Recover from setbacks

Reflect on your triumphs - and your disasters

Your postgraduate degree is unlikely to be all plain-sailing. You may prefer to forget any problems which occur, but it's a good idea to keep a note of:

  • Setbacks you encounter
  • What you can learn from them

At the very least, these examples could be useful in future applications and interviews - recruiters often like to ask about your reaction to setbacks. They are keen to understand how you pick yourself up, reflect on what has happened and avoid making the same mistakes again.

  • How to reflect - make sense of what you've done

Enlist the support of others

If you're struggling with something, sometimes you need to get an external point of view to see things in a different light.

Who is in your support network?

Do you have a support network of others who understand what you're going through, who can commiserate and celebrate with you?

How can you widen your network of people who understand?

  • Online forums, particularly those aimed at postgraduates, can help you get a different perspective on your dilemmas - consider 'Postgraduate forum', a very active online community from
  • Have you investigated social media? For example, searching for #phdchat or #phdadvice on Twitter opens up a community of PhDs talking about far more interesting things than what they had for breakfast.
  • Have you joined the University of Manchester Postgraduate Society or the International Society (open to all students in Greater Manchester, and their families, whatever nationality), or investigated all the other student groups at the University of Manchester Students' Union.

Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback can be daunting, especially when you know you need to improve something. Don't just pounce on your project supervisor or lecturers to tell you what they think of you, with little notice or direction.

  • Plan what you want to know - make it specific, for example, 'I'd like you to observe me at my next presentation and give me some feedback on how I handle difficult questions in academic presentations' rather than 'I'd like some feedback on my presentation skills'.
  • Think carefully about who is best placed to give you feedback - sometimes, a trusted friend or a mentor might be better than an authority figure, like your supervisor or a lecturer; what could you learn from others you admire in your research group or on your programme?
  • Timing is important - ideally, forewarn someone that you would like feedback, so they have time to observe you and to reflect on your performance.
  • Advice and tips on how to enlist the support of others

Networking - don't give up even if you get knocked back

If you're not comfortable with networking it can be hard to deal with setbacks.

You may have approached someone for help or advice with your career or your postgraduate degree and received an unenthusiastic response - or more often, just been ignored.

Don't just assume that networking isn't for you. There are ways of improving your chances of a positive response depending on:

  • how well the person you approach knows you;
  • what you ask for;
  • how you ask for it.