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What to do if you experience low motivation, imposter syndrome, or rejection during your doctorate

Advice and recommendations on steps to take if you experience a lack of motivation, imposter syndrome, or handling rejection during your doctorate.

Be aware that most people feel like this sometimes and that it is often part of the challenge of a doctorate.

If you find you are feeling this way for some time and it is getting out of hand then try some of the tips below.

For a short period (1-2 weeks)

  • Talk to your supervisor or supervisory team (or Director of Studies if in the taught stage of a Professional Doctorate or Integrated PhD prior to a supervisor being appointed).

  • Set small, manageable, tasks and tick them off as they're accomplished. It is easier to motivate yourself for smaller tasks to stay productive as the cumulative progress can be encouraging.

  • Look at the bigger picture - take note of what you've achieved so far. This should help both with motivation (mood boost from a sense of achievement) and imposter syndrome (belief that you are doing valuable work etc.).

  • Talk to other doctoral students regarding their experiences. These issues are common among doctoral students and other students can provide support or comfort through shared experience. There are lots of opportunities to meet other doctoral students:

  • Set-backs such as difficulties in your experimental work or unsuccessful results are common. Bear in mind that sometimes (but not always) problems and rejections happen for good reasons, which you can learn from to improve your future work.

  • Make sure to take breaks, take physical exercise, eat well and get enough sleep in order to avoid burning out.

  • Take a proper break! For specific rejections (such as a paper or conference talk), step back from the topic for a while before considering how it can be resubmitted. It is easier to focus on the work, rather than the rejection, after taking a couple of weeks away. Make sure to take your holiday allowance to have a more extended break. Generally, full-time doctoral students are entitled to up to 25 working days’ holiday leave plus University closure days. Find out more about the attendance requirements and leave entitlements as a doctoral student

  • Explore the range of skills development workshops and courses to support your skills development throughout your doctorate and beyond.

  • Visit resources for PhD motivation to find tips for handling rejection/dealing with imposter syndrome/motivation issues:

For a longer period (3-4 weeks)

If you have tried the above and things feel no better then you can:

  • Discuss your concerns with your supervisor (or DoS in the case of a taught stage), they may be able to accommodate or provide support. Your supervisors/DoS will be familiar with these types of problems and may have some suggestions about how to overcome them.

  • Alternatively, if you'd rather, you can speak to your department Director of Doctoral Studies. Speaking to the DoS or CDT co-director can provide confidentiality if you are uncomfortable discussing with your supervisor.

  • Speak to Student Support, including Wellbeing, Therapeutic Services & Mental Health, Money Advice, Disability Services and International Support Services. They can help with motivation, improvement of mood, imposter syndrome, additional financial support, and concerns about your mental health or disability-related services or adjustments. In some cases, there may also be additional support for financial support/timing/other accommodations. Contact the relevant team in Student Support for an appointment and check out the links below:

What if none of this works?

  • You could discuss with your Supervisor a possible change in the project (provided you are in the early stages) or the subsequent project direction (if you are struggling to engage with the nature of the project).

  • You could suspend your studies to review options and to seek further support, guidance or address external pressures such as work.

  • You might be able to seek an earlier exit through an exit award e.g. transfer to MPhil or taught exit award (depending on the programme). Discuss this with your Supervisor.

  • If you really feel like the doctorate is not right for you then you might consider withdrawing. Again, discuss this with your Supervisor and Director of Doctoral Studies.

If issues are more serious or you would prefer some independent advice, then you can contact the following teams for advice and support:


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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