Despite the best laid plans, sometimes things come along in life which can throw you off track and lead to a long, unplanned break from your PhD. This could be bereavement, the breakup of a relationship, illness or a stress-induced breakdown (or all of the above).
Or maybe there have just been been too many other demands on your time… especially if you have a job which actually pays you money to show up, it’s easy to let the PhD slip away. One week off turns into a month, one month off turns into 6, 6 months turn into a year…
The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to come back and reestablish the PhD as part of your life, but there are some simple steps you can take to get yourself back in the PhD habit.
1. Reestablish contact with supervisors
This can be daunting, especially if your supervisor doesn’t know you have taken time off. Many students only want to contact their supervisors if they have something to show, but this means that the longer you leave it, the more pressure you put on yourself.
You must reestablish contact and tell them about the situation and that you are coming back. This is the only way they can help you form a plan for how to proceed.
2. Take stock of what you have
It’s easy to forget what you have done in terms of data, results and writing. Looking at the work you already have helps to refresh the memory.
It can be difficult to look. There might be a bit of a psychological barrier to overcome, but it is essential to take stock of what you have before you can do anything else.
3. Pick something simple to start with
There may be many things you have to do to finish, but to get started again it’s best to pick one thing to focus on initially.
4. Create the time
If your schedule has filled up with other things, then you have to create time if you want to go back to work on the PhD.
There will always be other demands on your time, but you must protect sufficient time for PhD work.
5. Decide, and take action
If you have taken time out, you need to make a clear decision whether or not you want to continue with the PhD.
The worst situation is to drift along without making a decision, carrying the burden of an incomplete thesis on your mind.
It is OK to leave, and it is OK to carry on, as long as you make a clear decision and follow through with action.