my MEd thesis, but it wasn't the absolute highest one (that when I was younger and full-time and in a different discipline, everyone thought I would get), I was questioning whether I had the right to go on...well f@#k that thinking!!! That sort of thinking gets you nowhere.

Life is what you want and you do and the process that you take in between and you know that. I know you do...

Maybe your colleagues do have a bit more energy and drive but maybe they don't either. It always looks as if everyone is prettier, more competent, more intelligent, more energetic and the truth is, we usually do the comparing when we are feeling a bit down, so naturally it feels and looks that way. I've found that people are also good at making things look as if it is all fine-we all put on a good face-but everyone doubts and everyone has their issues. When you were in your thirties, you had issues, they were different issues though. When these people are your age they will have similar age related issues (even if they do have a phd-it's no magic talisman against difficulties).

You are absolutely are will finish your Phd (several years younger than me when I do) and it will have been worth it. And as Bilbo mentioned, you are in the worst stage-the writing up is the absolute pits....don't give up and don't be 'down' on yourself.


thanks for all your replies and your encouragement. I was feeling quite low when I wrote that post, and it was so nice to be able to say what I was feeling out loud (or in cyber space anyway), as I don't want those I work with to know how I'm feeling, and I'm not sure my family understands. It's good to know that these feelings can be common to many postgrads and are not just related to my age. I'm probably only about 15 years older than the others, but because like Pjlu I had my family very young, and they're now young adults, it feels as if there's a huge age difference. But I guess that's in my mind and it's up to me to get over that! Thanks for all the very constructive advice which I will follow. I'm going to try really hard now, to get on and get this done. I've been looking at many of the posts on this site, some of which are very useful. I guess being a PhD student can be a fairly lonely journey (even within a a team) so it's nice to find a forum where people can share experiences and tips. Thanks again.


Hi Sunflower

You're very welcome to join our 'Deadline this summer... thread'. There, we are all hoping to submit this summer, many of us becuase our funding is due to run out and it's a total mix of ages in that thread. I had my family young like you and Pjlu and am now in the closing stages of my PhD. I always assume that the younger students know what they are about but one of them said that that's how she felt about us 'matures' - we have so much going on that we always seem so organised!

Good luck getting your work done. Your supervisor's comments are not helpful. Sometimes people say things in an offhand way and don't factor in the possible effect they can have on people. Stick with the forum and dip in and out of the various threads and see that you're certainly not an alone in those 'imposter' feelings. Lots of us have them, I certainly do!


thanks Ady, I will join the deadline this summer thread