No work for three months!!!


Hello everyone! I know this is going to sound dreadful, but I haven't done a lick of work on my PhD for three months!!! My personal life has been chaotic, to say the least, and I've just been so swept up with trying to cope that I haven't had the motivation or the least bit desire to settle down to any writing. My sup and I haven't been in touch since July, and I'm scared to email him because I'm terrified he'll have a go at me. I know this isn't the most mature of approaches (utter avoidance!) but over time, I've built it up to such a height that I don't know what to do now. (You know that feeling when you don't call someone for ages, and then you can't bear the thought because you've left it for so long?)

Have any of you had such extended periods of inactivity with the PhD? How did you get back into the swing of it? I've just not been able to concentrate at all! Cheers!


I took a break for 5 months last year: enforced because of medical reasons, and a sudden one because it was either take the break and recuperate for a bit, or give up completely. Had to arrange it with my funding council and get permission in advance with medical evidence to back it up. Total pain :-s As for returning afterwards I found it very difficult to be honest, but I had an agreed deadline to stick to for my next bit of writing. I broke that down into smaller manageable steps, drew up a list of things to be done, and then started working through them, easiest ones first. Took me some time to get into the swing again, but I made good progress and was pleased. Having said that I've made very little progress since the start of July this year :p so I'm in a similar position to you now! I needed to take at least a month off anyway (allowed break) but long-term illness again caused problems. Now I'm back to my trick of a year ago: draw up that list, break it down, and start working through it slowly. My confidence has picked up again in the last week and I'm now on a better track again. Just hope I can hit my next deadline of 2 chapters by Christmas! Be honest with your supervisor though. Maybe they can help you pick things up again if you can't manage it yourself?

Good luck!


Hey Bellaz!!

Which stage r u in? As in first yr just got over kinds, fieldwork/data gathering kind or writing up?

What you call "extended period of inactivity" happens to all of us, TRUST ME, and so often it happens when we dnt even notice it! There'll be times u feel u'r getting a lot done (but actually u'r doing random rubbish, remotely academic) and sometimes, u havent looked at papers or anything, but the idea's been at the back of your head...not suggesting its this way in your case...

anywway, now that uve identified the problem, get a schedule made, put in targets break up time into small doable bits. And YES YES YES get back in touch with the sup. Were u guys in the habit of emailing? Whatever was the mode of contact, do pick up the threads, and get yourself a schedule!

best!!!! :) and chin up!


Don't worry Bellaz, 3 months is nothing in the grande scheme of things, but i completely understand the fear. I didnt contact my sup for about 6 months! sure he had a go at me, but i just had to take it.

people usually take it easy over summer months anyways, regardless of the fact that phds dont stop. but i know august is a very slow month for academics, your sup probably wont even notice.

just drop him/her a quick email. saying sorry i havemt been in touch, just had a few personal issues (no need to describe what they are! let his imagination run wild) but i have started writing my thesis, and in a few weeks time, when it is convenient for you, i would like to show you my thesis plan, or whatever.

how about you take one week and do some writing and plan your thesis that way when you contact him you wont feel like you've done nothing. trust me, when i say this, ALOT can be accomplished in just one week, if you put your mind to it and work really hard as many hours as possible.

good luck!

oh and how i got back into swig of things, everyday i set myself a specific task to do, whether it was something like
"read 10 papers about X subject" or write about "methods currently used to detect X"

just set yourself a nice easy attainable task, and get to it! dont let yourself off the hook until you get it done. even if it means glueing yourself to the chair, if you're really having a hard time, work in 15 minute short bursts and take breaks.


Sorry things have been difficult in your life: things pick their time, don't they?

You should contact your supervisor as soon as possible and explain: the anticipation of scary things is always worse that the reality. Get it over with, and them draw up a schedule of monthly reports, or something like that.
In future, probably best to keep in touch at least weekly even when things are bad: you are lucky that your institution seems to be very easy-going in terms of student contact.


======= Date Modified 30 Sep 2008 10:42:33 =======
hi bellaz,
in many ways, you could be me. i've gone through a long phase of "doing nothing" right now, and it has happened in the past, too.
there is some good advice below, but here some more:

first, usually, it helps to realize that although i have indeed done very little, i have not done nothing. remind yourself of the (few) things you did do. hold on to them. don't let yourself devalue them. there might be the tendency of subsuming everything that happened in the last three months under the "done nothing" but in fact that means you are making even those things you did do, invisible and worthless. that just makes you feel worse.

second, to get back into work mood: most people cannot go "from 0 to 100" within a day. having done "nothing" for a while, i tend to think that now i must work really hard in order to catch up. but that doesn't work for me. my mind needs time to get into gears. after a period of "doing nothing" i can't concentrate, i read slowly, i can't write. so i need to go at it slowly. set small, achievable aims. start with one thing on the to do list for day one. maybe i can read just one paper per day in the beginning! gradually increase that as you re-build your routine. you WILL get back to your previous work speed, but it does take some time!
on the other hand, if i try to catch up all at once, often the pressure is simply to high. i realise that i am not achieving as much as wanted/needed for catching up, and despair, and stop altogether. not good!
but think about it. if your aim is to catch up all the work you didn't do in the last three months, within the next three months, that would mean that you need to "work double" for the next three months. is that realistic? wouldn't you be putting too much pressure on yourself? wouldn't this probably mean, that after the next three months you would be so exhausted that you would again crash and do nothing for a long time?
so for myself, i have found out that my aim must always be "to get back to normal working speed, within a reasonable time" rather than "to be at double speed immediately and catch up on everything". as long as i feel i need to catch up, the pressure and anxiety is so high that i often stop altogether. only when i remind myself that it would actually be fantastic if i "just" got back to normal working speed, does it feel do-able and is less scary. and don't forget that even that will take some time - you need to build up to "normal" when it has been "nothing" for a while.

heads up! we will get there. at our own pace. and we will have learned something very important on the way - dealing with our own insecurities and anxieties. good luck!!!!


Bellaz - I completely agree with Shani. I'm so sorry that you've had this difficult time, but as long as you let the fear and the guilt take hold of you you won't be giving yourself a chance to get back on the PhD horse! (What a terrible metaphor!) I too have just had a "blip" which lasted 6 weeks. I got to the point where I just wanted to stay in bed all day, hoping that the PhD would miraculously write itself. Yesterday I went to see my sup and told him I was having a panic. We went through my ideas so far in a way that helped to remind me what I have done and what my ethos and motivation are. (My sup gave the helpful piece of advice - stop thinking about whether this is going to be a PhD that the examiners will like, and start thinking about whether you are going to write something important that you believe in. 9 times out of 10 if you are doing the latter you are a fair way towards doing the former as well).
Today I'm back to it with small targets, working slowly, allowing myself to take time to get back into the swing. Have read one essay today by the author I am studying and am making notes on it. Hopefully will complete before lunch and do one other thing this afternoon.
Give yourself a break - not from work, but from the mental treadmill of guilt and self-deprecation. Very best wishes. :-)


Thank you all SO SO much for being supportive and extremely helpful. I lost my motivation back in July due to health concerns/personal troubles and the three months have gone by in a flash. I can't believe how quickly it's passed. When we start our PhDs, we all imagine the 3-4 years to be an ocean of time, but in fact it flies by!!! I've tried sitting down at my desk and reading, but I've not been able to manage more than 20mins. You go through this dilemma (as you're all aware) of thinking 'Should I force myself to do the work or go with my rhythms and take it easy on myself?' The problem is, that I've been following the latter train of thought and 'taking it easy' has equated to three months with nothing to show for! I need to attend a course about motivation issues, I think, along as taking all the fab advice you all have offered. Thanks again everyone!!!


Hi Bellaz,

I didn't get in contact with my sup for over 6 months. How it started for me was that I didn't reply to an email he sent. As the days turned into weeks into months it became harder to make that initial contact. Then one day I simply dropped him a mail saying something like "Hi X, How are you, hope your ok? I am sorry I haven't been in touch lately... would you like to meet of sometime soon."

As soon as I got his reply, it was such a massive relief. So if you haven't done so already then do it now. Get in contact, and be honest.



Cheers for the advice Yogi! I contacted him a couple of days ago and he was absolutely fine. I had created such a drama about it, worrying that he would reproach me for being out of touch for so long, but he didn't! He was really understanding and didn't seem bothered at all. It's so funny how we can build these things up, and then when we finally face them, we find there was nothing to worry about. I'm so relieved now. I didn't realise how much the avoidance was affecting me.