Recently started my PhD and completely lost

posted
01-May-20, 19:40
edited about 29 seconds later
by Araneo
Avatar for Araneo
posted about 1 month ago
Hello, my friends!

I have been reading quite a lot on this forum and huge thank you to all for their input. I have also decided to share my story as well.

I have recently started my PhD in the department of business administration but I feel so lost. I started my PhD 4 months ago and I have the "attestation" in one month where I have to prepare a presentation about the progress of my PhD research results, possible problems, and future plans. The problem is I don't really know what my topic of PhD is. I do have a general idea and I read quite a lot about that topic but nothing seems to add up. I haven't found any research gaps so far and do not have any specific research questions and I'm getting very worried... My supervisor (I only have 1) is a great guy but I do not get too much support from him. He sort of lets me "do my own thing" which I am not good at as I need more guidance and supervision. I am also his first PhD student and he is also sort of "learning the ropes" of how supervising works. I do help him with teaching and other university-related things as much as I can though but I feel like I'm very behind on my thesis work.
I have to write some sort of research plan and present it to my supervisor and the attestation committee as well very soon.

Has anyone been in this situation before? Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with this situation? Any help would be appreciated as I am super nervous about this whole PhD thing and the attestation committee as well.

Sorry for spreading negative vibes :(
posted
04-May-20, 17:27
Avatar for PhoenixFortune
posted about 1 month ago
I don't understand how you don't know what your topic is; just to clarify, did you apply to a pre-proposed project or did you propose you of your own?

As your supervisor is new to the position, I'd say that you can't be backward about coming forward - make sure he knows what you want from him and then ask for his expectations too, then you can negotiate if they don't align. If I were you, I'd also strongly request a second supervisor.
posted
04-May-20, 21:53
edited about 3 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
Hi there

Four months in is pretty early and a lot of people feel quite lost during the first year (and beyond), so don't worry too much! The upcoming "attestation" (sounds scary! I think we called it progress report at my uni) is a great opportunity for you to get together with your supervisor and explain the situation. It might be that you can't see any gaps through looking too hard (wood for trees kind of thing). Either way, a good conversation should stimulate some thought. You could maybe share what you've learnt from the literature and then brainstorm together about some possible directions & hammer out some broad research questions (for you to then go away and further refine). This is what I think would be a good plan at this stage anyway.

Not sure if it helps to share this, but for my "progress report" I didn't have any data - just a short lit review and research questions followed by an outline of my planned studies (methods). I also had a timetable to outline what stage I was at (I was at the start of submitting ethics stage I think) and the anticipated dates for major milestones such as recruit participants, analyse data, write paper 1, etc. Actually, I didn't carry out any of the planned studies except for the first one. But it is helpful to have something on paper and some ideas you could pursue.

Getting a secondary supervisor is definitely a good idea if possible. It is super useful to get more than one person reviewing your drafts etc later down the line. And you might find them more helpful/supportive than the main one. Most universities encourage it I think. Is there someone in the department who you get along with well and whose research you like? Or someone in a related department or at a different uni? If you come up with some potential secondary supervisors, you could chat about this with your main supervisor and hopefully go from there.

Hope some of this helps. No negative vibes felt! :)
posted
04-May-20, 22:00
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 month ago
Ps. I think a secondary supervisor might be *especially* important given that you are the main one's first PhD student.
posted
04-May-20, 23:31
by Araneo
Avatar for Araneo
posted about 1 month ago
Thank you all for your comments and suggestions guys. It really helps.

The topic was pre-defined but very broad. It is up to me to make it specific and then carry on from there.

Yes by attestation I mean progress check. My uni just calls it "attestation" to sound scarier...
Another thing is, I think he is doing lots of projects and also teaches in another university as well and does not show up in my university often (like he literally only comes to university once or max twice per week so it was hard to catch him). I don't want to sound rude or anything but every time I have some concrete questions and ask him, he sort of gives me a 4-hour lecture talk about general stuff (which does not really answer my questions and makes much sense) and then I even forget what I asked... I don't know how else to describe this. Maybe someone can relate to this?
As for the second supervisor, I was also thinking about this but not sure how to approach the situation. Should I talk about this to my supervisor? Will, he not get offended or something if I sort of "request" another supervisor? Can anyone guide me on who should I talk to and how this process works?

Thank you again in advance guys.
posted
06-May-20, 21:34
Avatar for morbid_curiosity
posted about 1 month ago
You need to communicate clearly to your supervisor that you NEED more supervision. You should not be several months in and still have no idea what your research is going to be. You need to start writing a project proposal/plan and whilst you write you will be forced to think clearly about what it is that you can do and might want to do. Just sitting around thinking and reading things is not going to define a concrete research topic for you. And find a second supervisor whom you can talk to every now and then. They should not do your day-to-day supervision but you should check in with them a couple of times a year to discuss progress, and you should feel free to discuss any issues you might have with your primary supervisor with them.
posted
08-May-20, 14:03
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 3 weeks ago
Quote From Araneo:
I don't want to sound rude or anything but every time I have some concrete questions and ask him, he sort of gives me a 4-hour lecture talk about general stuff (which does not really answer my questions and makes much sense) and then I even forget what I asked... I don't know how else to describe this. Maybe someone can relate to this?


I had a similar problem with my supervisor. I would ask a question and she would ramble on, wanting to explain the wider context of the problem before getting lost in her own thoughts. She knew so much and wanted to explain how several phenomena interact before explaining how each phenomena interact with my question. However I got around it by phrasing my questions better. I stopped asking generic open ended question, but instead reloaded the question with context of what I already thought the answer might be (even if I had no clue) and what I was unsure of. So that she knew exactly what I was asking. Another way to get a succinct answer is to ask an agree/disagree question, so that they give a quick opinion before rambling on.

Areano, I understand what it is like being your supervisors first PhD student. I will say that your supervision will get better but you need to express your concerns to your supervisor. If they are a normal person, they will welcome constructive feedback if you politely ask to try new ways . You could try sending your supervisor powerpoint slides of your work, or ask them to read drafts, or get coffee, or have informal Skype meetings, or discuss interesting papers. You just need to find what works for you.

With regards to being completely lost. Follow what you are interested in. You have a large scope and you can explore it to find what you are interested in. It is perfectly fine to choose a research question because you are personally want to know the answer and think someone else might want to know.
posted
08-May-20, 21:44
by Araneo
Avatar for Araneo
posted about 3 weeks ago
Guys thank you so much for the comments and advice. I will try to implement all your suggestions :)

I will work on my research plan and also try to figure out how can I get one more supervisor as I think it will be really helpful for me.
I will post here if I (hopefully) survive my progress check.
Also thank you rewt for your post. I think you understand my situation very well as I can see you have gone through something similar as well.

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