Hi all,

I'm new to this forum...hello everyone! :)

I am in the 4th and final (hopefully) year of my PhD in biological science. I am just wondering does anyone have any advice for getting through and making yourself work even when you are hugely unmotivated?

I am to a point where I feel like I have hit a wall and I think about quitting everyday, which is crazy! It's been a disaster from very early on but I've make excuses and hoped it would get better. My lab has been quite toxic, we have not published any papers in the past five years and the whole lab has produced little or no data in the last three years! I have gone from loving science to feeling completely disinterested and have lost all confidence in myself and my work. I am usually a happy go lucky sort of person but the continuous failure over the past three years has started to really depress me. I have tried everything, have talked very directly and honestly to my supervisor (and have broken down in tears in front of him a number of times...and I NEVER cry!), my secondary supervisor and others in the department, the welfare officers and have even gone for counselling, but the general message is always man up and get on with it. I have very little data and not even half as much as I would need. I used to be really enthusiastic but now it's a struggle to even get up in the morning and I am barely getting any work done at all. I need to motivate myself, I need to get the work done or else I am never going to finish!!!

Any advice would be fantastic!
Thanks guys :)


Hi pushfor 10,

it is quite surprising that a lab hasn't published any papers in the last 5 years.... Why does this happen?

Good luck with your work.


Not sure why, the main reason is it's such a new lab. So a lot of time was spent in the first year or two setting stuff up that would not usually be an issue in labs that are already up and running. In this way there has been a struggle to build momentum!

Feeling a lot more motivated this week...probably because Christmas is closing in pretty rapidly.

But it seems like a huge percentage of PhD students from all across the world seem to go through a period of sometimes quite extreme depression. I think it is crazy that this is universal and is often written off as normal! But I guess if it was easy then it wouldn't be worth doing?

I wonder how many people on this forum are depressed with their studies?


I completely agree Pushfor10 - it really is an under addressed issue that so many people experience depression and ill health during a PhD - far more health problems than would be expected for the age groups of the majority of PhD students. I've never seen any thorough research on it or universities making very significant attempts to address the issue, but the issue certainly warrants attention - ideally practical attention though some accurate data about it would be interesting. There's a book called 'Focus' by Wolff which has a section in with practical ways to address procrastination - I've used it a bit.


hey pushfor10

from my experience ppl usually feel demoralizaed when they don't see any progress going on.

maybe u should break down ur goal into small tasks than can be completed within a short period of time, say 1H. this way, u can monitor ur progress often and see that it's actually moving.

documenting ur daily progress in your diary helps a lot too. it gives u a sense of achievement at the end of the day / week / month.


inoculate species x microorganism. (inoculation takes some time, so it might feel like u're not moving..)

let's break it down into a series of tasks..

inoculate species x microorganism
1. acquire species x
2. perform literature review on 3 best ways to inoculate.
3. select best inoculation technique.
4. design end-2-end inoculation process
5. set-up lab for inoculation.
6. perform inoculation and measure result

every time u complete a task, tick and remind urself of the achievement. this way, every little step can recharge ur motivation!

hope it helps.


Hi pushfor10,

You sounded like me when I was at this time of the year, one year ago especially on the part

... it's a struggle to even get up in the morning and I am barely getting any work done at all
... so I can quite relate to what you're feeling right now. :-)

What I did was,
1. I left all my study for 1 week, took a holiday and went to a countryside, which was totally different from the city that I was living in (which was full of buildings everywhere and everyone was rushing and chasing after something) and came back with a fresh mind and new perspective. Sometimes, we just need to stop for a while and step back from the situation so that we can see things clearly rather than being too close to it or in it.
2. After coming back to the university, I went to talk to an international student advisor (a professor) where he told me that he also had a similar situation like me when he was a PhD student. It was quite a relief because I thought that I would not have any future, but that was not true. I learned that, what I was facing was quite common and even professors had the same experience. That gave me some hope to get out of the situation.
3. You mentioned that you had met counselors and they told you to 'man up and get on with it'. But did they tell you how to do that? My counselor told me to list down only the two most important things to solve at the moment and ignore the rest so that I could have enough energy to solve them; and then only I tackle other problems. It worked :-). I had also requested for the counseling support until the end of my study, where I can say anything during the session and that let off some steam every week.
4. I am not a sports person, but I started jogging after that time.

You mentioned that your lab have not published any papers in the past five years - is it conference papers or journal papers? Can you just send any papers to conferences or journals? While writing, it will help you to organize your ideas; if the paper is accepted, it would be great, it'll help to build some confidence; if not, you can still gain some input from the reviewers' comment.


Thanks everyone for the advice!! :)

I'm just back from a trip home for Christmas which was a wonderful break.
I had hoped that the break would motivate me and it did a small bit. But to be honest last night the idea of returning to the lab this morning filled me with panic.
Then any remaining motivation I had was destroyed by my supervisor...who didn't say hello or happy new year when he came out of his office - instead I got yelled at for not being in over the weekend and told that he needs the results of a certain experiment by tomorrow (even if I work all night this is impossible).

So a great start to the new year!
In other news our one and only post doc has quit!

It's all a huge mess and even though I am in my 4th year, I am seriously considering quitting!


First of all, I know how you feel. I'm not in as toxic an environment as you seem to be, but have still felt the feelings of despair you are going through, so you are not alone.
Try not to let your supervisor's comments get you down - you were right to have time off - it was Christmas after all! - and I agree with huhu that taking some time away is essential when you get so low.
If possible, speak to your supervisor and explain that it is impossible to have the results by tomorrow (and why) and work out a timetable for when you can reasonably do this by. I would consider getting my supervisor to help me with this, but in your case, you are probably better off doing this before you see them. That way you are not just saying you can't do it, you are explaining why those expectations are unreasonable and presenting a sensible approach to getting the work done. If he needs it sooner than that, that's is problem, he should have given you more notice. If it can't be done by staying up all night, I would advise you to go home at a sensible time. Working all night can be a way of meeting deadlines, but as you get tired, your productivity will go down, you might make mistakes and it's certainly not sustainable in the long run, so you are better off giving yourself working hours you can stick to.
Please don't quit, you are so close. Think of all the time and effort you have put in. Is it possible to transfer and finish your PhD somewhere else? I don't know anything about your field/situation but if it is possible it might be worth considering.
Also, huhu's suggestion of exercise is, I think, a good idea. While your feelings of depression are caused by your work situation, exercise is known to help with depression and I find it helps keep things ticking over, helps me sleep better etc.


Hi Push for 10,

Was a PhD in a not too different position once

Having read Mary Oliver's (American poet) lines "One day you knew what you finally had to do and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice", I knew that something inside me needed to change course!

Ended up for a while on an indigenous reserve in Costa Rica. Gave me the space that I needed to consider my options. Decided to leave the dept that I was working in + esp. the supervisor!

I'm now back at my thesis, but as an M.Litt rather than a PhD. In a better dept. + with a better supervisor!

If you can afford it, some time out might help provide a breath of fresh air + a new outlook

Btw, posted some quotations that have helped me to stay focused on the "Stay Motivated" thread (25/07/12)

Hope they help!