How to survive your research degree: overcoming obstacles and dealing with disappointment

We all encounter obstacles and disappointment while conducting our research, but it’s important to look for help when we need it, and use these experiences to learn from our mistakes.  Amy gives some advice for when your research isn’t quite going to plan…

Research is hard. If it were easy everyone would do it. All of us run into obstacles over the course of our degrees, and I would say that we learn as much about ourselves and our resilience during this process as we do about the area we are studying! I believe one of the most valuable things to learn when we’re struggling in our research careers is to know we’re not alone, so here are a couple of tips that I find useful when overcoming problems in research.

Firstly, it’s worth bearing in mind whether the obstacle or disappointment is personal or work-related. It’s surprising how often one aspect of your life can affect another, so it’s important to learn be self-aware and start to take steps to help both your wellbeing, which will then most likely have positive impacts on your research! Obviously, there are many things you can struggle with personally over the course of your degree, more than I can cover in one blog post. However, I do think that there is a couple that are more common than others that I’ll address here.

I’ve spoken before about how research can be quite isolating, and this can take its toll. Feeling lonely and disenchanted with research, and cut off from the rest of the university, isn’t pleasant, but is unfortunately quite common. Additionally, due to the nature of research, things can get a bit stressful. Deadlines, pressure from your supervisor and pressure from ourselves sometimes mean stress gets in the way of progress. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed it clouds my judgement and makes everything seem a lot worse!

This, especially when your research is proving to be particularly frustrating, means that everything can get a bit much. But this is where all the support that the universities have to offer come in.

Wellbeing support, organised at the universities, comes in different forms. Here at Warwick, Wellbeing Services offer both one-on-one, group, and email-based that you can utilise to discuss any problems you might be facing, and as always, checking in with your supervisor, colleagues or friends can be important in order to gain perspective and extra support. In addition, departments run different events for research students to take a break, relax, and chat with their peers. For example, a coffee morning is held on Thursdays in the Research Exchange. While it seems simple, you may be surprised how much good taking an hour out of your day to prioritise your wellbeing rather than your research can do.

But sometimes, stress and mental wellbeing aside, your research might just not be going to plan. Even the most positive person in the world is bound to feel disheartened about disappointing results or an unproductive day every once in a while. For this, unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a simple solution. While of course, it’s easier said than done, we just have to pick ourselves up and try again.

Research is a valuable experience in building our own self-belief, resilience and determination to succeed, and even when something doesn’t go to plan, we can always take something from it to learn from. For example, think about what you could do differently next time, or try and take at least one positive thing from work that wasn’t completely successful. After all, the skills we gain from research are so much more than just our results or thesis. Every day we are developing our communication skills and improving our time management, just to name a few skills! For example, when a particular experiment doesn’t go to plan in the lab, the act of finding a solution and carrying it out improves both our problem-solving skills, ability to take initiative, and organisation. All this personal development still stands, even if your second (or third) attempt isn’t successful either.

Equally, however, you are not alone in research, and again, if you are struggling there is always support available to you – simply ask for help! Organising an extra meeting with your supervisor and letting them know that you are struggling or need more guidance can go a long way. Even getting someone else to look over a problem with fresh eyes can be helpful. The most important thing is to accept that it’s okay that not everything will go as planned and find ways to solve problems that mean you can overcome obstacles and be stronger for it.


Do you have experience of being dealing with disappointing results or feeling stressed and isolated during your research degree?  We want to hear your advice! Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Amy Kynman earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Warwick in 2018. She is currently working towards a Masters by Research in chemistry, also at the University of Warwick. Her research focusses on the chemical reactivity of rhodium complexes, with the aim of utilising them for carbon-carbon bond forming reaction. Alongside her studies, she is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the University of Warwick’s student newspaper The Boar and aims to eventually undertake a PhD in organometallic chemistry.


Cover image: runner-obstacle-run-sport-jump-555074 / mikefoster / CC0 1.0

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