The 5 biggest PhD blunders and how to avoid them

There is certainly no doubt about it that getting a PhD is no small feat. It calls for a lot of dedication, hard work, resilience, perseverance, and buckets full of motivation to stay on track.

It is a challenging journey and calls for several years of intensive research but before that you need to do course work and get your hands on expertise on research tools and techniques. How hard will your PhD be for you will depend  upon your academic background and preparation and in addition to that the amount of hard work, commitment and effort that you are willing to invest in your doctoral journey. The entire process can be overwhelming and you will be expected to be up to date with new developments and at the same time be stringent about academic standards. At the same time, as a researcher you will be expected to display your command in your subject by participating in conferences and symposia and communicate complex concepts to your peers. This surely makes PhD a herculean task but you must remember that it is at the same time an equally rewarding  achievement for those who complete it successfully

Looking at your PhD as a whole chunk can be daunting. But if you do not make these few blunders and make sure that your execution of your planning is fool proof in a phased manner, it will be much more manageable on your mental health and you would successfully completing your journey in the stipulated time period.

What are the biggest PhD blunders that can make your journey more difficult and how best to deal with them?

1)Setting unrealistic goals: The sense of competition and to be the best amongst all your peers can often make you want to establish goals that are not pragmatic. It is always good to challenge oneself and aspire to be the best version of ourselves, the expectations you keep from yourself in your PhD journey should be necessarily realistic. You might assume that you can achieve a lot in a short span of time but that may not be the case as taking huge leaps in PhD is sometimes not in your hands but dependant on many uncontrollable factors. When you aspire for much more than what you are able to achieve, it leads to frustration and disappointment. The best way to calmly sail through this journey is to work steadily towards your goal and pat yourself for small victories along the way. Also, don’t be too harsh on yourself. It’s a long and tough journey so to allow yourself to keep your sanity intact, you must take short breaks in between. This will help you to recharge yourself and help with productivity in the long run. You may come through various hurdles and challenges on the way and you must remember that it takes years of  study and experience to come out of then. If success doesn’t come to you too fast, do not get disheartened and discouraged. Reassess. Your actions , correct your mistakes and start pushing forward by learning from where you went wrong.

You must also be realistic with your management of time as well the commitments that you make. The biggest mistake can be over committing and underestimating the time that’s needed to complete the task. If you do that, you would feel overloaded, not able to focus on the task at hand. It is always better to take up less projects and pick up your workload gradually  after getting familiar with the way work is to be handled and how much time it takes for the work to finish. You can set your time and ease your load by managing your calendar effectively. Place deadlines in such way that there is no clash in commitments and tasks to be finished. This helps to avoid delays and encourage progress in the right direction.

Lastly, as a PhD scholar, you have access to a lot of resources and you must be aware of. All those resources and not deprive yourselves from using them to your advantage.  Don’t let that be you!

2) Not taking help where necessary:

Another big blunder is to believe that you can go through this journey independently, without any support. That is never going to be true. Other than access to various resources on campus, you  do have the opportunity and access to your PhD supervisor, other faculty advisors, research assistants, your colleagues and peer. They can be pf great help in your day to day obstacles that can be of varied nature. You can get stuck with review, writing, research tools application, data collection, conferences and so on. There will be a new problem each day. Never think that you are self-sufficient and your sego or self-respect doesn’t allow you to take help or advice from others. Everyone knows that in the Ph.D. journey, no one can be alone and asking for help and favours is what everyone can be doing so put all apprehensions aside and take help and support whenever you get stuck. That’s how everyone completes their PhD. You can take the best possible help by building your connections early on. Get into the habit if staying in touch with peers in your field as well as other areas. Networking is best made when researchers participate in academic events. It not only builds their confidence but also helps them to expand their network and enriches placement opportunities for the future.

Fortunate are the ones who are doing their PhD in the present times. Many of their problems can get sorted by seeking help from the virtual tools that are available. These tools can help you to fill gaps in knowledge or understanding. There are a lot of online tutorials, webinars and virtual learning tools that are accessible free of cost these days. Make the best use of these and feel extremely fortunate to have them to answer to many of your doubts and queries.

3) Ignoring your health and personal wellbeing:

Not looking after yourself and ignoring your health, both physical as well as mental health is another major mistake of PhD students. If you do not look after your wellbeing,  your motivation and focus will dip and recovery can sometimes get very tough.  A lot of PhD students have to leave their PhD half way through because of health issues. Getting overworked and pressurized with deadlines can build up anxiety levels and bring down your productivity and sometimes in worst cases, make you leave your PhD.

Some ways in which you can keep yourselves healthy during your PhD are:

  • Take breaks from time to time: Sitting in front of the computer all day, without  having any time for breaks in between can make you  overworked and stressed. You wouldn’t be able to sustain this routine for many days and PhD is a journey of years and not days or months. It’s always better to take breaks in between  for a couple of hours. This will bring up your productivity and  also keep your focus in place.
  • Don’t disturb your body clock and circadian rhythm:  Human beings are most productive when they rise and sleep with the sun.  Enough sleep and don’t become a nocturnal researcher. You won’t be able to stay healthy like that for long. If you don’t take enough sleep, average 7-9 hours per night it will lead to fatigue, difficulty in concentration, irritability and sometimes even depression. Ensure that you get quality time of rest that is undisturbed and not affected by any kind of professional or personal stress. Else it will not just impact the quality of your work but also your physical and mental fitness levels will start depleting.
  • Get moving with Physical Activity: Exercising regularly not just keeps the body fit and healthy, it keeps the mind also fresh and focused. The happy hormones endorphins are released when we sweat out and they help us to focus better and bring down  stress levels. You must choose the activity that works for you and ensure it forms a regular part of your routine.
  • Have a healthy social life: Its always important to be social and connected to people who care about us. Having a strong social support and being surrounded by people who love us and care for us plays a very important role in our wellbeing. Its perfectly fine to take out time from your PhD from time to time and meet up with friends and family to stay happy and recharge yourself for better productivity and output in your research journey.

4) Leaving the entire writing of thesis for the end: Work at hand will never end and you may always feel that you have something  to finish before you sit to start writing your thesis. If you keep deferring writing of your thesis, it’s going to come up to you as one big project  that will overwhelm you. It is another big blunder that PhD scholars end up making. The earlier you start the writing job the less stressful it is going to get. If you feel stuck with full-fledged writing,  it is advisable to pen down notes and bullet points about the issues you wish to raise in your thesis. It will be of great help as when you actually sit to write your thesis you would not be looking at blank pages and not knowing from where to start. The best thing that you can do is write few sections each day with a few hundred words to allow you to be in the zone without feeling overwhelmed. Never leave all the writing for the end, make small achievable daily targets and commit yourself on achieving the target each single day. That’s the only way to be able to complete your work in time without boggling you and also the quality of the work will be enhanced and up to the mark.

5) Not taking interim feedback from your supervisor: This is nothing short of a big blunder that cannot just delay the completion of your PhD but sometimes you may have to give up on it. Its completely understandable that approaching your supervisor again and again for feedback is something that scholars avoid. Especially when the supervisor is not welcoming, supportive  and encouraging. The scholar feels that the PhD guide is going to reject the work or suggest too many changes and so avoids taking feedback. This however does not solve the problem. It just keeps deferring the problem and augments it to a level where the scholar can feel too much under pressure to take approval of the entire document  where rejection would mean redoing of a whole lot of work. Take regular and timely appointments from your supervisor to take feedback on your work. Even if the supervisor discourages to meet, you must ensure that your work is shown to him by giving regular and subtle reminders. This is going to help you to create a big document which will finally get approved from your supervisor much faster without asking you to take up too any changes.


While embarking upon a doctoral programme can be extremely intimidating, it surely doesn’t have to overwhelm you. If you know which blunders to avoid as a PhD scholar, it can greatly help you to avoid getting too deep into a mistake. If you know of the potential risks you will be surely better prepared to handle what comes your way and the surprises that come with PhD will not daunt you.

Few important things to keep in mind are to remain consistent with your habits, organised in your working style and not get trapped in one mistake. You would surely come out wiser with a greater sense of achievement. Stay targeted on your goal and don’t get distracted. Keep celebrating your success along the journey to keep your happy and confident about your strengths and capacity to complete the degree that will take you on a new pedestal of professional career growth.

Category : Research , General , PhD
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