I am an incompetent fruit bat.


======= Date Modified 28 43 2010 12:43:07 =======
======= Date Modified 28 42 2010 12:42:56 =======
I feel bad about whinging. I woke up at 2am and was awake until 4am having a very real panic attack (trouble breathing etc). I dropped out of my first degree 10 years ago and it affected me badly. It made me abandon my field and go into a much less quantitative science . I've spent a decade fighting to improve my "real" skills whilst working in the field I ended up in. My new PhD is everything I ever hoped for, the perfect blend of quantitative analysis and environmental science, plus my supervisors are amazing, I get to help out with teaching etc., everyone is wonderful.

Except I suck. I obviously rated my math and science skills as higher than they really are and now I'm waking up in the night with panic attacks over how stupid I am for not being able to do basic data analysis and b) choosing an "easy" degree over a, um, real one as an undergrad.

I don't want to be anywhere else but here. I love this PhD, it means so much to me. But I feel so incredibly stupid and incompetent that I feel that the high promises I made (and believed) when I started are proving to be nothing but me making things up, having no scientific skill at all.

I know I'll get over this but I'm really hurt. I am not making any progress at all. I feel I'm suffocating when I wake up in the night, then I go back to sleep and get up in the morning and feel fine again. I half want to tell my supervisor that I'm struggling but he is such an incredible academic that I don't want him to lose all respect for me so soon. I already feel like he probably has -- well why wouldn't he?

I hate feeling so down and anxious. Being terrified of failing and making mistakes is making it impossible to make any kind of progress at all. There is a steep learning curve for this PhD and I need to get on with it. I'm not a procrastinator by nature (last year I wrote two novels, achieved membership of two societies and studied a demanding undergraduate course whilst working full time and balancing family) but right now I feel... awful. I might stare at the screen for five hours a day, checking email and FB just to get away from the fact I don't know what I'm doing. When I try to follow tutorials, I learn a little but can't reapply that knowledge, or feel like I'm spending ages learning something irrelevant.

I feel like I'm setting myself up to fail. I just need to think things through logically... but I'm blocking that logic process on every level. I can't understand why. I'm an adult, I should know better.

I feel like $£!# :(

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ok, breathe.

Firstly, you are not, no matter how much you think you may be, behind on any skills, becuase a) they wouldn't have let you do the PhD if they didn' tthink you were up to it and b) a PhD is research TRAINING - learn as you go.

I would suggest that you break what you're stuck on into very small chunks, then sit and do each very small section. If its something you are stuck on, then use all the available resources e.g. books/papers/youtube, and people - other PhDs, postdocs, supervisor.

If there are areas you need to learn more about (I need to learn strucutral equation modelling, arrrrgh!) then why not ask for some training? there will be a budget somewhere for you to do it.


I really feel for you. I am a numerate person (I used to do very complex spreadsheet modelling when I was an accountant) but I really struggle with SPSS. My solution was to find a colleague in the Psychology dept who teaches it to undergrads who will let me sit in on her classes. Is that an option for you - to find some undergrad (or taught postgrad) classes which cover it - you can sell it to your supervisors (if you need to tell them) by saying you are recapping / upskilling etc. Can you get hold of any of the material for the taught course ("I'm interested in how it is taught here compared to how I did it" rather than "I can't do this and need help"). Look at the reading list for the intro courses and get some books from the library.

Above all try not to stress as that will just make it worse.(up)


Talk to your supervisor, if this is actually affecting the quantity or quality of your work. I had some personal issues recently, which were impinging on my ability to focus, and after speaking about them with my supervisor I felt considerably less panicky (I have an awesome sup.) and better able to concentrate.

I know what you mean, about feeling that you don't want your supervisor to lose respect for you, or think that you are some kind of 'crybaby'. I felt the same, which I why I put off speaking with my sup. about my problem for ages. I think it's best to make it clear that you would like to speak with him because your problems are directly affecting your work, rather than subjecting him to a general rant, because the former makes it clear that, as your supervisor, he has a vested interest in helping you to attain your best work.

He may be a top academic, but don't forget, he agreed to supervise you! So don't assume that he has 'little respect' for you. Some people, my own sup. included, are not very forthcoming with praise and approving comments, but it doesn't mean that they dislike your work or your abilities. Best of luck.


You poor thing :-( it sounds as though you've got yourself so wound up over this that you're making yourself ill! The advice given by the others is great - do you have the facility for extra training or to attend classes at a lower level? In my uni we have the right to attend any courses and I did a few MA courses in my first year of the PhD - not being tested or marked - just participating in the seminars and learning and it helped! And don't be afraid to talk things through with your sup - that's what they are there for, and I'm sure no matter how great an academic he is he was a student once, and I'm sure that even now there are things he struggles with - they just hide it better ;-) Talk to him, explain that you feel out of your depth but that you want to do something about it now rather than let things run on - it shows that you're pro-active rather than sitting and waiting for the fail. Sometimes all it takes is a little explaining and things become clear.

Look at what you've achieved, you aren't a fruit bat :-) You're just getting overwhelmed and scared....


I feel a bit better -- I made the effort to meet people doing similar work to me, going to seminars etc. It's good just to talk to people doing similar things to me even if they aren't experiencing exactly the same problems.

Right now I have steep learning curves in six or seven different areas and it's hard to get going. The ones I am worst at cause me the most trouble but are the ones I need the most in the long run. But I don't like feeling like I'm not progressing, so I'm spending "time" trying to do little bits of other things to feel like I'm still moving forward. But then I'm not focusing, I'm falling behind etc. I get on well with my supervisor so I've told him how I feel, but the answer is always just to work hard. I suspect that's true, but I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall because I AM working hard (at least, I think I am) but I'm not getting anywhere at all.