Ellie Ralph |

When starting your PhD, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student, you are full of motivation and passion for your research. However, we have all probably also been at the point when you have little to no motivation for continuing with your PhD and are contemplating if any of it is really ‘worth it’ anymore. The biggest piece of advice I can give in this circumstance is to remember the reason why you started. To help with this personally, I wrote a list of 3 of the top reasons why I am doing my PhD. I recommend to new PhD students to do this task at the start, but you can do this at any point in your PhD and use it as a tool to refer back to during those low points. Below I share my personal list of reasons, but it may help to spark motivation in others too:

  1. My Grandpa – As a child, I was not a high-achiever in school and always felt like education wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I started university and really found my passion that I started to enjoy learning again. Growing up, my Grandpa was always the person to express to me the importance of staying in school and achieving good grades. He always pushed for me to do my best, regardless of the result. In 2020, my Grandpa passed away. In the hospital when he was sick, he would tell the nurses and doctors that I was a professor (I wish!), and always talk of how proud he was of me and my achievements. He was always the first person I would call with any academic-related good news. I still find myself wanting to call him now, but I use this as a motivation tool, and like to think that I am making him proud.
  2. My travel experience – My area of research mostly impacts people within Lebanon. I have been lucky enough to travel to Lebanon numerous times, for both work and personal travel, and have had direct contact with people that my research may one day impact. There is nothing that compares to travelling to the country your research is about, especially experiencing it in a ‘non-work-related way. I have also had some personal experiences with both Lebanese and Syrian nationals alike in the UK, and the experiences have always relit that spark within me to keep going.
  3. Impact – This is one area in which I think everyone could add it to their list of 3. We have to remember that no matter how small our impact on the world may be, we are still making one. With your PhD, you are making a contribution to the wider sphere of knowledge. My support worker at university changed my perspective on this – that no matter how small your drop in the ocean may be, it is still a drop that wasn’t there before. Further to this, you don’t truly know the impact of your work, and you may be helping change the lives of people you will never meet.

I hope that sharing my experiences helps you to think of the reasons why you started, which may be the same reasons to keep going. It is normal to go through periods of low motivation and the crisis of ‘what am I doing?!’, but it is important to have a place you can refer back to when you’re feeling this way. Please feel free to share your 3 reasons in the comments below.


Photo by Colton Duke on Unsplash


Ellie Ralph is the Vice Chair for Pubs & Publications. She is a second year PhD student at Keele University in Politics and International Relations, exploring Lebanese local NGO management of the Syrian refugee crisis. You can find her on Twitter here.