Feeling sad and unhappy


Hi all, I'm a PhD student in my second year of three years program. When I finished my master I tried a lot to get a position for a PhD and finally, I got it. I was really happy, but now... I always feel sad and depressed. I have a lot of lab work to do and, at the same time, I have a lot (but really a lot) of teaching activities to attend. Then my PhD project is very big and I think I won't ever be able to finish it in one year. I use to not work on the weekend and I feel guilty, but I really need to take a break, also because I also have other personal activities to attend and I don't want to stop them.
Sometimes I also feel like I'm super disorganized, I have many notes that do not have a sense, they are just put all together. But now it seems it's too late to give them a sense, it seems like I already messed up everything.
I really don't understand if it is just a normal feeling, or if I'm just unhappy with the PhD. I always say that it is just one year more, but what is the point of doing something that makes you feel unhappy?
I'm not even sure I would quit, because it would be more difficult to accept such a failure than continue with it.

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Hi sarah747,

It is normal to feel down during your PhD and I think most PhDs students go through the same as you are at some point, I certainly did. Secon years blues is a real a thing and there is a lot of support out there. Personally, I think a lot of it stems from burnout and academia can encourage some unhealthy workloads. Working on the weekend is not a healthy long term solution that should only be used sparingly. As everyone needs a break and overworking crashes your productivity. Sometimes taking a forced 1-2 week break completely away from your PhD gives you a better perspective of what is important as well as boosting your productivity in the long term.

Can I ask, do you still like your project/field? You might not be enjoying the work because you are drifting away from your passion or that stress is killing your passion. Both of which is solvable by reassessing what you are doing and removing all the b*llsh*t. You say that that you won't be able to finish everything, but most PhD proposal are overambitious to start with and naturally shorten in scope as they progress. So it is not unusual to reevaluate what is achievable. If you can't finish all your lab work and have time to write up before your funding ends, then you should consider cutting the less important experiments. That way you remove all the stress of yourself.

I hope that helped somewhat and I am happy to help in any way.


There's generally a thing in research, that there's a minority that 'live' it, and a majority that 'work' it.

Particularly in a top group, you'll find people that live it. By live it, I mean when the average person relaxes by Netflix/family/whatever, they chill by being on the PC writing position pieces/designing algorithms/formal proofs. You might also find in a good group unless you're basically working if you're awake, you get relegated to lab tasks.

The problem for many talented students joining top groups is they lack perspective; they're so used to being straight-A, they have never stopped to think what being straight-A academically for their working life entails. Top researchers often do little but research with their waking hours. Many examples exist of people that massively advanced the cause of science but had terrible personal lives. Same is true of finance/city jobs etc. It's not just about being smart, it's about making a questionable personal sacrifice.

You sound like someone with just the reasonable expectation of working in research without it being an all-consuming dedication. This is fair, reasonable, and normal; if academia paid 6-figure sums it might be fair, but it doesn't, and it isn't. Take ownership, particularly of the scope of what you're doing. Say no, if you're not being paid and it doesn't help the PhD. Work 9-5, if it's not doable 9-5, complain, and don't think it's your lack of ability, it's unrealistic expectation.

This probably won't help if you want to be the world leading person in X, but the world leading person in X will, by and large, be making a lot of personal sacrifices to be there. If you've reached PhD and want a normal, healthy, life, settle for being a 'B' student.


I feel your pain.