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What to do if you feel overworked or have additional responsibilities during your doctorate

Advice and recommendations on steps to take if you feel overworked or pressured into additional responsibilities during your doctorate.

There are various options of doctoral study, for example, you may be undertaking a traditional PhD, an integrated PhD, a professional doctorate, or an MPhil. Each of these comes with different challenges.

However, we all have competing demands on our time regardless of what programme we undertake, such as part-time or full-time employment, caring responsibilities, family commitments, or unavoidable changes to our life circumstances. You also might feel your Supervisor is expecting you to do too much work within your doctorate and you have differing expectations. Our guide What to do if your doctoral supervisor and you have different expectations or disagree provides some useful tips.

Remember, according to UKRI recommendations, there is an expectation that full-time doctoral students spend approximately 37 hours per week on their studies (pro-rata for part-time students), and that this should form the core around which other non-doctorate-related activities need to sit.

If you feel overworked or pressured into additional responsibilities unrelated to your doctorate then try some of the solutions below.

Assess your situation and options

Assess which responsibilities you would like to scale back or remove, try to limit working hours to a structured working week (maybe make use of a timetable to define your working hours), make sure to take breaks, take physical exercise, eat well and get enough sleep in order to avoid burning out.

Also don't feel that you are constrained to work set hours every week. If you are finding time set aside for work unproductive, take a break to do something else and come back later.

If you tutor, consider taking a break from this for a semester or reducing the number of groups that you teach. Similarly, other roles in your department might be voluntary and it's okay to reduce these (such as committees, seminars, social events etc).

Discuss options with your supervisor or someone you trust. There might be solutions that you are not aware of, such as:

Talk to your supervisor

Discuss your current workload and pressures with 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).

Your supervisor can talk through with you about which activities you might be able to reduce. If you have external responsibilities (e.g. caring), your supervisor should understand that these may affect your work and can work with you on a plan to manage them alongside your doctorate.

If the external pressures are for a limited period, your supervisor may be able to advise on temporary revisions to your work plan or even changing your mode of study from full-time to part-time temporarily as required.

If you and your supervisor continue to have different expectations about your workload then read our additional advice.

Take a break

If possible it might help to take some short time away from your doctorate. 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.

Feeling pressured

If you feel pressured by someone to maintain a particular workload, consider speaking privately with them about reducing this. If you are uncomfortable with this you can speak to your department's Director of Doctoral Studies or Head of Department about how to handle this.

They are likely to be understanding once they are aware of your overall workload.

If the problem persists

If the problem persists, you can confidentially report an issue affecting your research by accessing the form reporting an issue online (this is also available in your six-monthly progress reports). This link will connect you to a simple form that when completed can be routed via the Doctoral College to your Faculty/School Director of Doctoral Studies or the Academic Director of the Doctoral College, who will get in touch to discuss the issue in confidence.

If required, there is a formal process to raise a complaint:

At this point, people from the department and university will need to be made aware of the situation, and some information will need to be placed on record, though no information need necessarily be made public.

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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