Finishing PhD and feeling low


About to submit and expected to feel pleased and excited, instead truly feeling low and depressed - is this normal? My sister died (cancer) half way through the process (and I think coming to the end is triggering feeling of loss again - she truly was my BBF). Also acutely aware of the difficulty in getting PhD doc work/funding and wondering is/was it all worth it?


Hi RidingHood,

When I read your message it struck a chord with me and I had to reply. Whilst not an exactly similar situation I lost my father halfway through my PhD when he was killed in an accident where he worked and I was incredibly close to him (SUCH a Daddy's girl!!) and when I finally submitted I felt the same - there was no elation really for me but a sense of loss because he didn't get to see me do it. Maybe you feel that way too as I am sure you would have loved to share that with your sister and I am terribly sorry for your loss!

All I can say is that time does heal slowly but surely it heals. Your sister would be so very very proud of you and she would want you to be proud of yourself because to carry on when so many would have given up is very brave and shows great personal spirit. That spirit will see you through anything I can assure you of that.

As for post-doc, that's what I went on to do, well that one is up to you - you need to search deep deep down and ask yourself what you want to do and what you want to be. The answer will come I promise. But whatever happens take courage in yourself.

take care and my best wishes


hi redridinghood, I am so sorry for your loss -- on the other hand, I encourage you to carry on with submission so close. I lost my mother when I had almost finished writing up, I think it was during the first draft. Losing her is the most painful experience I have ever endured, now even joblessness (for me) is not as depressing.

Please be assured that time will help. Everytime you miss your sister, send her love from your heart, every time you want to talk to her, sit down and write a letter to her. For me, it would be to write and then burn the letter and place it under a tree. That makes me feel better.

I also went through this uncertainty about postdoc, whether it was worth it doing the phd, I think at some point most of us do go through. My sincere advice to you would be not to think about this at the moment, because you are close to submission, also you need time and space to heal the wound of losing your sister.

I embrace you, and hold you in love and light
love satchi


The end of the PhD is difficult even without the personal loss you have suffered, for which you have my condolences. So often family and friends are so instrumental in helping someone through the PhD. And yes, thinking about the next step is quite daunting. It is not easy getting an academic job or postdoc, you have to persevere. I had given up getting a job for this academic year, but I have just landed something. Away from home, but having a job is the most important thing. I'm sure your sister would have been immensely proud of you.

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I was personally relieved to be finished after a hellish write-up period (due to a good supervisor wanting the thesis to be right) though surprisingly straight forward viva. Minor corrections, done in a week, submitted, over with, conferral letter in post.

I was on post-doc at the time and had gone for a walk one lunch time. It hit me "Now what do I do?" I found myself at a loose end and having to adjust from 12 to 16 hour days, t a more normal 8 or 9 hours a day. Whilst not immediately impacting upon me (a though that cam to the forefront a few weeks later once I'd had a holiday), there was having to look for another job once my then-current post-doc ended.

That "what next?" question hits most of us and we can find ourselves at a loss. The combined need for a rest, deciding what to do next with our lives and looking at our future options are often why many people post-PhD look for a quiet year (in the case of women who seem to recover more quickly) or slightly longer (in the case of men) in an easy post-doc or other employment somewhere.

What you are facing would be normal, however, there is the added complication of your bereavement. As you approach the end, you're suddenly finding to to breath and perhaps now grieve properly for your sister. I thus suggest once you finish, more than anything you need time to yourself to allow the grieving process to take it's course. I suggest a decent break without any pressures for this to properly happen, either by yourself or with close family members nearby.



Hey Red,

I had what we could call the 'Pre-Post submission' blues. I felt just like you, depressed, upset, anxious. For a few weeks I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't even do basic tasks such as putting groceries away. All before, and not after, submitting.

I like to think of it like pre-natal depression (is that a thing?), but with a PhD.

I was in a good position. My supervisors were supportive, I had a publication behind me, and my experience was on the whole, pretty positive. Yet I felt horrible just before submission. Part of it was the job anxiety, but I can't really explain all of it. Perhaps it was finally letting go of a three-year long project, perhaps it was losing the status as a student and really beginning to enter the workforce, perhaps it was an existential crisis.

In any case, you are not alone in feeling this way, and it does pass.

The below talks about the post-submission blues, but the same ideas apply.


My post-submission experience is a little different to most here. I completed my PhD part-time over a number of years while being employed full-time in relatively secure positions, except when I was a research associate/lecturer for one year. Now that I have the PhD in the bag, I am in the enviable position of not having to worry about getting a job (or a good job related to my PhD). The PhD has morphed over time from a passport into an academic career to a great personal achievement that may assist my career in an ancillary way somewhere down the line.
After so many years of working hard on the PhD and always having it at both the front and back of my mind to varying degrees, the mental release is just wonderful. But even a short time after submission, I am thinking of what intellectual pursuit or project I should take on next—to fill the substantial mental void now left. Another thing I will miss is the online journal access.


Big thanks for your supportive messages and sorry to hear that others has experienced significant loss during the process too. I agree that feeling like this is probably to some extent 'normal' and possibly need to reduce the amount of stress I put on myself - submit (next month) - in my department can not have vivi for 12 weeks so focus on finding occupation and/or having a rest, rather than the elusive post doc. Thanks again - much appreciated x


I passed viva with minor corrections last week. V pleased. Similar to submission feels strange and sad sister is not here to see me become a Dr. My own health is so poor too that full-time work is not possible - so who knows what I am going to do - but grateful that it's over and outcome was positive


Congratulations Dr Redridinghood! Here's tho wishing you the best in your future pursuits! x

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Congratulations Dr Red! While it might seem bittersweet, wishing you all the best in your future endeavours and well done on your achievements. Also very sorry to hear of the very sad loss of your sister during this time.


i envy you so much, redridinghood. I am just in my first year phd, and i am struggling a lot. =(
Also, i am really so about your sister.


Congratulations! I'm very pleased to hear about your good news


Congratulations, redridinghood! Hope the future is full of positive things for you!