Love your life and your PhD- a plea


======= Date Modified 09 Jul 2011 12:14:28 =======
This is my concern, having read many posts on this forum a significant number use the word 'hate' or similar vocabulary either when describing their relationship with their research, their supervisor, or their student life. I believe that life is too short and every day is too precious to be doing anything that creates an emotion as strong as hatred. If this is how you feel just stop. 10 years ago I decided when both my parents died and both my inlaws too, that I wasn't going to do anything anymore unless it was worthwhile, affirming, stimulating, ethical, and a positive experience. This meant that I gradually shed a few friends (people who I dreaded seeing and who made me feel awful afterwards) I only engaged with jobs that fitted my new criteria. I travelled to places in the world that I was putting off for retirement (you never know when the proverbial bus will hit you), and now I'm doing a PhD, again something I always wanted to do ( not sure where i'm going to fit in learning to play the saxophone).
My point here is, I'm an older student and it's taken me a long time to learn to value some things and let go of other stuff. Don't hate your PhD, life is so short.

Avatar for Eska

I think a lot of times people come here to let off steam, one minute they hate it, the next they love it - and the forum is very valuable for that.  Also for some, a PhD is not a passion, rather a job like any other - so they need to hate on it to get through. Live and let live and be glad you are doing it for passionate reasons.

I needed to get the hell away from my PhD earlier this week and the idea of it atually hurt my head. I wanted to be free and go off to do other things, but that's just because I was tired and had just completed an important and long anticipated hurdle. But I'll be ready to get cracking again by Monday. Doing a PhD is like climbing everest or running a marathon - sometimes it hurts.. a lot, even those who are most committed and who truly love their work.


Hey Snowdropbooks, I completely take your point. Although I'm only in my late 20s I have been through the mill a bit with serious health problems and the untimely death of several friends through similar health problems, and I can empathise with how you feel about life being too short etc. I have taken similar steps to yourself to ensure that I cut the rubbish out of my life and do what my heart is telling me to do. I have never hated my PhD, although I have had problems with my supervisor at times- I have absolutely loved 99% of it.

However I can understand why some people have such awful PhD experiences and I can also understand why some people carry on regardless. I think everyone would love to love their PhDs, but it's not always that simple. Many of us, although not all, have career ambitions that necessitate completing a PhD (even one that isn't enjoyable), others are more than halfway through before trouble strikes and do not want to quit, and lots of people also have personal reasons for wanting to complete a PhD. I think it's important to recognise that for some people the PhD is not an enjoyable experience, but as another forum member highlighted recently, for many people it is better than the available alternatives of unemployment etc. Anyway, that's my take. I get you, but I think it's important to consider that other people may be undertaking a PhD in very difficult circumstances.
Best, KB

Avatar for Pjlu

And I've taken a life time to learn that it is okay to be angry at times; it is okay to feel and own your own personal feelings and it is okay to take on challenges in a hard core way. It is really important to value your own experiences and follow your own pathway and equally important to understand that for other people it can be very different-very different understandings, very different experiences and a very different pathway.

There will be times when I hate what I am doing...but I will come through those times and they won't define is the flip side of love remember and no passion can be without its polar opposite.


======= Date Modified 09 Jul 2011 13:55:58 =======
I admire your positive outlook Snow, and I'm sorry about your parents and parents in law. But I agree with KB, pjlu and Eska here. Some people come to this forum as an outlet for their feelings of helplessness and frustration. At the workplace, we try to be civil as much as possible, and we can't always "act out" the hate. We sometimes try to discuss the issues with sups or co-workers in a civil way, but things don't always change for the positive. We can talk to it about our friends and partners. But sometimes they don't really understand, even if they try their best, especially when they haven't been through the PhD experience, like "what are you so stressed about, it's just a piece of paper?"

I believe that if we can't do anything to turn the situation pleasant or tolerable, then we have to change the way we see things. I really think people try to do that, but it is not always easy, and it doesn't work like a zap.

My take on this is that many people do not want to dwell on hate, but circumstances can get really tough. I think it would be nice to acknowledge that as people, we have a range of emotions and frustration, hate, and the feeling that somebody understands us are definitely no exception. I think many people would like to move on as quickly as possible to get over these feelings. If you read through it, you'll see that some people don't just "hate," they want to move forward too.

I am not encouraging people to hate or complain all the time. What I am saying is that we should let them express the frustration in a world that is supposedly governed by rules of civility (which is really incomprehensible when violated by supervisors and co-workers we trust and respect). If that's what they need to move on, why not let them vent?

You yourself started to question whether the supervision you got is "normal." That is for sure one factor that attracted you to join this forum. You wanted to know if things really work that way. You did not "hate" per se, but imagine having these kinds of questions in mind for 4-5 years. It can take its toll even for the most patient people.

I have a then new co-worker whose paper was literally torn apart by her supervisor, in her face, because she exceeded the word count by 10 words. She asked me if this was "normal." My awkward answer was "in this place, it is normal." The admins couldn't do anything about the sup's behavior because she brings in a lot of publications from the "respected" journals.


Thank you all for taking the time to reply, I am however quite concerned about the mental well being and emotional atmosphere in the PhD world. It's not good for people and not good for academia to perpetuate the myth that high challenge=unpleasantness or hostility. Are there any psychology or mental health professionals doing a PhD who would like to comment please?

To everyone else please do look after yourself, a career isn't the most important thing in life, Ive had one and I can assure you relationships are the most important feature of how we travel the journey from birth to death. X x x to all


nobody is perpetuating a myth here. People talk about their own experiences. You have the choice not to read the ''hate'' messages. Pls don't simply ask people to ''stop.'' thanks for sharing the wisdom you've learned. It's up to us to take it or not, and learn from there.


hm, i just remembered,there is also a happy thread, you can search for it. Just thought you might like it :) i think it's been a while since somebody posted there. Maybe u can keep the thread going? That won't be a bad project.

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Snow, your advice is very sound but it can come across (without the warmth of your personality or body language-the delivery in person) as simplistic in text form and for someone who might be really depressed, it could be interpreted in the wrong way- they may make a decision in the throes of their depression based on 'well this doesn't make me happy at the moment so I have no right to try to forge through some of this-what a loser I am for even trying-I should just give up'. When in actual fact, once they get through the particular issue they might feel and see things very differently and in a far more positive way.

It isn't up to us to advise others or pronounce that because we have made such decisions others should as well. Neither is calling up mental health professionals and placing them as arbitors of all wisdom or privileging the sort of knowledge they may offer. They do have good advice and wisdom-no doubt about it but this forum allows all postgrad students and researchers the right to add their knowledge provided they are not rude about it.

I personally think it is great what you are doing...absolutely...but I also know that during some of the very hard times in my life, for a short period, the only thing that got me through was the determination that I could and that this negative experience would not define who I was. I think in some circumstances that is a very healthy way to get through to reframe, what might be extreme otherwise might be an extreme hardship or struggle for a period of time.

I am taking the time to comment on this not because I disagree with all that you say but because I sincerely believe that we cannot always know what it is like for others at times, nor can we just apply a basic mental health recipe to hope that this will improve things-it is a good start but it can be simplistic -sort of chicken soup advice-sometimes people need something more, more specific or sometimes they need someone simply to listen and to hear what they have said.

I will give you an example, during winter, (in my state within Australia-winter is very bitter and snow and storms are common) I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. In an absolute awfully depressed state (I had barely been aware of it as the SAD had been creeping up slowly despite all of my usual remedies I throw at it), I mentioned that I was in a bleak state, through a simple email, to a work colleague who I thought was a friend. I was doing this because I had found it hard to be my usual cheery person around them (for once) and I felt really guilty for having been a bit sombre. So I wanted them to understand that it was simply that I felt very depressed and found it hard to hide this constantly and be nice and supportive to everyone-but I hoped that they understood if I seemed a little down, that it had nothing to do with them (or my doctorate which I haven't even started yet and which for the most part I will find okay). I received an email back from them giving me a long list of things that I should appreciate and do on the weekend, because if I did, then I wouldn't be depressed.

Now I know they meant well and were simply trying to help. However, I found their response patronising and quite insensitive to how depression can work. All I really had hoped for was a short "Gee sorry things seem so tough-thanks for letting me know-sort of response). Instead I felt very guilty about having bothered them at all and as if I was a child who did not know how to look after myself. Anyway they meant well, so a couple of days later, I wrote them a really nice email thanking them for their support and kind thoughts and just clarifying in a really nice way, that it wasnt that I lack appreciation of the child like things in life but more that I was tired and down due to many work deadlines but their taking the time to respond like this was a thoughtful and very kind hearted thing to do.

But do you see where I am coming from? Somet

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi, Ive tried to edit the post below but it won't let me for some reason, so I can't make any changes on it at all...

but I was finishing up (this very long winded post-apologies peeps) by saying that sometimes, as mentioned by Eska, JJJ and KB that a PhD is like a marathon. For me, using a long distance race analogy really works as I have just started running and ran my first 10 k race a couple of weeks ago. Getting through some points and through the training was really difficult at times and I had to use sheer determination at times to cut through the pain at points, but I don't regret doing this as the feeling at the end and my personal results made it all worthwhile-the confidence it gave me was also undescribable (indescribable-whichever). Good luck Snowdrop, I am glad you are following your dream but I am also fine about who I am and how I tackle things as well.


======= Date Modified 10 Jul 2011 00:14:10 =======
I hate to say it (there's that word again) as much as I would love a job in academia it is not the ivory towers world people think it is.  It is not all nice and pleasant as one would imagine amongst like minded individuals who want to propel enlightenment and learning!  There is also a thread on this as well if you search for one on people's perception of academia though I can't remember the name exactly. 

Academia is very competitive (as competitive or maybe more so as there is less money around than the outside world/industry) so people will fight for their share of the pie and protect it well. This often leads to hostility and backstabbing/one upmanship.  It's a very sad reality of the system which seems to be getting worse now there are performance measures (i.e. REF) used to allocate funding and the crazy tuition fees to consider!   If this is occurs in a dept it filters down to the students which isn't great as PhD students are the bottom rung of the ladder so many feel helpless to do anything about it!  This isn't the case in all depts but this will depend on the culture of the dept but it's so easy to be sucked into this especially if your dept is polarised!  It's not a conducive working environment or one where you feel you can bond and make friends easily so many people use this forum to vent and let off steam. If you didn't you would go mad and it lead to worse problems in the long term.  The anonymity of this forum provides a good outlet to air your views and seek support from others who are or have been in the same situation. 

Yeah I would worry about the mental state of PhDs too as there is only so much one can take without going mad.  But then again anyone who does a PhD is not exactly sane! It's not exactly normal to go "I want to spend at least 3 yrs to researching XXX topic" although we all have our reasons for doing it!  ;-)

I agree with Pjlu about determination getting you through the tough times as that is what got me through too. It's knowing that you have to ride it out and that it will end! I can relate to the post which has good points.


======= Date Modified 09 Jul 2011 23:41:38 =======
As a psychologist and national agony aunt, could I just advise you that your remit may not suit all? People need to vent. They need to share worries, concerns and anger. Life isn't candy-floss. It's pretty damned hard. And everyone has every right to express their own concerns, especially during a PhD which is a mind-threat on every level.

Like you, I'd love a generous world, where people take due account of the human beings they encounter, but actually, without being too cynical, affirmation isn't commonplace, in any walk of life, except perhaps in psychiatric wards and counselling sessions. Real life is hard-knock. We all do our best to survive.

And academic life, in my experience, and in the experience of many here, is no different, and may be even harder, because it's peopled by hugely inflated egos. We get hurt by them. And we're entitled to say so.

Having said that, I still believe in the resilience of the human spirit.


Hey again- I think Pjlu has put it very well, and basically explained what I was trying to say, only much better! I have bipolar disorder and although I have not been seriously ill for a while I can really empathise with the effects of the 'cheer up, it's not that bad' type of advice that people often offer. It undermines and massively over-simplifies the whole experience of depression- if only someone with severe depression could 'cheer up' on demand! I've spent about 2 years of my life in total shut on psych wards trying to do just that, along with many other troubled souls. Perhaps I am getting a little off topic, but I think this relates in some ways to the 'love your PhD' advice. For some folk on here it really isn't as simple as looking on the bright side and trying to think a bit more positively about their PhD. Personally, as I said before, I agree with you and have very similar beliefs which have resulted from my own experiences- I just think it might be very difficult for others to take your message on board given the complexities of some people's situations. Best wishes, KB


======= Date Modified 09 Jul 2011 23:54:14 =======
I have to say, Beajay, you must have experience of some lovely psychiatric wards if affirmation is commonplace there! In my experience these wards are nothing but dehumanising and often very scary places. I actually developed PTSD from my experiences on a psychiatric ward, and have suffered debilitating flashbacks for over 8 years, despite intensive treatment. I acknowledge that my experiences might have been rather extreme, but I am struggling to find anything positive about the experiences I've had on these type of wards! I'm not planning to get admitted ever again (my last admission was over 6 years ago), but you must point me in the right direction, I've clearly been admitted to the wrong place! Best, KB


======= Date Modified 10 Jul 2011 01:20:44 =======
======= Date Modified 10 Jul 2011 00:55:30 =======

I don't have time to read all of the posts but I just wanted to put in my two cents worth. I think it is possible to love and hate your PhD at the same time. Two feelings can coexist and I think this is also something that shifts over time. Also - I think the healthy way to deal with this is to express these emotions rather than suppressing them.

Also I think that for some people doing a PhD can cause negative emotions if they say are on limited funding and not being bankrolled by their families and with few savings from previous employment because they are young. And they are yet to start a career and so are anxious about that too!

I think it's easy to say 'love your PhD' depending on where you are in the process. When you are in the final few weeks of write up, or perhaps in the middle of write up then I would like to hear back from you as to whether you still love it so much at that stage ;-)