No motivation, enthusiasm, feel burnt out :(


Sorry to post another negative thread on here, but I thought it might be best to see if other people have felt like this too (I suspect at least a few will have)...

I'm on a 1+3 PhD, and am about two-and-a-bit years in, so one-and-a-bit into the PhD-proper. About a month ago I did my transfer/upgrate/MPhil-to-PhD thing, with a thesis and viva, which I got lots of praise for, and I'm currently writing a paper, with another to come in the first half of 2012. However, for a while now, and particularly since my transfer, I've been feeling motivation-less and burnt out. I took a week and a half off after my transfer, which was really the first time I'd had away from all work for about a year, as I usually take at least some papers when I go home for weekend, Christmas etc. But now I feel like I can't be bothered and just don't care about anything. I don't have that many friends here, have been single for a very long time, and don't do much in my social life except for helping to run the postgrad society, and even that I can't be bothered with right now. I sometimes tell myself that reasons for not having many friends/gf/social life is that I'm too busy with work, but this might be an excuse.

I've had a history of depression and anxiety, for which I've been treated with several kinds of antidepressants with over the past 11 years, although I've been off them for 18 months now because of drowsiness and weight gain. Perhaps the dark days aren't helping, but work seems to be going so slowly right now, and I have no idea what to do. I'm waiting on cells to become available, so I spend large swathes of time having to find things to do, when I feel like I should be doing experiments all the time. People in the lab tell me that I work too hard and shouldn't, but I don't know if that's true, and they might just be saying that out of trying to stop me making them look like they don't work as much, even though I feel like they do more work than me.

Anyway, I thought I'd jot this down to see if anyone else has experienced similar...



Hey 4matt, I think it's relatively common for PhDers to go through at least one phase feeling like this. I certainly had one particular period during my PhD where I felt pretty much like that, but I think basically I was just burnt out. Sounds like you need a proper break over Christmas, i.e. no paper-reading or writing or whatever. As for the working too hard bit- well we all work at different speeds and during different hours, but if a few different people reckon you're working too hard, then possibly you are! At least by the sounds of it, the rest of the lab must see you as very commited and dedicated. With the history of anxiety/depression- is that how you feel at the moment? If it is then you definitely need to get some help- it will only make things worse in the long-run if you feel like this. I know what you mean about the side-effects, but there may well be other medications that you find more tolerable. And most importantly, just take care of yourself :) Best, KB



I think many of us feel that we have to work because there is much to do, but the reality is that a few years aren't enough to know and do everything (in my opinion!). This means we need to make choices and know when to stop. Having regular breaks and taking good care of yourself are really important things in the long-term even if it feels like a waste of time and/or it brings feelings of guilt in the short-term. There is honestly so much we can do and cope with until we burn out. After all, we are only human!

There are many things that aren't within our control in a PhD, data collection and results are just some of them (there are sups, vivas, etc!). Sometimes we just need to accept that this is how it is unfortunately. Please don't feel you need to be doing something as it's not your fault the cells aren't available. If you really want to do something, could you start writing your lit review, plan your chapters, etc? Alternatively, just relax and enjoy the moment. You're saying that you don't really have any friends, so maybe make the most of this quiet time during your PhD and join one of the many clubs within uni to try and meet people? It can be difficult to go back to the 'social scene' when we've been working too hard but slowly does the trick and joining a club is a way of already having an interest in common so easy to talk about.

I've been told that having had depression and/or anxiety in the past makes people more likely to have it again. Maybe you could see your doctor and/or your counsellor at uni just to talk things through? Regarding the medication, as KB said, there's quite a large variety so you could potentially try a different one until you find one that suits your needs.


Hey mate I have had that exact same feeling numerous times throughout my study. Like you I have moved to a new place to study and have felt lonely and generally down at the choice to move away and study a phd. Like you I have been single for far too long and at times it has looked as though I had no conceivable way to meet anyone. As you know a phd is a lonely lonely experience and moving away doesn't help, however, you just have to look for positives. For me this was the fact that I could make my own hours, go to a cafe or the beach whenever i want and I generally enjoy study.

It also helps to look ahead to good things, which can range from finishing, visiting home, or changing houses because you lease is about to expire and the fact that this allows you to meet new people. It is very corny and a massive Monty python rip off but you must always look at the bright side of life, just appreciate the moment and the fact that you can walk in the park whenever you want or have a coffee and just read. A phd is a good gig but it has its downs, but these downs must be put in perspective. Best of luck and enjoy the holidays!


Basically I could have written this post myself.

I cannot blame the PhD for anything, I ve been single for a century, and I wonder about the few friends that stick around considering the minimum effort and time I put in them.
I ve been working non-stop for a few years, and continued working flat for my PhD. So, after a year and a half of virtually no holidays, working most weekends, a month in the hospital due to an accident of a family member, a paper, the upgrade and 2 months of fieldwork waking up everyday in the crack of the dawn and hitting the pillow at midnight.... I can say I am completely burnt out, I want to cry myself to sleep every night - or in the toilets alone (but I am too tired to bother crying or even screaming).

I will take sometime off hopefully in Christmas, maybe for a month. Until then I bite a pencil. Facial feedback hypothesis.

Just get some holidays


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That's all I've been thinking lately!! How burnt out I am and I'm not even doing a PhD right now but I'm applying for some. Since I finished my undergrad I find it very difficult to read anything or focus on anything which is extremely frustrating considering I used to have your schedule and read more or less anything that would come my way! It's veeeeeeeeeeeeery frustrating, I feel you but I haven't found a solution yet. I took holidays with my partner (which probably didn't help) cause all I feel I need is go off somewhere on my own, empty my head and start all over. In the meantime I'm just hoping that I will snap out of it somehow.

If you do find a different solution to it, share!

ps: i have a bf and that can be frustrating some times too (as well as not having a bf/gf) cause you never get a minute to yourself, especially if you live together like we do. So the grass is not greener on the other side either, even though I know what you mean.


I had a huge change of topic because i got so badly sick of what i was doing, so i kind of know the feeling. I even switched from maths to computing because i was so fed up with the whole thing. Are you writing as you go? Don't just let yourself get burnt out from doing too much thinking and experimenting -- you have to write to organise your thoughts. I don't have a gf either because it just doesn't suit me, although i asked someone out not long back -- i think she is still sort of thinking about it. In a way I'm not too sure either, see how those things go. Take a holiday and make sure you write some stuff, i find it clears the head.


Similar situation; two and a half years into the PhD and feeling burnt out. Been feeling like this for 6-9 months, with some good patches in between. Writing up my MPhil/PhD transfer was good and felt happy, but the bits after the 'good' bits always get me down - I end up feeling lost and not sure what to do/what to look at next in my research or how to move forward. Feel like I should take time off to collect thoughts, but I rarely do - when I do though, I end up completely forgetting about work and then coming back to the same old problems!

Just been to a medium-sized conference where I presented and it seemed to go down quite well (even though I still have reservations about my data and the content of what I was presenting), but since coming back I just can't get down to work and don't know what to look at. Feels massively frustrating, particularly this close to the Xmas break when I'll be forced to be away from the office.

Similar situation of anxiety & depression and also a history of it. I get good days and bad days, but bits of it every day. I also have drowsiness problems, and I've put on a lot of weight in the last 2.5 years due to moving around/walking less due to office-based research. My outlook is very negative at the moment, even with the excitement of Xmas looming since I'm worried that I won't have enough work done to graduate by the time I'm due to finish.

Keep in mind that you're not alone - even if everyone else in your office/group seems to be getting along really well, most have issues like this (and many, daily). Some are just better at bluffing that everything's working fine and going according to plan!