How do you feel now you’ve started your PhD?

At the beginning of a new chapter in your life, settling into a PhD can be difficult. With so many plans running round your head, it can be challenging to put these into play. PhD student Jillian Hart explains how frustrating this can feel as part of her series.

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So it’s November and you’re a couple of months into the PhD. Things may be going great and you’re right on track to completion in exactly three years’ time. But don’t panic if this sounds nothing like you.

The reality is that, at this stage, very few students feel under control or have a clear idea of exactly what they are doing and how they will do it. Two months into a PhD and the words headless and chicken spring to mind.

Starting your research

This period of the PhD can feel quite isolating and like you’re the only one feeling this way. It’s easy for other people or supervisors to tell you to mingle with your peers and get support from the post-graduate community, but some days or weeks you can socialize and chat like you’re the next Paris Hilton, but it makes no difference, you still feel lonely, confused and anxious about where you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing with your research.

Often it can be difficult to discuss or describe your thoughts to someone else (even though their doing a PhD too) because of the uniqueness of a PhD.

Often it can be difficult to discuss or describe your thoughts to someone else (even though their doing a PhD too) because of the uniqueness of a PhD. Everyone’s research technique, aim, position, and so on, is so different that it’s sometimes like you’re all floating on the same lake but are in individual boats, furiously trying to paddle out of the strong currents or the deep waters.

Trying to plan ahead

Sometimes I feel as if each day of the PhD resembles a season. Spring, you feel energetic and get lots done! Summer, everyone else is out in the sun and you want to be too, so lots of procrastinating and putting things off for another day. Autumn, some days are good, some days are bad. And finally winter, cold and dark and gloomy.

The trouble is; you can’t get an advanced weather report of your research. Some nights you can go to bed with great plans of getting up early and doing all sorts of productive PhD related work. The morning comes and you barely have the energy to read your emails.

I have days where my ideas are coming out of my head like a conveyer belt. Other days all I can see is a brick wall.

I have days where my ideas are coming out of my head like a conveyer belt. Other days all I can see is a brick wall. Then there are days where all I do is sit and worry because I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and that what I’ve got so far is suitable only for the little trash can icon of the computer.

Reassuringly, I’m told by many other’s doing their PhD and having completed their PhD that this is very normal.

I’m yet to see any light in this vast, dark and frightening tunnel, so if anyone has a torch that I can borrow, then please, pass it along.

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2 Comments

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Irene Hames

Hi Jillian,
There’s a great blog called ‘The Thesis Whisperer’ http://thesiswhisperer.com/ run by Inger Mewburn, Director of Research Training at the Australian National University, that covers all sorts of issues relevant to doing a PhD. You’ll find lots there you’ll be able to connect with, information about the experiences of other early-career researchers, and lots of valuable advice/resources.
Good luck with the PhD!
Irene Hames
@irenehames

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Jillian

Irene, thank you for the suggestion. I’ve had a look at this site you suggested over the last few days, and it’s very informative and helpful. Many thanks, Jillian

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