Pretty much in despair now


I think I am the worst phd student ever. Every single other person I know has completed.
I can't see any value or point in myself anymore. What is the point of all these targets and tick-lists? They may work for you guys but I just experience a series of failures. I've disappointed my parents and my supervisors so many times. I think that I work really hard. I am writing up and I write seven days a week trying to hit my deadlines. I never do. I can't face talking to my supervisor again. I can't do any better. I'm clearly just not cut out for this. I've made some bad decisions along the way I guess and I can't go back now. I can't quit. Then I'd have four years of nothing behind me. I don't want to go to the doctor because the only problem in my life is me and this thesis. I just don't know if I can stand this any more. Reading back through this message I can't see how to convey the extent to which I've failed. Really - imagine your worst nightmare about your own work. I'm running out of time and out of energy. I don't know why I'm posting this, but I have spent a lot of time looking at this forum over the years (while other people have passed and moved on) and I wish someone could just say something, anything, to help me see a way out of this.


Are you full-time? If so still studying at 4 years is not that unusual. You need to stop comparing yourself to other people. What matters is what stage you are at.

If you keep missing deadlines then those deadlines are unrealistic. Try making more realistic ones.

What other support mechanisms do you have? Have you spoken to counsellors at your uni? Or even a chaplain? (I found that last one helpful, and I'm agnostic!). You mentioned the GP, and ruled that out, but this is a very strong reaction you're having. I think a GP could help.

Keep talking here. We're here to support you, whatever you decide to do.

But maybe stop the studies for today, take a break. Have a chocolate biscuit and a cup of tea. Or something else nice. Treat yourself. Have a break from the worry for a bit.


FIRST -STOP thinking!
SECOND -WRITE what you did, why you did (even now it looks wrong) that at the time.
THIRD -COUNT words and report to this fourm end of each day
FOURTH -TAKE one day off to go somewhere, meet friends or cook etc.DO no PhD that day

Almost everyone feel like this at one point or another thoughout their PhD life. That happens, but you have to go beyond this phase with all the will and strength you have.
Wish you good luck! :-)

Avatar for sneaks

I'm in my fourth year and still have a thesis to write - you are not alone!!!

My hubby went to a technical writing course for his work recently - and there advice was...

"just bash it out" (much to the amusement of my immature hubby)

But the phrase has stuck with me (because of hubby laughing about it every 2 seconds) and I tried it! and it worked!

Having said that, I still have a ton to write - but getting *something* done, even if its just a paragraph is a great feeling.


======= Date Modified 08 Feb 2011 17:06:46 =======
Hi Florence

No way are you the worst PhD student ever. Bilbo gives good advice; maybe your targets are unrealistic?? You may know people who have successfully passed but I know plenty who haven't and for a variety of reasons. A good friend of mine is 4 years++ and talk of finishing, submitting chapters, re-editing etc is completely taboo between us.

I'm not a big fan of lists either and for that reason I don't keep a diary, or an online calendar. I have a wall calendar behind me here with a few deadlines on it but that's about it. I know that feeling of not being able to move on, but at the same time not being able to quit. I can hear your frustration.

I think if I was feeling like you I would: Take a bit of time out (but not too much as I think it will be all the harder getting back in it). But take time out and instead of making a list of what you still have to do, why not put down what you have done. Then over the next couple of weeks I would: Sort out your filling, either hardcopy or online. Delete those articles that you thought you might read, or might possibly be a bit relevant to you but realistically are just tangents which your're not interested in pursuing. Put the blinkers on and assess what's relevant to your topic, what have you got, what is cluttering up your desk, pc, laptop, what's not going to help progress your PhD. Sort your PhD out from the point of view of "right, I've done this, this and this, and I need to do this, this, and this". A friend of mine talks of literally building his thesis, bit by bit. Then I would spend time thinking your chapters through, as clinically as is possible, and try to think "what sub-headings do I need". This is what my friend does and he says he is now going through his PhD chapter by chapter, sub heading by sub heading and filling it in.

It's difficult to know what to say to help you save keep posting here and reading through other people's posts. Maybe contribute to some of the lighter threads. Why not answer if somebody is looking for an article? It's pathetic really but I like being able to source an article and email off to people in unis all over the world. You have built up a wealth of knowledge over your four years. Channel it into finishing this **** PhD! I know your funding has run out but you got it in the first place so your original proposal was good enough. Funding is hard to get but yet you did.

You can do it:-)


Edit - the others give good advice as well, it's just that they weren't posted when I started my reply!!!


Hi Florence, no you haven't failed. Like you, I can't work with checklists and targets because it makes me feel like rubbish when I miss them. Reading your post, I can gather that you are frustrated and feeling really down. Your thesis may be the cause of this, but I would really recommend that you access the support services at your university and/or see your GP. Let's look at what you've said and I'll tell you what I think.

"I think that I work really hard. I am writing up and I write seven days a week trying to hit my deadlines. I never do." - Actually you work too hard and it's of little wonder that you feel burnt out. I think your deadlines may be unrealistic.

"I've disappointed my parents and my supervisors so many times" - I sincerely doubt this. If they're aware of how much you push yourself, they could be nothing but proud.

"I can't face talking to my supervisor again. I can't do any better. I'm clearly just not cut out for this." - You're more than cut out for a PhD. The fact that you can work so long and so hard is clear evidence of this. If you're not capable, you wouldn't have been allowed to get this far and would have stumbled at the internal assessment stage.

"I've made some bad decisions along the way I guess and I can't go back now. I can't quit." - We've all thought this at some stage. I made some bad decisions along the way with my thesis, but I've learnt from them and they have helped me to grow as a researcher.

"Reading back through this message I can't see how to convey the extent to which I've failed. Really - imagine your worst nightmare about your own work. I'm running out of time and out of energy". - You really haven't failed. You're clearly under a lot of stress, you've been working too hard and I just think you need to take your foot off the accelerator a bit. You're really not being fair with yourself. I know that everybody says this, but it's true: never compare your research with that of others. Maybe they've finished earlier because they did less than you; maybe they haven't had to face as many challenges as you - the list could go on and on.

I think you need a bit of time just to relax and recharge your batteries. It often takes up to 4 years to submit a PhD anyway, so you're not really behind. Try and take a bit of time away from it, even if only a few days, come back to it with fresh eyes and then look you think is really hampering your progress. You could make a list of these problems and arrange a meeting with your supervisor to discuss them. You've doubtless done an awful lot of work, research is a messy business and it's not about being a genius (90 % perspiration and all that!). You more than deserve your PhD and you will get it.


Hi Florence,

No advice from me.....all the others in this post are really sensible, I'm following/taking their guidelines too.

If it's any consolation, I am in the same situation as you are. I have about 5 months to finish...and I really can't take doing the thesis anymore. I almost throw up just at the though of having to get the work done; and I feel trapped because it's too late to quit now....

Anyway I wouldn't like to send you discouraging messages....take a little break and try not to think about it for a while....



I have no great insight into how to get stuff from the corners of the brain / PDF folder into an ordered and coherent thesis. However if you are feeling the way you describe then you should give consideration to talking to someone about it. If not your doctor then the student counselling service.

It does not matter what it is that makes you feel this way what is significant is that you do and it is so strongly affecting your quality of life. It is also almost certainly making the PHd process much more difficult.


You probably won't believe me that I understand, but over the past year this is exactly the post I could have written. So many people in my department submitted a few months after their 3 years were up - I took way longer. Every time I sat down in front of my thesis, I told myself that everything I would write was complete crap. That I had failed already, that I would never submit because I shouldn't even be there in the first place.
I spent a lot of time writing up at home, because I couldn't face seeign my supervisor all the time and having everyone ask me how it was going. I spent so much time trying to think of reasons to get out of bed in the morning, and spent many sleepless nights feeling guilty about how I've let deadlines slip by. I tried my best to ignore my supervisor when I was in uni, because I just couldn't face up to the fact that I was completely rubbish at my PhD.

I also made some bad decisions throughout my PhD, and when I was writing up everything came back to haunt me - I felt so guilty and stupid for it all. Everything was going far too slowly. It was a dreadful year :-(

In the end, I knew things were going very badly when the sup e-mailed me to ask how it was going and I couldn't even reply. I felt so rubbish about it - he emailed me again a few days later, and all I could reply at that point was "It's going badly, but you knew that already". Nothing else. In the end, he made me send him what I had done of my chapter, and we met up. I was so, so nervous - but it was fine. I think he knew that I felt awful - and so suggested I came back to uni to write. I didn't want to - I felt so embarrassed at not having finished yet. But I came back - and the month after, I submitted.

Point is, you will get there, even if it doesn't feel like you ever will. If you weren't meant to be in the situation where you are writing up your thesis, then you simply wouldn't be there in the first place. I know that the thought of giving up sometimes feels like bliss - but I also know that it just isn't an option. You really will get there - but it takes as long as it takes. Good Luck :-)


Some great and practical advise from people here, and not much I can add to that. I think the last part of the thesis feels like the most stressful and I think its very usual to feel like you do at the end, Florence! I too dislike deadlines and tickboxes...I was told to produce a draft of a chapter a month ( but that could include editing a chapter, or something that was a messy work in progress) every 30 days I sent what I had off to my supervisor with the disclaimer--its a work in progress!!! Advise about taking a little bit of time away each week is good--in my experience its when you feel like you don't have the time to spare that you need to take some time off.

I was told 500 words a day was a good average target. What that meant for me was zero words on some days and maybe a thousand on a good day. So 500 was the average. If you are working really hard, you need breaks in the day...again we all have different limits, but after about two hours of hard work of reading and/or writing I was fried and needed a LONG break from it. I remember sleeping and taking a lot of naps when writing up, I was that mentally tired from it. So if it works for you to break up your day in blocks of an hour or two hours or three--whatever your optimal period of time is to work--and then STOP and walk away from it all.

You will get there. I think your feelings are all part of the intense experience of writing a thesis, and the pressure seems to just build and build at the end. But you will get there--and you haven't failed!!!!


Hang in there Flo - It is part of the process and these feelings are awful I know. I have just started my PhD and have already felt the way you do but this forum and advice is one positive way of communicating your frustrations. The other thing is to communicate as much as possible with your supervisor(s) - it is your study afterall and they are there to guide you and not judge you. Let them know how you feel and why you have not submitted - I promise, you will have a few lumps on your throat and even cry but if feels better to know that they are aware of your situation. That eases the pressure and the work gets much better. You are working way too hard girlfriend - burning out is bound to happen. Take a walk or something from time to time. Do stuff you love in between - laugh with friends and make new friends. All of this helps a little and please do not compare yourself to others - they have their own reasons and circumstances which are way different than yours.
xoxo - Nthabi.


Believe me, this is pretty normal. I felt exactly the same way, every day repeating the mantra "I hate my PhD, should I quit?" And hating myself even more so. Luckily I had a supportive husband/friends/fellow phd-ers who listened to me moaning on and on. I passed the third deadline with pretty much nothing written and felt terrible, as all my friends were submitting and my funding finished. But I set a target of one chapter of cr&p a month, however terrible. In the end I got used to just sending half-finished drafts off, and my supervisor was excellent at getting back to me with loads of changes/edits/suggestions. In the end, one you overcome your insecurities, you just realise that it is a task that needs to be done. And once a few chapters are under your belt the whole writing thing gets easier, I promise! My thesis was not the best in the world, but I passed, and so will you :)

Avatar for Batfink27

Quote From olivia:

in my experience its when you feel like you don't have the time to spare that you need to take some time off.

I think this is a really important point - and expressed way better than I could have done. I think we all recognise the way you feel, to some extent or another, and finding a way to get out of the cycle of feeling so stressed and desperate is what's needed. There's been loads of really good advice on this thread - I really hope that some of it helps. And do keep coming back here and chatting to us about it - it's all about mutual support here, and you're really not on your own.


Quote From sneaks:


Having said that, I still have a ton to write - but getting *something* done, even if its just a paragraph is a great feeling.

This is so true! I am currently average about 300 words a day - pretty bad really but I feel so much better for writing EVERY day. I know everyone says you should get into a rhythm with writing but I have only just started to take this advice. Sit down and write and eventually you will get there.


I could have written your same post. I have your same feelings. We are too far into it to throw it away so we have no option but finishing (unless we are becoming clinically insane). My advice is to see your GP and a counsellor because chances are that you are depressed (I am), hopefully they'll help you to feel better which in turn will increase your ability to work.
You'll get there, like I will.
Good luck! ;-)