How Do You Know If You’re Making Enough Progress in Your PhD?

One thing I really struggled with at the start of my PhD was a big question: am I making enough progress?

PhDs vary hugely between individuals and topics, and as such there’s no set guideline to follow. If only there was something out there which laid out exactly how much progress you should be making over time. There isn’t, and at first this left me feeling anxious and concerned – was I doing enough work?

One obvious way to measure your progress is to compare it to your peers. However, this isn’t always the best thing to do. Everyone’s PhD is different, and there are lots of different paths you can take. It may seem that some people are miles ahead of you, but don’t be discouraged; they’re just doing things a different way. Conversely, others may seem further behind than you, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not on track either.

Talking to your fellow PhD students is a great way to get inspiration and motivation, but you shouldn’t assume you have to do everything the same way as them.

There are different ways to measure your progress. Some methods will work for you, and others won’t. It’s a matter of personal preference. For example, you could:

  • Set in advance what work you want to do each week
  • Put aside a specific number of hours for working on your PhD each day
  • Make a check-list of work that needs to be done, and tick it off when you’ve completed it
  • Make regular updates on your work
  • Discuss your progress with a friend or family member

To Do List

One method that I came up with to really get an idea of my progress was to keep a work diary. Every day I tracked what I’d done. I kept notes so I could easily see what work I’d done towards my PhD each day, or whether I’d worked at my part-time job, or if I’d simply taken a day off to relax (because those days are important too).  When I looked back at what I’d done each week, it made me realise I really was making progress, and that all those little pieces of work you do really add up. This also really helps with time management, so you can see if you’re taking too many days off, or working too much.

Just keep a level head and consider your progress realistically. You’ve probably done much more than you realised! If you still really think you’ve not done enough, then don’t panic. Speak to your supervisor, your mentor, a fellow student or maybe a friend or family member; whoever you feel comfortable confiding in. Then set yourself a game plan to get back on track. Remember, your supervisor should notice if your progress isn’t enough before it ever becomes a real problem.

How do you keep track of your progress? If you have any great methods, feel free to share them!

Text and image credits: Devon Allcoat

Devon is currently undertaking a research PhD in Psychology. She is researching the effects and applications of video games and virtual environments, a topic which she finds fascinating and wishes to pursue further. You can follow her PhD journey on her Twitter or blog, where this post was first published.  

10 thoughts on “How Do You Know If You’re Making Enough Progress in Your PhD?

  1. Good tips! Definitely feel like this sometimes, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. But also good to know that there is something I can do about it and not keep worrying.

    • Glad to hear you’ve found it useful. 🙂
      Personally, since nobody at my Centre does a similar project, it’s hard to have an objective sense of progress, I struggle with this a lot and Devon’s advice was really helpful. Looking at the list of things I’ve already accomplished does help though.

      Ana, PhD Life

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