Will this pass?


Hello everyone -
I am so glad I found this forum, I really do hope you will be able to assist me. Ok, let me start... In Sept 2010 I left my country for Europe to start a PhD on a scholarship. I was very convinced that this is what I want in life, had been thinking about it for many years and when the funding came through, I knew that this was meant to be. Been here for just over 3 months now and have done nothing... NOTHING!!! I have met with supervisors and they have given me comments on my draft proposal that I prepared when I was still at home, but I have not worked on it ever since. I have read what they have suggested but I honestly do not have any motivation at all. Some of the stuff does not make sense - the theory that I thought was ideal for my study is suddenly looking and sounding very strange and I cannot identify with anything. I feel very useless, alone, lonely, strange, underperfoming... everything I don't want to feel. The thing is I know myself - I know how much I can work, I have done so much before I came here, been employed, headed projects for years, etc. What could this mean? Am I not ready for a PhD? My goodness, there is not a day that passes and I do not think that I have made the mistake of my life by coming here. I do not know how to face my supervisors, what if they think I am just a big waste of time and effort? Has anyone out there felt this way before? Now I am even thinking of going back home, look for a job and have a child - maybe this will be more fulfilling than what I am attempting to do here.... Oohhhhh HELP!


You have to realise that a PhD is 100% up to you - do not wait for direction, ideas or support. This may sound like harsh advice, but it is based on personal experience in coming from Africa to study in the UK.

Many people feel swamped when they realise the true scale of a PhD. Coupled with the lack of support, this can lead to demotivation. Breaking the problem up into manageable chunks, and completing them one by one with rewards for completion does help. I'd suggest starting with some planning to get your mind off the subject. You'll have to do this anyway, so it's best to just get it out the way.

Step 1. Identify the entire PhD process at your university, especially the little details and all the bottlenecks. Map these in a process diagram or gantt chart.
Step 2. Identify what you need to deliver at each stage to get to the next.
Step 3. Read textbooks/guides on how to complete a PhD and write a thesis.
Step 4. Take a large piece of paper and draw an argument map or mindmap of what you know about the topic, what the gaps are, what you need to research, and where you want to get to.
Step 5. Draw up chapter headings for the thesis, and write up a paragraph or two of what you want to include in each.
Step 6. Map out a series of 'quick-wins' - short tasks that will get you to the end-zone and that you can tick off as you go.

Now, if you are not yet ready for the topic, focus on the subject of research. It is a big subject area, with lots to do. Break it into tasks, such as to understand the philosophy of research, to choose a suitable method, to know everything that needs to be known about a particular method etc. Start reading and tick these tasks off one by one. It will keep you usefully occupied without thinking of the big picture.

On the other hand if you are now ready for the topic, sit back and consider what it is about this subject that interests you, how you can use the knowledge in your career, what you would like to achieve at the end? What novelty can you find in the subject? How can your research benefit others? Turn these into personal goals. Then start reading!


Thank you Patrick,
I appreciate you taking some time off to offer me advice. I will try your plan and I am sure if I stick to it and a combination of other interventions, I will be fine. It has also helped me to go through other posts on this forum and made me realize that I am not the only one feeling this way and that other people have survived such obtacles. I do hope I will be able to go through this.



Hi Nthabi Don't dispair - you can do it. I agree with the concept that breaking it into small parts helps. Is there a support group of other PhD students around you who can discuss your proposal with you? I looked at the abstracts of lots of other PhDs which helped me with thinking through my own proposal. Not sure what area you are working in but for me starting on the literature review really helped me to get my head around things in the early stages. A PhD is a big step up and throughout the whole process their continue to be challenges but the journey is a worthwhile experience. Hang on in there and keep emailing this forum.



======= Date Modified 10 Jan 2011 16:50:52 =======
Hi Nthabi:-)

I understand how you feel. I used to feel the same way too. But looking at many threads in this forum, it is common to have this feeling during the first year. I think it's better not to think too much about what do your supervisors think about you. Instead, just focus on your work/ what you would like to investigate or study/ the problem that you would like to solve, why is it significant, how to do it etc. I come from a third world country, doing PhD in a developed country. Initially I felt very inferior with other students in my lab and university and I thought that my supervisor must had regretted for accepting me as his student. But this kind of thinking only make things worse and it might not has been true at all. Besides, it is better to think positively than negatively. It is less torturing.
I think the most important thing in PhD is not to give up even when things seem to be very blur or hopeless.

We can do it! (up):-)