The PhD journey isn’t linear.
If they were, you’d progress in an orderly fashion, starting with your literature review and research design, then gathering your data, analysing it and writing it all up one chapter at a time.
But you and I both know it isn’t anything like that. It’s chaotic, and messy, and doesn’t really seem to follow any particular order. You think you’ve finished one chapter only to find a month or two later that you’ve got to restructure it. You think your research design is finished, only to find that a pandemic comes along and messes up all your plans.
The point is this; because your PhD isn’t linear, you can’t expect to always make the right decisions and choose the right paths. You’ll inevitably go down dead ends, and take paths that lead nowhere. Inevitably.
There’s two things to take from this. First, you have to go down the path in the first place in order to work out it’s a dead end, so there’s no need to be harsh on yourself. It’s part of the process.
Second, you have to recognise when you’ve gone down a dead end.
And it’s on this subject that I want you to reflect. When we’ve got a sense we’re on the wrong path, we can dig in and keep trying to carve on down it. Often though, the best course of action is to turn around, retrace your steps and have a fresh start.
That will look different depending on what kind of dead-end you’re going down. It might mean tearing up the chapter plan and starting again, or rethinking your data collection strategy. Whatever it is, ask yourself whether the best thing isn’t a fresh start.
Good luck and have a great weekend.
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