Beating PhD blues..


Hi all

Although this is my first post, I'm just starting my second year of the PhD and am a frequent visitor to this forum - so great to have such a supportive atmosphere!
Sorry to start on such a depressing note, but I just want to share this with someone. I'm basically beginning to feel really quite fed up with everything. The PhD is going well - or at least so I'm told - I'm working way ahead of schedule and still enjoy it. But lately I seem to have come to a real 'slump' - I'm finding it really hard to be motivated (working only a few hours each day) and I've lost the drive to get work done.
I was just wondering if anyone had any advice, if anyone has been through similiar, is this normal, etc.
Many thanks
Purpleflower. x(up)



I haven't started my PhD yet, so I can't give you advice based on direct experience, but I can say that firstly, congratulations, you are doing very well as you are way ahead of schedule and still enjoying it! How many people do you know that are even on schedule? not many, so well done to you!

Secondly, maybe you need a break, so that when you get back your motivation levels will increase? Take a week off, go away on holiday, do something fun and enjoyable, and keep away from anytype of work. Hopefully when you get back you'll feel better! :)

All the best!

Avatar for Batfink27

Hi Purpleflower. I'm in a similar position - started my second year of my PhD in October, and I do love it, and my supervisors are happy with my progress, but I'm finding I'm in a slump at the moment. My motivation has just vanished and my work rate is through the floor, and I can't quite pin down why. Not much help to you maybe, as I don't have any advice, but maybe this is just part of the process? I'm hoping that it's just a case of peaks and troughs... and that it will all pick up again soon! But maybe it's some comfort to know you're not on your own?


It's *very* common to go through blues or doldrums in the second year (full-time, or appropriate part-time equivalent) of a PhD. This is very natural.

You need to work through it though, and that's hard. I'd recommend setting yourself mini deadlines/goals for things to focus on. Also drawing up to-do lists and starting by picking off the least unappealling items on the list is a good way to go. Anything to get a rhythm going again.

But this is very very common. Not that doldrums don't happen in the third year as well ;-)


I totally agree with Bilbo - there is nothing for it but to work through it I'm afraid! It is very common indeed to get the 2nd yr blues when you lose motivation or interest in your work. It just seems to hit even the most motivated and dedicated sometime in your 2nd yr and you realise that you have at least 1.5/2 more years of hard slog - what a glorious way to spend your life with your nose buried in books/the library, the lab or glued to a computer for analysis or write up! It can just be the monotony that is wearing you down - sorry to quote a cliche but it seems to apply - "Research is 99 % perspiration and 1 % inspiration!" So that might seem a bit drastic but you get the idea! It's completely normal especially as you are so absorbed in it!

How about taking a break and having a holiday for a week to refresh yourself? Or vary what you are doing so it's not so repetitive? Even a small change in routine helps esp if you are doing repetitive time consuming research. Go on spoil yourself and take that coffee break, go to the library to return that book(s) you've been putting off, go and do some exercise or take an outside hobby and make some time for yourself to relax and recharge your batteries.

But remembering that end goal should be incentive enough to pull yourself out. It's tough but it's needs to be done. How about mini-deadlines as Bilbo mentioned or make a schedule of when you have to do things by and stick to it. You could note down what you do each day so you can see how much you get done and what still needs to be done! You could arrange meetings with your supervisor and agree to have stuff done so that you have deadlines to stick to if you need some motivation to do stuff.

Hope this helps as you are at a tough stage now but keep going and you'll be fine. Just remember to take breaks and look after yourself and you'll get your energy back. It will pass. As you are ahead if schedule you can allow yourself some time off and recharge your batteries.

Good luck and tell us how it works out. (up) ;-)


Hey Purpleflower,
Take it easy on yerself first of all ... it is only natural to get pi$$ed off at something that has and will be part of your life for a long time. First of all, don't feel guilty - that can only make it worse over time.
A practical tip would be to go into a room with a whiteboard or get an A3 sheet of paper and do a mindmap of your work to date. It really does wonders at getting you thinking and also serves as a means of summarising work and uncovering patterns that you may not have seen. Most importantly, as these new thoughts start emerging, you will feel new found interest in your work.

Some people will scorn what I say next but sure I will anyways. If you are having a bad day - f**k it! Don't feel guilty about it and do something productive instead (sort out other work or better still, go exercising ... recently took up mountain biking - it rocks ... sorry, slow day :-)

Main thing is don't get into a rut about it. If really worried, speak to the supervisor and he/she might have a conference in mind to really focus the work.


Hi all

Firstly, thank you so much for your posts! Made me feel as though it is okay to feel like this. It's so good to know that lots of others can have second year blues (as well as first, third, and thereafter blues :p)

I'm definitely going to take all of your advice on board. I'm going to take the rest of the week off, to clear my head and try to relax a little - and to not feel guilty for doing so! The hardest bit for me is the guilt of not doing anything - it's so counterproductive too, as it helps nothing! I hope by the time I come back to it I'll feel refreshed and ready to go :) I'll start my making a brainstorm as suggested by Bonzo, that sounds like a good idea! And then I'm going to make a new years resolution type list for the coming year, to break things down a little, I think.. I can start to put deadlines together so that the whole PhD feels more manageable.

Batfink, how are you feeling about things now?

Thanks guys, purpleflower x


I find that when you feel like you do, you have to go and do things that your PhD normally prevents you doing, i.e. going out on a drunken adventure with friends etc. You feel free when you do these things and thus your morale gets a boost which will make you a better PhD'er in the long run.


Hi, sorry if I'm telling you something you already know, but just be sure when you set goals for your PhD to follow the SMART system of goal making, there's nothing more counter productive than poorly set goals, they just lead to stress. i.e. make your goals:

Specific - i.e. not "better at getting work done" but "will spend x amount of time working" or "will complete x task"
Measurable - i.e. a defined measure is available to check if you've achieved your goal
Agreed - Agree them with someone if possible, as it stops you from being too lenient on yourself
Realistic - i.e. not "I will complete my Lit review in 2 days" but "I will complete my lit review in [insert a reasonable amount of time].
Time Phased - Make sure you set a date/time to have completed your tasks and try not to move that date unless you have to (remember to add some "slack" for unpredictable events)

The advice everyone else has given looks good (as is usual on here!) good luck and well done on being ahead of schedule!!

Incidently, SMART sometimes is used to stand for any of
S - specific, significant, stretching
M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

I like the ones I gave above. :-)


Wow, screamingaddabs, that's great. I've never come across that before, thank you!

I am very sad and love making lists, SMART lists seems like a whole new world ;-)

Thanks again guys, you have no idea how much you've all helped!

Purpleflower x

Avatar for Batfink27

Great advice from people here. I just had a really useful meeting with my supervisors where I told them I was struggling to get back into work (I've been ill for a couple of weeks) and they basically told me not to try too hard between now and Christmas, and to take a proper break where I do no work at all over Christmas. The old cliche is true - a PhD is a marathon not a sprint. I'm feeling loads better about things after that conversation (and my supervisors are such lovely people! I'm very lucky...) I think just setting small, manageable targets is the best way forward, rather than being overwhelmed and paralysed by how much there is to do.