I can’t finish my PhD

After 6 years I still can’t finish my PhD. I worked very well for the first 3 years and was writing up when I had to stop for nearly a year due to a major illness. After getting back to writing last year I wrote more than 80 percent of it in 6 months and my supervisor and I both thought I would be finished by November or December at the latest. I am dismayed that I still have yet to finish. Help!

Many postgraduate students encounter obstacles along their “thesis journey”. Your experience of a major illness has certainly been a huge factor in prolonging the journey in both practical and emotional ways. I’m wondering if you’ve been able to identify any particular obstacles to the writing process, for example, anxiety and stress leading to procrastination, uncertainty over the best way to proceed, perfectionism leading to ‘writers block’, or sometimes monotony and lack of variety in day to day life can lead to loss of motivation and difficulty concentrating. If you can identify a specific problem it can make it easier to address.

It may be helpful to think about “completing” as a challenging task in itself. It is a task that requires clear delineation, time management, and specific practical and personal skills. It is a task for which many Phd candidates call in extra assistance. Who could assist you with the editing skills, the objectivity and the critical judgement required at this time? Consider the services of the Academic Skills Unit and the Graduate Research Hub.

“Letting go” of the thesis may also be a critical emotional step for you, as it has been a companion throughout your illness, and has given you both a routine, and an investment in your “future self”. Acknowledging your life investment in your thesis may be an important initial step in moving away from it. Consider this completion task as a “transition process” to new opportunities, new routines, and a renewed sense of self. Perhaps a discussion with a close friend or a counsellor at Counselling and Psychological Services could provide the space to reflect more on what is stopping you and what kind of support you need to move forward.

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