Many PhD students encounter difficulties beyond those commonly dealt with in research guides. In this article, the authors draw from their own experiences to construct a framework that rationalises the confusion of fieldwork. This is not just a question of surmounting practical difficulties, but also coming to terms with the feelings of crisis and cognitive dissonance when researchers’ understandings and beliefs are challenged. The affective dimension of learning is a crucial aspect, particularly for the ‘lone researcher’. The authors’ individual experiences, although located in very different milieus, illustrate this process. It is argued that by organising disorganised experiences it is possible to face difficulties and capitalise upon crisis.