Five non-academic things that can stall a PhD

We had a good talk today from our very own Trev Bond about how to get your PhD done within 3 years (hopefully it will appear on the blog soon). Listening to Trev’s wise words got me thinking about what may stop you from getting your PhD completed in time. Apart from academic issues (e.g. lack of data, lack of help/supervision etc.) there were a few common things that can potentially stall your research. Below is by no means an exhaustive list.

  1. The weather. Lets be honest, it’s never the right weather to do research (unless, of course, your research is weather dependent). It’s either too cold (would rather be out in the snow), too wet (do I really need to walk into the office today?) or too hot (would much rather be having a BBQ) to actually sit down at your desk and write. Especially if your desk happens to be by a window!
  2. The internet. Despite having revolutionised research and science in the past few decades, the internet has also surely been the greatest source of procrastination for PhD students. Whether it’s the few minutes you spend checking Twitter or Facebook every hour, watching YouTube, catching up on that TV show you missed last night, or even writing a blog on procrastination, more time is spent aimlessly browsing the web than on your own work.
  3. Sport. This may be more of a personal downfall than a generic one, but  I know a few of my colleagues are the same. It doesn’t take long to find an excuse to play football, squash or go for a run. After all, healthy body, healthy mind! Perhaps even worse is sport on the internet. Be it cricket (TMS or the IPL) the Tour de France, and this summer the Euro’s and the Olympics, sport can definitely hinder productivity. Even in winter months, there’s always your fantasy football team to think about.
  4. Coffee (or other hot drinks). I made this realisation courtesy of another blog. But it is very true. Languishing in the malaise of writing? Go get a coffee. Trouble framing a research question? Go get a coffee. Frustrated that Matlab isn’t doing what it is supposed to, even though you’re sure your code is perfect? Go get a coffee. What ever your problem, coffee is always part of the answer.
  5. Your colleagues. No disrespect is meant to my fellow PhD-ers, but when a group of 40-or-so PhD researchers are kept in close proximity, it is no wonder that they find any excuse to procrastinate. Everyone is in the same boat, so any hint of procrastination is seized upon. Whether it is a day in the field ‘helping’ a colleague (we all know you’re doing it for the pub lunch), a trip to the pub, popping into the office next door for a chat, your fellow colleagues can be your greatest procrastination aid.

As I said above, this is by no means an exhaustive list. It would be good to hear what your own downfalls are, you can leave a comment below if you feel so inclined.



  1. Great list and thanks for acknowledging my blog. I would add hobbies as well. It’s amazing how many different hobbies I developed during my PhD and how important they became. New hobbies also give you plenty of fuel to burn through time on the internet

  2. Ye86d9pi · · Reply

    Sporcle almost derailed my dissertation!

  3. – have a full-time job away from the university
    – working in an environment in political and economic turmoil (e.g. Greece)
    – personal affairs (being in love, experiencing a break-up etc.)

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