I have done about one year and nine months of my PhD (in the UK) and have got a paper published, one waiting to be submitted, and another reasonably-sized project completed. I have written up three chapters of my thesis corresponding to the previous three papers/projects. For the past three months or so I have not done any meaningful research, because my supervisor didn't give me any project to work on. I tried to find some research projects on my own, but failed miserably. Given that I am not interested in academia, I have instead spent my time learning about other technical/programming knowledge to prepare for my future career.

I am a little bit worried that I have not done research in a while, but I don't really know what I should do about it, and spending time to prepare for my career seems to be worthwhile. Is there anything better that I could do?

  • 7
    At this point why are you not proposing the next project? I don’t hire PhDs so I can tell them what to do. I hire PhDs so they tell me what has to be done, and then go do it. You are supposed to be learning to be independent.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13 at 15:31
  • I have tried thinking about new projects and reading through the literature to generate ideas, but I'm just unable to come up with anything worth doing. In fact that's one of the reasons why I don't want to stay in the academia. I have asked other PhD students in my group and it seems they also mostly receive ideas from the supervisor. I just can't learn about idea generation from anyone in my group. The lack of postdocs makes it worse.
    – user123
    Jun 13 at 15:37
  • 3
    Seems to me you have a clear assignment: work with your advisor to learn how to come up with ideas and figure out which are good and important. Then do them. Clearly he/she has the skill. This is a learnable skill, and needed for any job a PhD is required. Bemoaning a lack of postdocs is misplaced.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13 at 15:42
  • For a PhD, @joncuster is spot-on. It seems it might be prudent and timely to consider a course correction, maybe switch to a masters program? Jun 14 at 0:36
  • 1
    Is there a reason you can't just graduate now? Jun 14 at 1:51

I don't see a particular problem as long as your supervisor is OK with your progress, especially since you don't aspire to a career in academia. Learning other things is good.

The only issue is to assure that you make sufficient progress toward graduation that you aren't delayed.

Your goals don't need to be the same as every other student's goals. Be true to yourself, but make enough progress to finish.


Coming up with new research ideas isn't trivial. Finding promising ones is even harder. For both, you need to know and think a lot about the current state of the field, past developments, ideas currently floating around in related fields, etc.

The way to make progress here is to read a lot of textbooks and papers. Textbooks give you deeper knowledge of the fundamental methods of your field. As there are many different textbooks in every field, you should read multiple ones in parallel on a particular subject to get different views of the same matter. (Reading different textbooks also helped in an unexpected way: I found an older but very broad textbook with an unusual approach to many questions in my field, and it has been an invaluable source of inspiration.) Reading current articles then helps you identify what kind of questions people in the field currently are interested in. If you go through the details of what other people do, you can use the methodological knowledge you gained from reading textbooks to identify cracks in their current approaches which are worth investigating.

The specifics will obviously depend on the field. In technical areas, you will want to go through the mathematical derivations, maybe implement some of the equations yourself to play around with them, and so on. During this "playing around" you will get hands-on knowledge which you will need when you are working towards a specific goal later on.

This is the approach I used during my PhD, and it helped me come up with a few ideas which (after I convinced my supervisor that they were worth pursuing) eventually led to some nice publications.


You should really talk to your supervisor about whether you have enough for a thesis or not. Most universities have a set of criteria for what makes a PhD.

These may include:

  • Forms an original contribution to knowledge in the field
  • Shows evidence of systematic study and of the ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject.
  • Is publishable (or is in part publisable)

You've clearly demonstrated the final part. I'd guess your demonstrated the first as well. Some universities quanalify these things with something like "contains a reasonable amount of study as can be expected in 3 years of study" or some similar (my university does not have this requirement, but, for example, Cambridge does). Its not impossible that what you have done in 1.75 years is as much as others might produce in 3, but you'd better check that with your supervisor.

If that is the case, then you might like to think about your goals. You can probably submit after 2 years (or 2.5 yeas, depending on your university's requirements), but this might also be a good oppotunity to get access to things you would otherwise not have access to.

If you wish to go into industry, is there some way your work can be made interesting to a company so that they might like to collaborate on an extension? Can your work be commercialized? These might offer you opportunities to form collaborations, and therefore network, with people that might be value contacts in the future.


That is fine — three months without doing research is not an "extended period".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.