I'm having a bit of a crisis at the moment, and thought I'd come here and vent/let it out/etc.

I'm in the second year of a 1+3 PhD, so I have exactly 31 months to submit. Every time I go to see my supervisor, it feels like she's picking holes in everything that I do, and then suggesting so many other things that there's no time to do even half of them, although I wouldn't dare suggest this. I end each meeting feeling like I've wasted the past week. I'm usually one of the first to get into the office, and one of the last to leave, and yet I feel like I'm still not doing what I'm meant to - more than one person in the office has already mentioned that I "work too much", even though I often feel like my supervisor thinks I'm lazy, although this could just be me being paranoid, as she's not said this in so many words. I'm not sleeping properly, waking every hour or two, and when I get home, all I want to do is curl up and escape.

I've had major problems with depression and anxiety in the past, and feeling like this just leads to similar feelings rearing their head again. I have pretty much no social life either, although I don't really have the time for one, or the inclination once I get home. I live a fair way from home, although I try to visit every month or so, but it means I feel pretty lonely and isolated. The only thing I do outside of PhD is a language course, although I've recently not been having much time for it because of work and how it leaves me feeling after each day.

Anyway, I should probably go to the lab now and do some experiments, but that's about the extent of how things are at the moment. I'd love there to be a light at the end of the tunnel but, right now, I can't see one at all.

Avatar for Batfink27

Hi 4Matt. Sounds like you are working very hard to me, and maybe that's why you're feeling the pressure so much? I've learned myself over the years that one of the warning signs for me that I'm not handling pressure very well is when I start feeling like I don't have time at all for anything else, and that no matter how hard I work I don't achieve anything. The thing I've found that relieves that feeling is to take some time out to do something purely for the fun of it - even if it's going to visit friends in another town, or taking a day off to go for a long walk in the country, or going swimming. Just something completely different to studying, that lets me forget what I'm doing for a while.

I would suggest that you try taking your foot off the accelerator, and sit back a little. 31 months is still a lot of time, and it is not physically possible to cover everything that seems relevant or interesting - some of it you just have to let go, and other bits you just have to consider as possible extension work in a hypothetical future post-doc study!


I agree with Batfink. It sounds to me like you need to pace yourself as you still have a fair way to go. You probably feel that you don't have time for any extra-curricular activities but in year two you do have time :-) start with a walk around college during lunchbreak, that would be a positive start.

To be honest I'm a firm believer that people not doing a PhD don't really 'get it' but why should they really? Even at the best of times I only have a tenuous grasp on what other people in my department are doing, and I'm doing a PhD myself!! Yes, friends and family hopefully are supportive but beyond that we are the ones doing the PhD, not them. It's a bit like Chandler in 'Friends', remember nobody ever knew what his job was - what did he do for a living?!?

Those 'suggestions' of your supervisor are just that - suggestions. It's up to you as the one whose PhD it is to hear what she says, critique it (and her to a degree) but then YOU decide what you are going to take forward and implement. If you have a good argument for rejecting some of her suggestions that's your perogative (sp??) as it's your PhD. You're first in and last out but you admit you're the one getting stressed. Unless you're mid-experiment, for a day or two try deciding at the start of the day what time you're going to finish and then wrap it up at that time.

Second year of what is essentially a four year programme is oodles of time to sort it all out (up)


Hey 4matt! Sounds like you're having a rough time at the moment. I can sympathise with your issues with your supervisor- sometimes it can feel like you're never doing enough, or doing the right thing, I know how that feels. It sounds like your main priority at the moment though should be your health- you won't be able to keep up with your work and it's not surprising that everything feels so hard when you're starting to have problems with anxiety and depression again. I think you should try to sort that out before you worry about your PhD- go see your GP, student counsellor, whatever might help. Hopefully you will have some ideas about what will help since you've had similar issues before. And if needs be- don't feel bad about taking time off to get your head back in the right place. I was feeling really awful a few weeks ago and after an argument with my sup I just couldn't take any more- I went home, got into my car, and drove to stay with mum and dad for the week. I had to cancel appointments and meetings but being away from work and having a week to chill out really helped. Catch up with your mates back at home and just ignore your PhD for a week, or longer if necessary. I don't know how good your relationship with your supervisor is but perhaps she needs to know that things aren't too good with you right now and she might need to take the pressure off a bit. Whatever you decide to do- make sure you're looking after number 1. Best wishes, KB


I agree with pretty much everything said previously. A PhD is a journey that can take many directions. At the beginning of mine the proposal was broad so it took a few directions to finally find the ultimate path. At this early stage in the experimental work lots of ideas will be formulated from previous lab sessions/data so I expect this is why your sup is suggesting so many different ideas. These are ideas and you need to address each of these, either ruling them out objectively or taking them further. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of this especially if you are starting to feel depressed. Working long hours without a break will make you more prone to depression so it is a vicious circle. It sounds like you need to restructure your working hours so that you get a break. Take some form of exercise and get out to help lift your morale. I know that when I am feeling depressed (postnatally) it is generally bought on by pressure of my family commitments and PhD workload with little respite. Getting out and managing my workload better usually helps me.


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Hi, do believe me that I had the exactly the same feeling when my supervisor told me to do something boring , repeatedly, meaningless and seems never gonna ending literature searching work, only to prepare so called 'reliable data', which one can actually derive from some database or authentic CRC handbook, just like any other 'rational beings' do. The biggest problem is that it cost me so much time to review only a very small partial of those data. As a second year PHD student, it would be a miracle that I could finish my PHD in 3 or even 4 years. When I discussed my worries with my supervisor , he only told me to keep working harder and gave me more such slow and laborious work. So if what happens to me make you feel better, you might be aware that you are not alone, at least there is somebody in the world that have more miserable PHD life than you, and she is still trying to survive. 8-)


I think in some watershed moments in your PhD research, there is an event where you stop being "dependent" upon your supervisor, and began to have the confidence to chart your own way in your work. Sometimes supervisors have helpful ideas, and ( though supervisors would not agree...but...) sometimes they have bad ones which are simply better off ignored. Some supervisors are control freaks that basically want you to produce a piece of writing and research as if they had done it ( ie only their way of doing things works..) and some who are more relaxed and happy to let you spread your wings and fly without being threatened. Take supervisor remarks with a pinch of salt--use what works and do not feel compelled to follow all to the letter...but do be prepared to defend why you have made your own independent researcher choices ( which is what you are meant to be doing/learning to do in a PhD).

It sounds like you have gotten yourself over exhausted. And its in those cycles its hard to stop doing the work, feels like you have no time to quit working and take a time out--but when you feel like that its a big red flag to TAKE the time out. A few days away puts no real dent in your output, but surely is restorative.

As another poster pointed out something as simple as a walk round the campus can help you relax.

If you just need a mental break for a few minutes, I find wonderful. Some quiz about what kind of pinecone you are...and :p its a nice non mentally taxing break!

Take a few days away--totally away. Things likely will feel better after that, and no matter what, you should feel a bit more refreshed. You just sound very burned out right now.


Hey you shouldn't be so hard on yourself and I agree with what the others have said.  You sound like you are in the same position I was during mine and that wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs as I worked myself to death too - at one point I was working long hours every day non stop including weekends for about 2 months as my supervisor wasn't very sympathetic either and sounds like yours in order to get results and still they were not enough!!! I was going crazy and not sleeping much or well either (that's true for the entire time) and all I could think about was my work when I got up or fell into bed (that's true for the whole time too!)  I just had too much to do and not enough time to do it but I think I burnt myself as I couldn't do anything constructive for about a month afterwards as the thought of my PhD made me ill. So the point of all this is that you need to pace yourself and take some time out so you can relax and let your mind rest so you are able to go back to work with a fresh mind and get new ideas.

What about doing something with the other PhDers/staff/Masters students in your dept - they must go and do stuff. It's good for your sanity!  Your language course sounds like a good change - you could maybe ask someone from that to and have a coffee with you afterwards.

I know it's a horrible feeling to not know where you are going as I had that problem too especially in my first year - 18 months! I just knew I had to get these results with a very vague idea of what I was supposed to be looking at but it just felt like I was in limbo and was hoping the results would show something!!!  Luckily they did and I got an interesting interpretation! As for supervisors - ideas are just ideas and you can judge the ones you want to use as long as you can justify why.  Sometimes take what they say with a pinch of salt as mine used to suggest stuff so I'd so it and then they would question why I did and moan etc... when I was doing what they suggested and they had forgotten!!! Of course being supposedly an independent researcher I didn't want to say that!

Doing a PhD is a very stressful time which magnifies any problems you have and increases your feelings of loneliness and isolation especially as you are working all the time. That's why it's a good idea to get out and do stuff and get away from it now and then to protect what little sanity you have left! I would agree talking with other PhDers is a good way of seeing you are all experiencing the same problems as other people don't really understand and may frustrate you further. What they don't realise is that it takes over your life!!!

Hang in there - it'll be worth it at the end!  And you've got loads of time left! Remember the hare and the tortoise! 

(up) ;-) 8-)


Thanks for all your replies. I guess the general gist is what I thought it would be, which is comforting in knowing that I'm not being unrealistic in understanding what I SHOULD be doing. On the other hand, whether I'll ever pluck up the courage to say "no, that's enough for today" is another question.

I think the way I feel is made worse by feeling like I don't know what I'm doing. There aren't really any other students or postdocs here who are working on the same project as me, and so I feel like I'm completely alone, work-wise, and that all this time I'm working is just setting me up to be pulled apart in meetings/talks/vivas. I suppose if I had confidence that what I was doing was correct, or tried-and-tested, then I'd feel better, but I don't. I guess it's this, in combination with the fact that I can't tear myself away from work mentally, which is making me feel so low. There's always the realisation that, if I don't get things working soon, so that I can do repeat experiments and get reproducible results (rather than having several different setups but n=1 for each one) then I might end up not getting a PhD, and then I have no idea what I'd do.