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Should I be doing more? or is my supervisor being too laid back?


User: springtime - 22 February 2021 14:25

Hi there,
I am just over a year into my PhD, I am doing a studentship where my research topic has already been laid out by the funding body. This is wonderful in some ways, however, in other ways, I feel like my hands are tied.
When I started the PhD my fieldwork site was already established but in need of maintenance and a small rebuild. Unfortunately due to COVID the college I study at was very strict on allowing fieldwork to be carried out and completely stopped it from March to August last year. I am very reliant on my supervisor to carry out fieldwork, for health and safety reasons I cannot attend the fieldwork site alone. It is a complex topic that I have limited knowledge of but I was assured that I would have all the support I need when I applied for the studentship. However, I feel now that that wasn't very true. There seem to be a lot of things that are out of my control, such as ordering parts for instruments, etc. Most recently my supervisor said he would arrange a space for us to work together and rebuild some of the equipment needed. This was suggested back in December to happen in January now it's almost March and we still have no space to work. As I am working from home in a different part of the country to the college I have literally had no contact with anyone from the college only my supervisor, as we went straight into lockdown just after I started. I wouldn't know where to even start by trying to book a workspace. Needless to say, my fieldwork site is still not up and running! My supervisor is a nice guy and I get on fine with him, but he is so laid back when it comes to getting anything done. Even trying to arrange a weekly meeting with him is so hard. I have to email him multiple times and he has often completely forgotten that we were supposed to meet (all online meetings).
On advice from my main supervisor on a topic that I could carry out from home, I emailed my sub supervisor (who I have only met once) before Christmas looking for some help and I still haven't heard anything from her. Now I am kind of stuck on that topic which I had hoped I could continue with from home because it requires no fieldwork. My main supervisor doesn't know enough about the area to help me with it.
So one year into my PhD and all I have to show for it is a draft Literature review. No fieldwork, no data to analyze.

User: springtime - 22 February 2021 14:26

To continue from my previous post!!!
I am trying really hard to just suck it up and get on with things. But that is easier said than done. I feel so demotivated with having so little support and I also feel lost and insignificant. I really don't know what it is I am supposed to be doing day in day out! I am having really bad anxiety as a result of this, I can't stop thinking about all the time I am wasting, and all the work to be done and I have only under two years left to do it all! I have been looking at job advertisements but I haven't found anything that I think I would like to do. I really also hate the thought of quitting, I feel I would later regret it in life. Any advice on what to do, Should I have more done at this stage of my PhD? Should I just quit?
I am very open to honest comments, if anyone thinks I should be doing more please feel free to express your opinion. Maybe it's the kick I need to get going :)
Also if anyone else is carrying out a studentship, where their research has already defined I would love to hear from you!!!

User: rewt - 22 February 2021 21:57

Hi springtime,

That is a lot to unpack but to answer your main question; no, there isn't much you can be doing. Don't panic about it taking time to get started as in a few months time you might be utterly swamped. You still have plenty of time to collect and analyse data. As, it isn't uncommon for PhD students to get most of their data in their third year. I wouldn't worry to much at this stage about lack of data. I know it can frustrating and anxiety triggering but your struggles sound standard for the first year of the PhD, so don't overthink it.

Not to be stupid but hasn't the weather been pretty awful in the last few months? I would say field work would have been pretty grim the last few months with it being so bitterly cold. Are you sure your supervisor hasn't just delayed it until the weather is a bit nicer? Maybe when contacting your supervisor, you include the weather forecast and keep saying that it will be a lovely day in order to motivate him.

Equipment parts, do you know what needs buying? My supervisor was like yours and took forever to order. However, I started sending her the details of what I wanted in the correct format for the purchasing system. I know every uni/PhD is different but you can speed things up by doing by telling them exactly what to buy yourself.

Meetings, again had the same problem. Supervisor didn't really care until I started to get data and something to talk about. I think the trick is to get them to want to talk with you and them not to see it as an obligation. I know the logic is perverted and it shouldn't be that way but it is a sad reality.

Non-fieldwork work, I said in the other thread, is there any lab work you can practise or methodologies you want to try? Though if you have nothing to do, you have nothing to do. Don't waste time by worrying about something completely outside of your control.

Lack of support, I personally think PhD offices/labs/communal areas are an essential part of the PhD system. I think you gain far more from your peers than anyone else. I completely feel for you due to COVID and it must be tough. However, everyone else is the same position, so don't blame yourself. Personally, I have used this forum for support many times and used this time to connect with long lost friends, so that I at least talk with someone. Some departments are offering coffee break meetings or online events for PhD students, which can sometimes be nice. Also, you can always ask any dumb questions here.

EDIT: Woaw that was long :)

User: springtime - 23 February 2021 10:58

Hi rewt,

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my comment. It is comforting to know that it is standard enough not to have data yet. Ha yes, the weather has been awful, which to me is not a problem because I really enjoy the outdoors rain, hail, or shine. But I suppose it's not to everyone's taste so that could be a factor that I didn't consider, thanks. No, the equipment is very expensive I don't have an account with them it would have to go through the college or the funding body I would assume. So that part is out of my hands but I will give a gentle reminder about it weekly so that it doesn't slip his mind.
About the meetings, the more I get to know him I can tell he is a naturally unorganized individual, and it's not because he doesn't care. Like you mentioned he probably will be more motivated to have regular calls when the weather gets better and I start collecting data and we have more to chat about.
There is no lab work required in my fieldwork, when it's up and running it will be a live feed to my desktop. I did download sample data from the company that supply the instruments and I have been practising analysing it through the software that I will be using. I will continue to do this until I have my own data. It is really difficult because everything is so new to me and I have no guidance but I guess Ill just keep going until someone tells me I've done it wrong ha!
I was put in touch with other students because our research falls under the same broad category, which is great but they are in another university and some of the ways they do things are different to my university. So even though I still feel disconnected from my own university, It really does help just knowing other students and being able to talk to them. Even this forum is a huge help just reading others comments and being able to relate to them is really helpful.

Thanks again for your reply and I will most definitely be asking dumb questions on here again :)





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