Im not getting any smarter...


======= Date Modified 26 19 2010 15:19:00 =======
Hu Guys, I just joined this site and this maybe a topic that has been covered so apologies if it is but does anyone feel that they are somehow getting less intelligent whilst doing their PhD?

I was always a top student, got a 1st degree and a 1st MA and always thought of myself as highly capable etc. Im in my 2nd year of my PhD now and feeling less capable and intelligent than ever. Maybe its because I have no one to else to compare progress with anymore or maybe its just that when you are only studying one very specific thing you dont feel like you are gaining a vast amount of knowledge but its getting me down. Im starting to question everything-like will I even be able to lecture at the end of this?

I look at lecturers and I just dont think I will ever be abvle to accumulate that kind of broad knowledge.

As I continue to write chapters of my thesis, I just feel like Im writing a lot of essays and Im no longer seeing the bigger picture or how all these "essays" connect.

Please tell me someone else out there feels or has felt the same and come through!


I often say that I feel I know less after finishing my Phd than before I started! I think the problem is you end up realising that there is just SO much knowledge out there it becomes overwhelming to the point you see that what you know is only a tiny fraction of what knowledge is out there.

So you're not the only one, don't worry!


Maybe you're suffering from the converse of the Dunning-Kruger effect: that your increasing competence has weakened your self-confidence because you falsely assume that "normal people" have equivalent abilities. It's also unfair to compare yourself to lecturers because they have had many more years of learning than you. It's like comparing GCSE and Uni students.

Avatar for Eska

That's really interesting Slizor - I think I've had that for about a year now... Ever since my PhD process has really kicked in and I've been really developing my confidence has taken a nose dive. I've become aware of everything I have to learn, in terms of both knowledge and skill. I can see all these gaps in my abilities that I couldn't see before so I have been far, far les confident about my research as it is now (although I know it's a great project with loads of potential and it WILL be really good when finished). I think this is part of the process we are going through.


The research environment has a way of making very clever people feel very inadequate.  It's not right, but that's the way it is.

This is the dark, hidden underbelly of universities as a working environment. On the surface, universities (research environments in general) are nice, happy, relaxed, laid back places to work.  Underneath, they are soul destroying working environments.

Research is slow, it takes time to accumulate knowledge, skills, expertise, awesomeness - you can't expect to get from phd to professor from a single essay


One good old saying springs to mind - ignorance is bliss. 

You had no idea what you didn't know... "it" didn't exist... so how could you realise you were ignorant of it. 

I met a Professor a few months ago who in imparting advice to me said - embrace the confusion because that's when you learn.   He went onto say that so many academics seem to long for the end of the confusion but if they're doing it "right" it'll never stop.

So... I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but maybe this is what its like... ;-) so embrace it (up)


Thanks Guys, Good days and bad days ya know!! :)


I'm so glad to read all these posts and know I'm among good company:-) I have been feeling like this a lot, especially since I need to learn a large amount of unfamiliar material at the moment. I think it gets easier to learn as our knowledge base builds up and more newly learned concepts are connected with what we already know; at least, that happened when I read for my honours thesis, but I haven't reached that stage with my PhD yet. I also feel as though I'm not as smart as I was, and feel like as though I should be reading/ writing all the time, weekends, evenings etc. I'ts a real challenge, punctuated by very rare 'Aha!' moments of enlightenment.


I suppose you have to get used to getting a different kind of feedback at PhD level- you no longer get grades or percentages to reassure you that you're at the top of the class, you don't have so many people to compare yourself to directly, so I think it is more difficult to gauge how you are doing. I think we all have moments of crisis in our PhDs where we wonder how well we are really doing, but I guess the only thing you can do is rely on your sup to give you feedback, and also think about publishing and presenting at conferences to give you some idea of the standard of your work and hopefully some reassurance! Best, KB