I finished my master's degree last year, and took a PhD position in a different country. I have several ongoing projects/papers from the previous lab but it is difficult to finish them. The reasons are

  1. I am not allowed to spend any time on the previous projects at my new lab
  2. The co-authors from the previous lab are not actively contributing anymore
  3. Some co-authors choose to ignore my emails or respond slowly
  4. The previous PIs are interested to get the projects finished but do not do much else than ask why things are not already done

The thing is, after working 8-10 hours at my current lab, I am too exhausted in the evenings to do much. Or during the weekends.

I would be quite depressed if the projects get never finished but I am running out of ideas. What should I do?

  • 1
    Welcome to academia! Is the topic of your PhD in any way related to the one of MSc? Jun 25, 2017 at 10:25
  • Same field, different topics
    – user75233
    Jun 25, 2017 at 10:47
  • 5
    I changed institutions several times over the last few years, so I was often in that situation. Honestly? Easiest way, is to let it go. I'm clearing the backlog one piece at a time, very slowly, because of the same reasons you mentioned. Last one was over the end of year holidays, while everyone rested, I wrote, but that took its toll, so I don't really recommend it. Maybe I'll go faster when I have a choice in my research projects... Jun 25, 2017 at 15:05
  • 2
    "I am not allowed to spend any time on the previous projects at my new lab" Have you been explicitly told this? Your focus should be your topic at hand, but many people have side projects that work on in the lab. Basically, putting in a relatively low amount of work (relative to starting it from scratch), your lab can score one more publication.
    – Davidmh
    Jun 25, 2017 at 16:09
  • 1
    You can sell the idea of taking some time for old projects to your current supervisor by promising that you'll appear with a double affiliation in any publication (the previous and current lab). It's a (almost) free publication for your current lab. That's what I did to finish some leftover work.
    – Zep
    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


Working on projects when you are away is difficult in most situations, especially yours. Two possible options to finish them include:

  • Adjusting to your PhD workload until you are no longer overwhelmed. When you're at that stage, you can try spending several hours a week on those old projects of yours. This may require saying "no" to some additional projects or opportunities at your new place - at least for the time being.
  • If possible, taking some time off to go back to your former university. Physical presence will greatly accelerate things, and you won't have to rely on the email so much. Plus, you won't be distracted by all the other things you need to do.

Finally, you can try talking to your old advisor and admitting these difficulties. The two of you may then decide to let it go or figure out a solution together.

Remember, though: right now, it is essential that your PhD work goes well, since it is key to your future career. Everything else can wait. It's annoying when things don't get finished, but this might be a sacrifice you have to make - at least for the time being.

  • Note that saying a plain "no" poses the PhD student at a risk of non-extension of his/her (typically temporary) contract.
    – Leon Meier
    Aug 25, 2017 at 11:21

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