Please tell me I'm not alone!


Just over 3 years in and should be finishing my lab work in the next couple of months ready to write up. Thing is i feel like my work is crap and that I havent really found anything out. A friend of mine has just had a real breakthrough with her PhD and has found out something really novel, which makes me feel even more like a failure. My whole PhD has been plagued by several personal problems (lost my dad in the middle of my 3rd year) and several lab equipment problems. Just feel like quitting at the moment as its seems like trying to finish is going to be a waste of time. sorry this is sooo depressive but am on the verge of putting my head in an oven and could do with some moral support and advice.


Hi Moomin, I am still a first year student so forgive any lack of experience in my answer. From what I hear the PhD is just as much about the skills that you learn and how you face the challenges to get to where you are going to - i.e to finally finish. You say you haven't really found anything out, this is a finding! That fact that nothing has happended is also significant and the reserach community will be interested. I hope this helps, you are nearly you must keep going.


It sounds like you had a really hard time and after three years of PhD I can imagine how shattered you must be. I think there are several things you should address. One is with your supervisor. Ask him what are the last experiments about, what he hopes to get from them etc. A PhD is not about finding something worth a Nobel prize (even we all dream about it). It is a training process where you should show that you can work scientifically, organise yourself and your work, write reports and discuss a topic knowledgeble. I always have the feeling this is not enough and I think I would be frustrated if someone next to me would make the big discovery BUT (can we have a poll on this) I assume that at least 90% of us do not find anything live changing.


I think the other thing is that you might need a break and get away from it all for a while - did you have a holiday in the last three years? Perhaps this would help and perhaos you could find someone you can talk to about everything which is and was going on on the more personal site.
Don't give up now! You have come so far and I am sure you will get your PhD in the end. After all you have worked hard for three years so the writing up will be a another challenge but not a waste of time if you look at the overall time you spend on this project.
(Parcel full of energy)


Thanks guys, your advice is really appreciated. I realise negative results are just as important as the positive ones but I am worried about the amount of work too though. I have spent a lot of time working on protocols and trying to iron out problems but then when I actually come to doing the actual experiments it doesnt feel like it reflects the amount of work I have put in. I just keep worrying I havent got enough to show for a PhD and with a deadline of xmas I can't see how I am going to reel out several more experiments (particularly when I know how things can easily go wrong & cause delays). x


I know how you feel, even though I am nowhere near the end I feel like my work is a heap of you-know-what 99% of the time!!!

I heard something recently that might help though... Another student at my uni did their viva recently and apparently they didn't actually have any findings at all (don't ask me why, this is just hearsay!)... but because the process that they went through was original in itself they passed the viva. So I think it's more about the process that you went through to get where you are, rather than having groundbreaking results!


I'm only at the end of first year, but I'm so sick of lab equipment failures. I'm supposed to give results once a month at a meeting and I'm fed up of having to apologise for lack of data.

Also starting to resent another PhD (no fault of theirs, mind you) whose work was based on well established methods, whose 3-year plan was devised by the supervisor and who basically did what they were told for 3 years...and everyone tells me constantly how well they did to finish on time. That's not helping!

(petty of me I know...just sulking today after a bad meeting).


Hi, Moomin, I had just submitted my thesis in Sep. I always had bad times when I felt really depressed. But believe me, you'll go through finally.


Hi, reading your message was like looking in a mirror for me! I am in exactly the same position as you. I've just got a couple of months to go before I write up and think that my research is totally crap too! I've still got load of lab work to do and really don't think that I have enough to get a PhD. I want to quit so bad, but everyone keeps saying "oh, don't be silly, you are nearly there now" I'm sure that you can identify with that one! I've got a big meeting tomorrow with my supervisor tomorrow and I'm worried that I'm going to lose it and just walk out!!

Although, I feel exactly like you, maybe we should just write the hideous thing up and let fate decide! I reckon that if it is well-written and we can show that we haven't just been twiddling our thumbs for 3 years, then hopefully we should make it! But believe me - I feel your pain!! arghhh!


This is a whole new world for me.I am over forty and about to embark on what I can only describe as three years of madness as I start my deliberations for what I hope will result in a phd. To have come so far no matter the result kick ass and get it can do it.


I sympathise..., I was planning to be revising by now, and am still trying to figure out the structure... The good thing is that apparently it all comes together so quickly when the hard work is done. I'll be done by Christmas or January an will be ready to submit by April or so, if everything goes according to the plan -it never has, but it will, it must, eventually, or so I hope


Hi Moomin, my sympathies on the loss of your father. The fact that you are still plodding away at the PhD is amazing and you should be v.proud of urself.I myself have just started the 3rd year of my PhD, have had a v.traumatic year and have spent the last 8weeks exhausted from it all,and stressed bacuse I cant function and that other new postgrads will finish before me and the work they do will be better. It is a standard trait of PhD like that the results you get out are not represenative of the long tense hard hours put in - such is the nature of the beast. Anyways, what Im trying to say is that I totally empathise with you and you are not alone. At the end of the day, you can only go one step at a time. I strongly recommend like someone else did that you take some time out - your work will benefit from this, be nice to yourself, be proud of all that you have achieved and you will get there in the end. Best of luck


you feel you do nothing valuable, but i am sure you do something, maybe it's not very good, but if it could entitle you a doctorate degree, what more you should require? be real and be opmistic


I don't think the PhD is absolutely necessary about finding something completely new, but rather about claiming that you found something new. "What convinces us is not necessarily true, it is merely convincing"--Friedrich Nietzsche


thank you everyone for your advice!
I've kind of realised that perhaps its more about the quality of your research than actually finding out something groundbreaking, and this is something I do feel confident about. I know that what I have done is correct and thorough but its so easy to get wrapped up in the "must get amazing results" thing. I suppose its about trusting your supervisor and accepting that there are always going to be limitations and problems, its just how you overcome those and deal with it.