I started work on my project in January right off the back of losing a very close family member, which didn't give me a very good mindset to begin with.

I had an initial doubt in my mind that the project wasn't for me but I suppressed it, thinking that over the coming months it would die down as my experience increased.

4 months later and the feelings are still there, it's at the point now where I dread the thought of having to work on my project and I feel myself staring at the clock almost obsessively. I'm still not allowed back on campus and have very limited contact with the faculty (to make matters worse I'm the only PhD student in the group) so I'm almost totally cut off in that respect.

Moreover, my motivation and interest simply aren't there any more and there's no point in me lying - I'm simply really unhappy and don't know what to do.

I haven't told my parents or supervisor because I really don't know what to say other than "I'm extremely unhappy and don't know what to do".

I recently had to sit some exams as part of the training I'm doing and they were almost impossible for me to answer which pushed me further into this way of thinking. I truly am very unhappy and don't know what to do. I'm only in my first year so I suppose it isn't too late.

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    This sounds like a situation that should be discussed with a professional counsellor. Perhaps the university has an office that can help. Many do.
    – Buffy
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:27
  • 1
    If you doubt the project, that's a red flag, independently of anything else. You need to be enthusiastic with the idea from the outset, because in a PhD you will have to master a number of dry spells. Change now, you'll find it harder to turn around the deeper in you are. Commented May 10, 2021 at 16:02
  • This raises important issues that should be addressed somehow, and it was with great reluctance that I voted to close on the grounds that there's nothing identifiable as a question. OP, in addition to considering @Buffy's suggestion, it might be worth thinking about whether the unhappiness stems from being a Ph.D. student, or whether it stems from being a Ph.D. student on this particular topic (or indeed whether it doesn't stem from the Ph.D. at all). I think the solutions are probably different in each of the three cases. Commented May 11, 2021 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


As @Buffy says, you should probably talk to someone about your situation in general. A PhD is hard under optimal conditions, let alone when coping with loss and depression. There’s no need for you to suffer alone.

As for your research progress, nobody here can give you a right answer. You should talk with your advisor whose job is to resolve such issues. They may suggest switching fields, techniques or collaborators; they may give you a different problem you like better; they can tell you that you should quit the program and do something else. This is all very dependent on you, your advisor and your institution’s attitude towards grad students.

If your advisor is not someone you can discuss this with, you have a bigger problem on your hands. Talk to an ombudsperson, senior mentor, student counseling services, vice dean for graduate matters or any other resource your school offers. You may get a different advisor, switch to a masters or a plan will be worked out with your existing advisor.

Good luck!


I have been in the same situation as you. At the start of my PhD I had suspicions that maybe the project wasn't right for me, but I went ahead anyway. I thought maybe it will get better.

Now, here I am four years later and that doubt was correct! I am still having issues. If I could have changed things I would have been more upfront with my supervisor early on and worked on radically changing the project in the early stages. A PhD is hard and takes long-term focus and commitment. You need to be mentally onboard and committed - doubts must be assuaged, they will not go away and just sort themselves out.

It is crucial that you talk to your supervisor about this. Be totally honest with them. They want this to work for you but you must be up front. If you feel you cannot speak to them about this, I would question whether it's right for you to be doing the course at all in its current state: if that is indeed the case, you need a new supervisor as well as a radical change of tack.

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