The Graduate School

Maintaining Momentum

The first year of the PhD cycle is quite structured, focusing as it does on the development of a research plan and associated aims and objectives, and culminating in the process of differentiation. After differentiation, as students enter the middle stage, the comparative lack of structure together with an absence of official milestones may leave students feeling a bit lost and puzzled as to how to proceed. This section offers tips on how to maintain momentum and motivation at this crucial stage.

Ideas to help keep you motivated:

Don't work all the time

-  It is easy to end up doing nothing but working. However, you need to take 'quality time' away from your research on a regular basis. This will ensure you’re more efficient and focused when you do work, and will help keep your motivation levels up.
-  Also, it is expected that you take some leave during every year of your doctorate. It is recommended that postgraduate research students take between 6-8 weeks holidays throughout the year (the Department of Education and Learning recommends 40 days). A week or so away can have a huge impact on your approach to your research when you get back.
- Unforeseen circumstances may require some students to take time off from their studies. Students can apply to withdraw temporarily from their programme of study, subject to consultation with their supervisory team and pending the approval of the School Postgraduate Research Committee.  (Note that a period of less than four weeks does not constitute a temporary withdrawal). For further information on temporary withdrawals please consult the University’s PGR regulations.
- Social events and activities take place all year round in the Graduate School to help you make the most of your time at Queen’s.

Get a hobby

Whether it is regular trips to the University’s Physical Education Centre, reading a book (non-PhD related) or joining a club/society, getting a hobby is a great way to meet new people and keep yourself motivated and fresh for your research work. It is worth noting that voluntary or leisure activities often give good experience and ideas for the next step in your careers.

Don’t isolate yourself

Keeping in regular contact with fellow PhD students will remind you that any feelings of de-motivation you are experiencing are entirely natural. It is also important to socialise with outside friends and family: the fact that your PhD will mostly likely NOT be the central topic of conversation will help to clear your head and keep things in perspective.

Break down your workload into smaller tasks

The actual task size will not have changed, but breaking it down into smaller pieces makes it much more achievable psychologically.

Set yourself targets

This will help ensure you complete key tasks and don’t fall behind. Always remember though to set yourself realistic target dates: if you set yourself impossible deadlines, you will end up feeling less motivated than you did before.

Give yourself rewards when you've completed tasks - these might range from a cup of coffee, to an exercise session, or even a night out.

If you're not in a good thinking mood, do more straightforward tasks like compiling the bibliography or doing the title page.

If you're feeling confused about what you're doing, try writing a short paragraph summarising what your research is about. This can help you find a focus again.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, try identifying the one thing that you need to do next; often this will logically lead to further steps, and you'll be able to get started again.

Further Information

There are many routes to getting support within Queens. Some relate to your research studies, others offer emotional or practical support - always entirely confidential. All services made available for undergraduate students should also be open to postgraduate researchers, so don't be afraid to make use of them. Always tackle problems early: don't allow them to affect your long-term health or reduce your chances of completing your degree.

  • Your supervisory team is always there to help and support you when you’re feeling lost, anxious or demotivated in your studies.
  • Fellow PhD colleagues can be an invaluable source of support; they are going/have gone through the same process themselves and can help normalise your feelings and put them into context.
  • The Personal Effectiveness Consultancy Service is a professional and confidential 1-2-1 advice service available to Postgraduate Research Students experiencing personal and/or academic problems. It is based on level one of the Postgraduate Student Centre; for further information, e-mail or phone 028 90 97 25 85.
  • Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety. Sessions are held regularly on level one of the Graduate School.
  • 1-2-1 Counselling appointments are also available for all Queen’s students. You can e-mail; freephone 0808 800 0016 during office hours; out-of-office hours students can avail of 24 hour telephone counselling support on 0808 800 0002.
  • Further advice on ‘Managing Yourself’ and combating problems common to researchers can be found here.
  • Information on managing the resources, priorities, expectations and outcomes of your research project is also available.
  • The PRDP offers a course on ‘Creativity and Problem Solving’ which could be especially helpful with problems on maintaining momentum during your research.