My advisor told me that I needed to be an independent researcher, so I came up with a project by myself. But I don't really work on it because there are no deadlines and no one else is involved with the project. Also I stopped having regular meetings with my advisor, so he is no longer there to kick me in the butt when I don't do any work.

I spend most of my time procrastinating, working on coursework, and being a TA. TAing and problem sets are things that actually do have hard deadlines and involve other people, so I end up working on that stuff instead of my research project.

How can I stay motivated to work on my research project? I have barely done any research for months.

  • 3
    I'd recommend changing the structure of your working relationship with your advisor, if possible, or changing advisors, if not. At your stage, it is unusual for the student to be able to work entirely independently. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:36
  • 1
    Why did the meetings with advisor stop? Are they out of town or uninterested or asked you to leave them alone? Restartup the regular meetings with your advisor as a way to give yourself deadlines by what you say you are going to accomplish- or to have something to say when you meet with them. Even if it isn't their 'project', presumably it has relation to areas that they have expertise in, or at very least - they have a lot more expertise at breaking tasks down and a vested interest in you making some progress.
    – Carol
    Mar 15, 2017 at 13:53
  • Would your advisor be ok with you finding and switching to a different project? If you have the opportunity, you really should work on something you want to research/find out/build. Don't expect your advisor to goad you... it's your project. There is virtually no replacement for intrinsic motivation.
    – jvb
    May 4, 2017 at 5:51
  • Isn't there a plan with milestones, publications etc? If not, this is what you could discuss with your advisor. If there is a plan, go for it.
    – felice
    May 6, 2017 at 12:26
  • It is great you came up with a project, but if you are that uninterested with it that's not going to get you anywhere. (In that case, you need external motivation.) The idea is to come up with a project you are interested in, even passionate about. Then you do not need additional motivation to work on it, in fact, you have to be careful that you do your other work as well.
    – skymningen
    Jun 22, 2017 at 8:52

1 Answer 1


In my experience doing an independent research project, one of the most helpful things has been to remind myself why I thought my project was worth doing. If you can periodically re-excite your interest in the project, you may find yourself wanting to spend time on it. Those have been my most productive times.

Also, meet up with your advisor on a regular basis, even if it's only once every quarter or something (more is preferable). If it will help light a fire under you, set a meeting a few weeks in advance, decide on something you'll show them/discuss with them at the meeting, and use the meeting as a mini-deadline.

It's all about carrots and sticks. Remind yourself why you're doing it; remind yourself that it won't be so nice if you don't do it. Reward yourself for meeting milestones. Make yourself keep milestones.

Also, if you're experiencing any health issues (mental or otherwise) related to this, don't be afraid to seek help. There are often resources nearby, and you're better placed to do good research if you look after yourself.

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