Negative spirals in doctoral projects

how do supervisors detect, fix and prevent them?

  • Ina Blind
  • Lorenzo Grassi
  • Hillevi Hemphälä
  • Sven Mattisson
  • Johanna Persson


In this study, ten supervisors of doctoral students at LTH have been interviewed on their
experiences of students getting into a vicious circle where unrealistic plans and failed
expectations leads to further problem in the thesis work. All interviewees recognized that
doctoral students often experience periods of this kind of. The problematic periods occurred
more often in the first part of the doctoral program. The main strategies for helping the
students back on track were to follow up more frequently, to be clearer on goals and, to help
and structure the research tasks. In addition, supervisors often engaged more with troubled
students and worked closer with them on their research tasks. Proactive strategies often were
similar to the helping strategies but also included regular individual meetings and goal
discussions. In most reported cases the vicious circle could be broken, but in some cases the
doctoral student dropped out, settled for a licentiate degree, or shifted to another research