Careers Future Research

Keeping your PhD on track

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Being a doctoral researcher is meant to be hard work, but sometimes things can seem harder than they should be. Getting bogged down in the lab, experiments not going to plan, feeling lost in a sea of papers or struggling with writers block – any one of these things can knock your confidence and make progress seem non-existent. However, there are some strategies that might help you keep your PhD on track.

  • Think about the feedback you’re getting – is it enough? Are you using it? Talk to your supervisor or supervisory team about the best way to use their feedback in a practical way, especially if the same points keep cropping up. Conversely, take confidence from the positive comments you receive and look back at older feedback to see the improvements you’ve made.
  • How far have you come? Spend some time auditing your progress so far – you’ll be surprised at what you’ve achieved. Also looking back and thinking about your progress might help you rediscover a hidden gem – whether that’s a paper you forgot about or an idea scribbled in some old notes.
  • You are achieving more that you think: sometimes the big milestones seem like the only way you judge progress, and quite often these things take a long time. Whilst it’s true you need to keep an eye on the big picture (finishing your PhD being the ultimate) it’s not always great for your motivation or confidence. So look for smaller signs of progress and congratulate yourself when you’ve done them.
  • Think honestly about what motivates (and de-motivates) you and work out the best strategies for how you work. Do you procrastinate too much? Do you over-read? Identifying these things about yourself is an important step to making sure you’re working at your best.
  • Take a look at My Learning Essentials and My Research Essentials. Brushing up on some of your study and research skills might just give you the boost you need to get your research or writing back on track.
  • Take a look around! You’re probably not the only student feeling like this – talk to your fellow researchers, read blogs and the experiences of others.  Whilst everyone’s research is individual you’ll be surprised how some things about the PhD experience are similar no matter what the discipline. Sharing your problem might not exactly half it, but a friendly ear and a cup of tea might just help you see past it or at least offer some reassurance.
  • Feeling demotivated or struggling with progress can naturally leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed, so it’s also important that know who you can talk to. Your first port of call should ideally be your supervisor or tutor. If not, try someone else in the department you are comfortable with, the Students Union advice service. Take advantage of some of the counselling services workshops, including Challenging unhelpful thinking habits.

Vitae and your Researcher Development team also have useful advice and guidance.

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