Staying positive during your doctorate

Doctoral researchers commonly experience a down period during the middle stage of their doctorate. Following the initial high of starting a doctorate full of enthusiasm to take forward your chosen research project, your morale may slump. You may feel that you ought to know your research project and methodology inside out but that is not always the case. You are probably also starting to feel the time pressure of while you are halfway through your allocated time, you haven’t yet done half of your doctorate.

  • seeking positive feedback
  • trying new things
  • going on training courses
  • reminding yourself what you are good at.

You may just need to do something different. Staying healthy

As a doctoral researcher working towards the highest academic qualification, you should expect to be challenged, but the demands of your research should not affect your health or happiness. These are some suggestions to reduce the pressure when life as a postgraduate researcher gets unhealthily stressful.

Don't work all the time

Doing nothing but working is neither efficient nor effective so try to make a change. Start by planning 'quality time' away from your research every week; ban yourself from talking about your research during this time. Try to take proper lunch breaks when you don't think about your research. For example, you could spend a lunch-hour playing sports.

If you are studying part time, it is even more important to achieve a good balance between work, research and home life - make sure there is some dedicated time just for you and your family!

Get away from it all

Try to make the most of time with family or friends unconnected with your research. Spending time away from your research can be the most positive thing you can do when you are feeling stressed. It is expected that you will take some leave during every year of your doctorate. A week or so away can have a huge impact on your approach to your research when you get back.

Enjoy other things

Your research is important, but it should not take over your life. Try and ensure that you have some other activities that stimulate a different part of your brain, such as:

  • take trips out with your family
  • doing something creative like learning an instrument or taking up art
  • taking an evening class at a local college
  • doing some voluntary work
  • taking an active role in university societies or clubs
  • undertaking a sports activity.

It is also worth noting that voluntary or leisure activities often give good experience and ideas for the next step in your careers.

Eat and live healthily

It's obvious, but looking after yourself means eating regular meals, enough fruit and vegetables and being aware of your alcohol, fat and sugar intake. Plan in some form of regular physical exercise, maintain close relationships and get sufficient sleep.

Remember that the dip in the middle of a doctorate is a common problem faced by many doctoral researchers and you might find it helpful to discuss it with others in your situation, both face-to-face and online.

If you continue to feel down and it is stopping you from concentrating on your work, you should seek professional advice. Always tackle problems early and don't allow them to risk your long-term health or reduce the chances of completing your degree. Your university’s counselling service is a good first point of contact.