Hit a new low with my PhD and I don't know how to continue - any advice welcome

posted
21-May-18, 10:48
by omt271
Avatar for omt271
posted about 1 year ago
Hi,

I'm about half way through my PhD, my funding runs out Sep 2019 and every day of the week I think about quitting. I'm so incredibly miserable all the time, whenever I think about work I cry and I dread waking up on a week day to face it! I really don't like my topic (this is a science PhD btw) it is so far from what my masters and undergrad degrees were in and to top it off I lost my main supervisor this time last year with about 2 weeks warning, the only person who seemed to push the project and seemed interested in it. I found out about 6 months later he left because he was asked to leave as he didn't live up to his academic expectations. The whole thing threw me, partly because I was given no warning and partly coz I had no say in what new supervisor I got, they just automatically gave me my secondary who has a completely different background to me. This guy just does not seem to care about any of my work. He's a very sweet guy but the small bits of work I have given him (many months ago) he never looked at and he keeps talking about this model I have apparently built even though I literally do not even know how to build a model...! I feel I have absolutely no relationship with him, our meetings are always so incredibly awkward (and infrequent) so I don't know how to tell him anything about how I feel. He never seems concerned that I haven't produced any work for months and I still don't even have a method, let alone any results.
I have no interest in my project (or at least the potential methods) and it feels like no one else does either. I'm miserable and I'm just at a loss as to what to do :( I have so little friends and my partner is one of my only supports and I feel I'm putting a lot of pressure on him and on the relationship. My office is super depressing too so I spend a lot of time at home which makes the feeling of isolation and never wanting to get out of bed even worse. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you!
posted
23-May-18, 01:16
edited about 36 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
Hello,

Sounds like you are having a hard time of it at the moment. A few things jump out from your post... it seems like you're having motivational issues. I think you need to take a short break and think really seriously about whether you want to drive your PhD on to the end - or not.

And if the answer is yes, think about what is going to get you there / enable you to do that. List the challenges and come up with different strategies that will help address each.

E.g., I am not motivated by/interested in my research anymore. What was it that got you interested in it in the first place? Can you think of any papers that you find or once found super interesting? What were they and why? I think that if I were in your position this would be my approach. Each thing can be dealt with in turn. Is it important to have a rapport with your new main supervisor? If so, how could you go about trying to establish this? Invite them for coffee and to talk about your research - and what it was that kindled that original interest you once had? I have hardly any friends... OK - so how could I go about setting up some interactions that might lead to friendships?

I hope this helps or at least triggers some helpful thought! : )

Tudor.
posted
23-May-18, 13:57
edited about 13 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 year ago
Hi, omt271,

Have you sat down and told your supervisor how you feel? Could you discuss your project outline, expectations from each other and project deadlines with him? Is it possible to bring in another supervisor who is more aligned with your project aim than your current one?

I would also suggest a 2 week break to clear your mind. If after returning from the break and having done the above mentioned you are still unhappy, then perhaps you may wish to either change project and supervisor or wrap up the current project as a master and leave. I do not believe in prolonging your sufferring if you know in your heart that the project is not viable due to lack of supervision and support.It is a tough decision to make, but please do this as a last resort after you have tried the suggestions above. I wish you all the best.
posted
23-May-18, 14:48
edited about 53 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
I agree with tru as well. Sorry if my first post wasn't very empathetic. I was somehow focusing on more practical issues and overlooking the fact that actually you've suddenly been placed in a very difficult situation that was beyond your control - and that is WHY you are having some motivational issues. It is a huge upheaval and shock to have your supervisor suddenly removed and be without proper support. I really feel for you and hope this supervision issue can be addressed. You are entitled to proper supervision. Maybe being open with the current supervisor would be a good starting point - as tru suggests. If that fails, then talking to another academic and asking for advice might be useful. Good luck and I hope things start looking up soon.
posted
25-May-18, 23:48
edited about 3 minutes later
by Pjlu
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 year ago
Sorry to learn that you are having these issues. I'm just going to make a couple of observations to add to the good advice passed on by TQ and tru.

1 At this point in the PhD, I found motivation and interest weren't factors that helped me through the doldrums. More important were discipline and perseverance. Discipline in that I made 'doable lists' for different tasks or goals and then forced myself to do things and had little rewards and breaks when I had completed whatever it was. Even if it wasn't the best piece of writing or whatever...or it took me a while to write something or redo a finicky table, I rewarded myself with a break, coffee, walk or internet browse after completing something. Perseverance helped-because I just told myself that not-finishing wasn't an option.

2 I really get that working at home is isolating and the office is the 'pits'. Is there a decent student coffee shop on campus or near where you live, where you can park yourself and your laptop at times to work through your thoughts. When you do work at home, where do you work and what are your routines. Eg: do you have a sort of office space at home that is only for your work. Do you always have a nice coffee before sitting down and looking over that last draft or paragraph. With your office, do you have a special space and can you decorate that little space so that it feels like it is yours. Are there little memes or beautiful, funny or inspirational images that you can decorate your space with so you don't mind entering this 'space' to write and think.

3 Exercise is one of the most amazingly life enhancing things out there...do you walk, have a yoga or dance class, or something that you do regularly to help? Self care-looking after yourself and doing things just for you, while you complete (or really throughout life) can help when you go through these mundane, difficult and/or depressing parts of life. Finally though, if you think it might help, seek out the student support services and book yourself in to a student counsellor. Talking your concerns through with a professional support person, might help you clarify your options, work out the best solutions for you...what works for you...and means you have another support person on top of your partner/family. Best wishes-tough situation you have described.
posted
25-May-18, 23:58
by Pjlu
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 year ago
HI Omt271-

sorry I have just added a bit more because I notice you are talking about still not being sure of methods and I've been waffling on about writing. Have you started collecting data, experiments or whatever but are still waiting for results? My phd was in Education and used social science methods-so completely different to a science/lab type study. Given your questions/hypothesis-what other studies are there that seem to be on the same sort of topic/area and what methods do they use? With this concern you mentioned, can you email your supervisor with some practical questions around these areas, and then make a time to go in and get some specific support/advice with methods?
posted
27-May-18, 01:46
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
omt271, it sounds like you have reached the end of the road on your PhD. You have lost interest, you don't enjoy it and it is clearly affecting your mental health. Under those circumstances I can't in all conscience recommend anything other than taking a short break to give yourself time and space to think and then moving on if you can't change the way you feel. Life is too short to be doing this to yourself.
posted
29-May-18, 14:14
by omt271
Avatar for omt271
posted about 1 year ago
Hey all,

Thank you for all your really useful and supporting responses!

I've emailed my supervisor with my concerns about the work and to suggest we meet to discuss the problems I'm facing at the moment. I'm pretty worried about the meeting and what his response will be - I don't want to "break down" in front of him and I don't want to go away after the meeting feeling as crappy as I did when I went in! It's also so hard to know how much I should expect from him and how much is required of myself. I honestly think I'm past the point of caring about being interested in my research, I'm just desperate to reach the finish line and put it behind me. I was very close to quitting and if these next few things I try still do not improve my well-being then I will have to reconsider, but I'm worried quitting now will be a larger regret for me long-term than just sticking it out till the end!

I've already tried to bring in a few other academics who might be more aligned and they either said sweet FA in the whole meeting or just pummeled at me about getting papers out, which is just completely useless when you haven't even got a method! In terms of taking a break, I do have a holiday booked end of July but I don't feel like I even have the time to take a break! I'm meant to have a conference in July and a summer school in June, both of which I am hugely under-prepared for but I don't even know where to start!

I have started to see a counselor now at the uni, just to try and keep my emotions and feeling of complete failure at bay! So hopefully that'll do something to improve things. I am actually a very active person normally, sport is kinda my thing, but lately everything I ever enjoyed has become dis-interesting, so I'm hoping that'll improve! My "home office" is actually just a desk in my living room, we haven't got a separate room for it but sometimes I sit at the kitchen table coz it looks out the window which is a bit nicer! I'm going to consider finding a nice coffee shop tho, especially over the summer when the uni is dead!

@Pjlu - I haven't started collecting anything :( my work is depressingly all computer based so I don't even know what I am meant to be "collecting"! Hoping to clarify this more with my supervisor when he responds!
posted
30-May-18, 09:31
edited about 3 minutes later
by Pjlu
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 year ago
Quote From omt271:
Hey all,


@Pjlu - I haven't started collecting anything :( my work is depressingly all computer based so I don't even know what I am meant to be "collecting"! Hoping to clarify this more with my supervisor when he responds!


Sorry, I am assuming that you are doing an empirical or experimental study. Empirical being when you collect evidence to support a hypothesis or to answer a research question. Experimental being, I guess, when you have some form of scientific experiment that you will collect results from or similar. (Although it can also mean other things as well-methods change with disciplines I think).

Are you doing a theoretical study that proposes you develop some sort of model or program, which you then have to assess or evaluate? Did you have to present a research proposal when you were accepted onto your program-and was this based around a set of questions or some concern or issue? Often the types of questions you are asking, or the concern or issue you are investigating help to indicate the methods you might use.

E.g. With a hypothetical study or theoretical study, the methodology might be very different to what is used for an empirical study that asks ' how do...' type questions.

There are usually books, internet or journal articles in your discipline area that will systematically help you identify the type of problem, issue or theoretical proposal or model development you are looking at, and they will then provide examples of types of methods you can use to explore, examine or experiment with, to help conduct your study.

Hope this makes sense (somewhat at least...). The data and methods part of my study was probably my worst time...I felt like I was wandering around blindly in a dark and misty forest on some days. Hope all of the other things you are doing help you get through it as well.
posted
24-Jun-18, 16:48
by omt271
Avatar for omt271
posted about 1 year ago
Hi @Pjlu,
I'm happy to report I've finally got a method now I think! Last few weeks I've just got my head down and just fought with myself to develop something that could work and I've now developed a very simple model which I hope I can now build on! The problem I had is I did have a research proposal I had to present 2 years ago when my research started and that was all going swimmingly until the supervisor who developed the proposal with me left completely unexpectedly and no one else seemed to have any clue as to how I could develop methods to answer those questions we had, hence why I've been stuck for so long.

I agree, the data and methods bit seems to be the worst but I'm really hoping I've now got some sort of direction and I'm just going to keep focusing on this part of the research and also try and write up the methods as I go along. Super stressful as I feel I'm running out of time, but relieved something is finally happening! Thank you everyone for all your help!
posted
25-Jun-18, 11:42
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 year ago
So happy to hear things are looking up! : )

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