Feel like a failure


Hi all,

I’m a 1st year PhD student in animal cognition and I’m having doubts about whether it’s for me.

I started last September, so in the middle of the pandemic, and everything’s been going well so far. I have a l super supportive supervisor who’s seemed happy with my work for the past 6 months. I was finally able to come into the lab to work with our rats a few weeks ago and everything’s gone a bit badly since.

I keep screwing up. I screwed up a deadline and had to email in a panic and get an extension. I screwed up handling my rats...I dropped it (thankfully she seems to be fine) and I’m just generally really bad at handling them (I have dyspraxia so that could be part of it). I’ve also just had to take a day off due to being unwell and I can tell my normally very kind supervisor is frustrated with me.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression in the past and I’ve gone from loving my PhD to crying daily so fast. I feel like a total failure and am really doubting myself. I’m SO stressed and really starting to think I’ve made a huge mistake and that this isn’t for me.

Did anyone else feel this way?! Is it normal?! I’m just so miserable and worried I’m slipping back into a depressive episode because I can’t handle a little bit of failure.

Avatar for rewt

Sorry about the delay.

What you are feeling is extremely common and you are not the only person who has lost all confidence in their ability. I had massive impostor syndrome hen I started my PhD and can fully sympathise with you. I think the trick is to realise that you are over-estimating your peers and forget don't realise that they are going through the same. It is so easy to focus on what you can have done better or small failures. However, no-one is perfect and if you focus on the little things you did it will outweigh the negatives. A PhD is a marathon and not a sprint, if every week you can look back and say that you have progressed in some small way, then the week was a success. The little things could be as simple as read an interesting paper, tried a new method (who cares if it actually worked) or completed a lot of admin stuff. By focusing on the success you can rebuild your confidence and stop feeling like an impostor.

I hope that helped


I think its great solution.