recently I have reached the border of my mental health. I started getting professional help and it is slowly becoming better. However, I am now thinking about whether I want to move on further into this process or if it costs me too much. I am now in my third year. I am doing research in clinics on stroke patients and it takes around one and a half weeks to conduct a study with one patient. I have managed to get in touch and get permits from a few Institutions to run the research there. However, one of them is now closed and the others do not provide me with as many patients as I need to finish conducting the study within a year. Other institutions that may have such patients are far away 50km (and more) away again on a larger scale. I do not have the grant to make someone do it for me. After I will collect my data, I will have to analyze and it will be another struggle as I do not know how to do that yet. My supervisors are hard to reach and usually, I can talk about the project itself and there is from my city. I could go there by car, but it will be super expensive as I would need to go there 5days/week. My Uni will not cover these expenses (even if I would use public transport), nor the expenses of accommodation. Moreover, traveling there will take me a lot of time, so I will have to reorganize my life. I have the feeling that I was reorganizing it and that it is basically subordinate to the PhD process I can't imagine doing it once no time left for concerns. What would you do? How would you find that you have reached the wall and that the project you have created is just impossible to fulfill? Do you have any ideas on how I can make realizing this project easier for me? Looking forward to your answers!
So i have more or less been in this position and somehow I have now finished the thesis, although much later then planned. I think sadly PhDs are designed for people who are from a certain socioeconomic class and any extra expenses or difficulties are sort of expected to not be an issue. I was nearly homeless at one point in my PhD and all that happened is my sup was annoyed it delayed my work. Anyway, here are some thoughts, I will have put in two posts:
- you do not mention what your field is and what studies you are doing: is this work someone else could do or is it very specialised? I mention this because if you can get some people to collaborate as co-authors perhaps some people in further away institutions, especially already working on something similar, could contribute some data.
- on moving around: anything where you need to do fieldwork, and this is a kind of fieldwork, involves this issue. I didn't have a fixed place to live during my PhD, when i was on fieldwork I rented on airbnb and stayed at hostels depending on where i was. I know this is very disruptive. I think other people rented out there place to generate extra income during this process.
- your supervisors sound useless with all due respect. I would not rely on them, but do keep them updated and encourage their input, they are the ones who should be helping you. They likely wont, but they will still want to take credit if you complete the research, and blame you if you dont or cant on time (dont want to be the voice of gloom and dispair, just a warning: manage this relationship but have low expectations). If i could go back in time i would find a postgrad tutor online, who knows about my area and use them as a replacement supervisor. Doesnt even need to be a PhD per se if they have research experience in your area. I know this sounds expensive, but when I look back i feel like i could have found someone for not so much (ie not specialist PhD consultants, they cost the earth), just to have some regular sesssions to get up to speed on methods and check i was moving in the right direction. It would have saved me so much time because I had to teach myself everything and it was emotionally exhausting not knowing if i was doing things right, took forever
- find resources about the analysis: there are so so many good MOOCs out there and they look good on your CV, or you can audit them for free. Also tons of content on youtube. I know you are probably exhausted but doing a little bit every day will save you anxiety and stress and time later.
- in terms of being able to finish: just from my own experience, ask yourself if you are being a perfectionist relative to what you actually need to finish. This is very difficult to gauge when you are in the middle of it. I swore blind i wasnt and now i realise i could have done less and passed. This is the issue of having absent supervisors. Check papers in your field. What kind of sample size do they have? Check what you actually need to finish the thesis. Do you need to publish anything? If not, will a less then perfect sample size be enough? Could your study be supplemented by data that you could obtain via existing databases or by remote data collection? Here it would be helpful to know what type of study you are doing
- work/life balance: a phd requires a certain about of sacrifice, i think its not always possible to maintain a great work/life balance, but i personally feel this is only sustainable in short bursts. For example, for a few weeks of fieldwork, perhaps you have to move around and live in hostels and your life has to be about fieldwork for that period, although obviously with time off regularly. I have heard it said far too often that you cannot have a healthy social life and interests and responsabilities outside of the PhD, because a phd needs all your time: this is a false economy because burn-out is the result. You should not have to trade your mental and physical health for your PhD. Your situation, where phd students are thrown impossible hobby projects by supervisors and then more or less abandoned, is common. It is valient and understandable to want to make the best of it, but bear in mind your supervisors are unlikely to be supportive, and you can end up in a situation where they blame you for anything wrong with the project, rather then recognising the Herculean effort you have put in achieving the near-impossible. Given this, I personally would also evaluate your options for doing a PhD elsewhere: if you have learnt skills and have your own ideas and are doing everything by yourself, perhaps it would be less stressful to work and do your thesis part-time self-funding (you might even finish faster). I dont know where you are based but there are good universities that are not expensive to register with globally for doctoral studies (ie, not in the USA). Bear in mind this might mean abandoning your current data since your university might have interlectual property rights on it and you do not want to mess with that, you are supposed to be looking after your mental health here.
Long reply, but these are some of the things that occur to me as someone in a similar situation to yours but a few years ahead having decided to stick it.
Thank you Eve1234 for your response. That was with me during the last few weeks. That gives me some hope that in the end, somebody finishes their PhD, even when it costs so much along the way (that's really sad it is like that sometimes).
- I was looking for someone in my country, who is doing something similar, but it is unique so far... but it was one year ago, so maybe it's worth checking again.
- oh wow, I won't do that for now... but yea, that is always an option
- it is what it is, I am also meeting amazing people along the way, so there is always some light. And yeah, finding a consultant would be great! Thank you for this idea.
- my team also has some resources, but the hardest thing is to find time and mental space to do so... but sooner or later I will start digging.
- in terms of things that do not have to be done... I have looked through everything, and it looks like it is well-balanced by now.
- thank you for these words! Now I am learning how not to think about PhD while not-phd activities :D It's tricky :)
Anyway! Thank you for giving me hope and courage!
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