Going mad?


Not really, but I do feel like I am going a bit... odd... like when I am writing and reading academic literature, whereas I would normally feel grounded and like it makes sense (generally) and is fitting in with a larger idea in my mind, lately I've felt like maybe what I am writing is utter nonsense (dare I send it to my supervisor?), and also like what I am reading could easily be gibberish too at times (that really got published?!). Is this a stage that people go through with their PhD? I am just over 1.5 years in. It feels a bit like the metaphorical can't see the wood for the trees anymore.

Any advice would be appreciated. I took a few days break, which was lovely. But when I returned, it was the same.


As soon as I posted that thread an ad came up about mental health. Grr, don't you hate the internet sometimes? So nineteen-eighty-four.


Do you feel like it's nonsense because 1) you can see specific flaws in the arguments, 2) you think none of it matters or 3) you just feel detached from and confused/distressed by it? The first is normal as you gain mastery of the field, and the second is quite common during the 2nd year doldrums. The third is similar, but it can shade into real anxiety and depression and is worth keeping an eye on from a mental health perspective. Feeling deadened or suddenly unable to care is a depression symprom and sometimes difficulty in focusing / concentrating can be linked as well.


Hi Gwen, thanks for your reply. I think it is mostly 2 and a tiny bit of 3. I think I just need to take a break again then come back. I sent my supervisor something and haven't allowed myself to even think about it since, as I am worried it will be completely flawed!


I always find that the more papers I read in one go the less they make sense. There is only so much information I can take in before my brain just stops processing information. Stepping back a bit and having a break is definately a good idea.


It's worth remembering that many published papers are really badly written - either because the authors don't have particularly good English, or they're not skilled at expressing themselves clearly, or both - and some journals don't copy edit as thoroughly as you might think.

Otherwise, I agree about taking short breaks when you can, instead of trying to work for long stretches at a time - if you find you're getting mentally tired or losing focus, step away from the books/papers/screen and take a walk or do something else, then come back to it with your brain and eyes a bit fresher.

If you find anxiety is a problem, maybe look into some mindfulness/relaxation/breathing exercises. Getting regular exercise and enough sleep can help, all the usual self-care stuff.


Thanks all - feeling much better now!


A year into my PhD I was sick of reading about my initial topic. One day I opened the door to the PhD room and felt actually sick. I was ready to give up, but my super convinced me to change the focus of my project. It worked, and I got my PhD in 2014.

For me it got to the point where the I was just reading papers for the sake of reading them, not because I was looking for specific info. I now realised I was hoping to find some answers, some clues, because I had no idea of what interested me.

I think maybe it could be a sign? Maybe you're unhappy with you topic or the direction you're going and you need to re-evaluate it? It's nothing to be ashamed of, and it is normal to change your mind about stuff as you mature intellectually.


Good to hear from you Mattfab. Yes, it is weird. Thankfully, I am not feeling sick now. But I still don't feel entirely like I've hit the jackpot necessarily in terms of my project and its coherence and value. I know a PhD doesn't mean a Nobel peace prize. I'm not talking about that. Anyway, I've sort of resigned myself to just get on with it and go through the motions of doing it. Maybe I'll feel more passionate when I'm writing (that's what I've always enjoyed doing) instead of thinking, planning, and reading.

Also, a friend of mine told me that there is this time during the 2nd year of a PhD where people often feel like I feel - questioning everything and being a bit demotivated/worrying. That was reassuring.

So is that what happened then - did you find a more interesting gap?