PHD extension or quit?


I'm now in the forth year of my phd and am wondering whether I should quit. Everything was going well up until my third year when I started writing and from then on things just seem to have gone nowhere. I have written a considerable amount, many thousands of words but I have only produced one credible thesis chapter. My supervisor told me today that I should think about applying for an extension as I only have until September to submt. I felt like she had just shot me. I don't know if I am just prolonging the frustration and that I will never actually get there. After so many attempts I just seem incapable of getting there. I'm worried about money as well. (I had a scholarship that ended after three years). What makes it worse is that I don't seem to hear about any other PHD students in my situation. Other students who started their PHDs at the same time as me in my department have either submitted or are much closer to submitting.


I suppose my advice depends upon how much data you have. If you have enough data to make a solid thesis and it is just the writing that is a problem, then I would say find a way to get it done, even it requires an extension. On the other hand, if your data is lacking, then it might be better to think about possibly letting it go. However, at such a late stage it would seem a waste to give up now! I think you need to identify what the issues really are with your work, and come up with a plan to fix it. Then you can make a decision as to whether that plan is feasible. There is lots of advice on here about motivating yourself to get writing. Your supervisor should also be helping you out too - what does he/she think about the amount of work you have? Good luck, and I'm sure some other people will be along soon with more advice!!


Smoobles has given really good advice.

Re the writing problems, I had these too. I lost nearly a year in the middle (part-time study, about 5 hours a week cos of long-term neurological illness) because my writing was not up to scratch, and I had to start the thesis writing all over again. This was despite getting a distinction in my Masters.

Your supervisor should be giving you practical help to turn your writing around. What are the precise problems with it? How can you start to tackle them?

You also need to start thinking of a timetable to get you to completion. If you were due to finish in September and are making so little good progress then you weren't going to get there anyway, so your supervisor's comments shouldn't have been such a shock!

Work out what your timescale is, work out what you need to do, and figure out how you can start making enough progress in the time you have.

But don't forget to insist that your supervisor gives you practical advice on sorting out your writing. You need to produce finished chapters, and overcome whatever the hurdle is.

You can do it! I completed my PhD with just minor typo corrections, despite having that huge writing problem in the middle.

Good luck!


Oh and the other thing I forgot to say is that you need to ask yourself now whether you really want this PhD. If you do, then stick in there, and go for it.

I left a previous PhD (full-time, science) after falling long-term ill. Quitting is not an easy decision. But you could have to live with regrets long-term if you do.

I was lucky to be able to get a second go (part-time, humanities). Most people don't.


I was in the same position as you a few years ago, my funding had ended, I was skint, and I found myself in my fourth year without a single chapter completed. The worst thing was this fear of writing I had to overcome. I didn't want to quit having come so far but began thinking it would be impossible to finish by September. However I did manage it! I ended up setting tough goals and committing to writing one chapter every month, and, supported by my supervisor who gave me feedback frequently, I submitted before my ultimate deadline of September 1st. It was very hard, but I'm glad I did it. You can do it too, you just need to take a more pragmatic approach to writing up, almost a 'I don't care if it's perfect or not' way of thinking.


Thank you so so much for your comments! They are all very helpful. I feel at least marginally better to see how you have managed to get through these experiences. In response to your question Smoobles my supervisor has told me that I have excellent data, this is thing I think that has kept me going so far. I just seem to have enormous problems with presenting it in a meaningful way. I like the idea about making a strict timescale for each chapter. I think I will try to discuss this with my supervisor next time I see her. My supervisor has been very supportive, and we've been looking at ways to improve my writing but it's just like the penny hasn't dropped.The reason why it was such a shock at my meeting was because I've been working on this next chapter since November and I thought it was at least ok, but it was not. I think I will try and have more contact with my supervisor from now on. Thanks very much again


Hi Ice,
Glad you're feeling better following the advice given. If you have good data it seems to be a case of getting your thoughts organised and getting it on paper. I look 4 years (to the day!) to submit my PhD and at the stage you're at (end of Jan year 4) I had completed zero chapters! It was hard work but I did manage to get my thesis written in that time.
Good luck with the writing.


All of the advice given here is excellent. I also went to the wire on the submission with both supervisors commenting that I had masses of data I just needed to be more picky about what I was putting in. The deadline for September is achievable providing you have good data (and it seems like you do from what you are saying). I worked literally every hour god sent and had to complete the write-up while also being employed full time as a postdoc for the last 3 months.

I had the same sort of turn around as you and managed it. Someone said to me once that writing-up is, by every definition "a selfish process". You have to shut out every distraction and the way I got round it was to write up in my office. Either way you need a quiet, silent place to write - that is crucial! I used to work from about 9.30pm to ~1.30 - 2am every night without fail (apart from Saturday night and Sunday only) over the last 3 months and basically anytime in-between that was free. In the early days I did have all of the day time as well but my advice would be to work hard in the beginning as well as at the end, as hard as that is!

I cannot stress anymore that if you want this you will get it like so many posting here have said. I actually feel like a changed person for all the right reasons having submitted and now working towards my viva (and trust me, I'm not the fate-loving type). A PhD is a real feat of human performance and I respect everyone who tackles them!! Maintaining contact with your supervisor as you said will be more important than ever now. I agreed deadlines with my supervisor and submitted work as close as absolutely possible to the deadlines set and that really drived me in the right direction.

Finally don't worry about everyone around you! In the end I found that most of them were under the same if not worse pressure; you just have to focus on what you are doing! All the best of luck and keeping going ice you're almost there now!


Passed PhD with 3 months to make some corrections!


Congrats! Amazing how much progress can be made in a year! Thanks for sharing!