Post PhD effect- how to overcome and how long does it take?



I notice that I am more anxious and worried over small matters now, than before I did my PhD. I can get angry easily and I can't sleep if there are any non-study related problems (e.g. family problems) that bother me. I remembered that I was not like this before- I could still sleep if it is just a small/ not so large family problem, but now, I need sleeping pills. I am also becoming more sensitive and I can't hear people asking me why don't I lead a normal life like other women of my age. I am especially sensitive to the question why am I not married yet when my friends are having their 3rd/4th child, and their 1st children are entering primary schools already. Now, I am back at my home country, people love to ask this question. I am also very nervous of doing the things that I used to do, but in a new environment or had stopped doing them for many years due to PhD, e.g. renting a new place, going to work (I stopped working for few years to complete the PhD), driving a car ( I used to drive before but then used public transportation during PhD). I also feel like a bitter person.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Has anyone felt the same way and recovered? How to recover and how long did it take?



I remember when I finished mine, it felt like a massive anti-climax and although I had a job to go to and so was busy, it was strange to reimagine life without the PhD as an ever-present thing on my mind. I suspect it's because you've suddenly got brain space to fret about smaller things that that is why you're finding they get to you more. You've also moved back home after a long time abroad. I've done this and I think it was harder than moving abroad originally! Not least because it's meant to be so much easier. I think if you google reverse culture shock, you will feel better - or at least realise you're not the only one to suffer! Yes you can and will readjust but it will take time.


hi Huhu, reads to me like you're in your early 30s :-) I am a lot older than you.

You don't have to justify your life to people--and actually, huhu you don't have to answer to anybody. It is NORMAL to go do a phd while others get married, divorced, have kids, no kids etc. it is because the people who ask you have never done anything else in their life, never seen the world, never been out of the country--so they think your life is not normal.

Everytime you get an "intimidating" question about that, remember that you have seen more, you have had more chances, broader vision--you have that advantage compared to the person(s) who asked you, so never mind them. They don't know. And you don't owe them any explanation.

Next time when people ask you why you're not married yet, why you don't have children yet, why did you do a phd-- just smile sweetly--and answer back the same way you were asked---

"because I'm not married yet"
"because I don't have children"
"because I did my phd"

and leave them to their own imagination.

I think you'll recover in time, as soon as you find something to do (job, your own place etc.) you'll feel more grounded. I did my masters overseas as well--it was just 2 years but when I came back for holiday I felt disorientated and out-of-place--and I was only on holiday!!!

Adjustment takes time, we humans are quite resistant to change, that's why we feel emotions like bitterness, reluctance etc. For me, I'm now going through the "feeling-miserable-writing-journal-articles-that-get-rejected" phase, but I'll going to persist.

You'll be ok.
love satchi

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

PART 1: You have my sympathies and yes, I had a period of adjustment after the PhD to return to normal. On the day of my viva, I was expecting six months corrections if I'm truely honest, however, I walked out with three minor typographical errors. I remember feeling stunned rather then elated or happy (well perhaps for a few hours - I've told the full tale elsewhere) and the hyper mode I was in to firstly get the thesis submitted, revise for viva and get through viva didn't end. My thought process was to get the typos done and accepted by the internal examiner and get everything finished. I guess my obsessive get it done mode meant I was overreacting to what was only three minor typos!!! :-)

So psychologically for me, the process went on for another week whist I printed out the corrected documents, showed them to the internal examiner, had them bound (I even paid extra to have them bound the same day just to get them out the way) and submitted them to the University Graduate School. Only when I signed off the hardbound copies of the thesis an I received the receipt, did the feeling "I've done it." really set in.

I had this elated feeling for about another week, then during a lunchtime walk it sunk in "What do I do now?" I suddenly had all this free time, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, suddenly, the tension and overreaction to minor situations began to ease. I needed a decent holiday (actually series of holidays) and that I ended up having. Other people will come down in different ways and you may hear comment of needing "a quiet couple of years" whilst you sort yourself out and I tried to have this via a second post-doc (that didn't work out). Women tend to recover quicker than men though, say a year.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

PART 2: This adjustment period is about you physically, mentally and emotionally recovering and you you do get there eventually. You have to remeber exactly what you've put yourself through.

I'll add that whilst you do come down to some sort of normality eventually, a PhD does rewire your brain slightly in that you now question more, you look for reasons into things more, your outlook changes.

As for others remarks and questions, you've fallen victim to society's perception that you grow up, and do your duty by getting married and having kids. Deciding to go onto post-grad studies means you might place this on hold and you find people see you as not fitting to the norm by not having kids by your mid-to-late 20s. However, you have made life choices others haven't and to be honest if other people think you odd for delaying things for a few years whilst you do what you want or need, then perhaps they need to look at their own lives and ask if they would want aspects of their lives queried in the same way. As their choices might or might not have been right for them, your decision to stay at University for a few years was at the time the right choice for you (as it was for me).

You've made your choices, they've made theirs and we all have reasons for making them. People should respect that not everyone is going to follow the same path through life.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Hi Huhu, sorry you are feeling like this. Your mind has been very busy and inquisitive for a long and concentrated period of time, it's like it's super-sensitive and over stimulated and has to re-wire itself back to relax mode. Study can be as much an addiction as smoking/drinking etc. Maybe could you take up a hobby? I know that if I don't have a million and one things to do I feel anxious and irritated, it's like being busy tricks my mind/distracts it from wandering off on other unhelpful thoughts. Also, maybe think why you are so irritated by these questions. Yes you've not conformed to what non-academics expect, so what, let them question. Unless of course deep down you are irritated because you would like to be in a relationship with children on the agenda and you feel conflited because conforming in academia often (although not always) means sidelining marriage and children? Just putting it ou there! Whichever you want is fine an don;t lsten to otherwise as Huhu, you can only ever be you :-)


I am in the position, Huhu. I am from a conservative Asian family so rather than 'well done' I get 'well done, when are you getting married?' I do get bitter about it- years and years of nonstop study but people still feel marriage and kids is my 'true calling'. Not only is there the pressure of finding a job, but also a hubby and kids so I can be like everyone else. But at the same time, my life has been that little bit more interesting because I dared to do something other than get married and have kids before the age of 30.

And Mackem_Beefy, it is scary how similar our viva experiences are. I too feared the worst- but I passed with only a few typos needing corrected. I was told later that I had 'over prepared for my viva'- I ended up discussing lots of issues which were not in my thesis. But luckily I was told that I could add all these extra points in the published version of my thesis, should I wish to go down that route. Like you I was totally stunned. Never in a million years did I think the viva would be a positive experience.

Now I am in the difficult post phd stage, as I have mentioned in another post. Thank god for this forum- helping a great deal!


Oops- First sentence should read 'in the same position'

Avatar for Pjlu

This is a really interesting topic and thread, and I have loved reading the shared wisdom and knowledge that it has inspired. Huhu, I hope all goes well over the next few months, also hoping that the uneasy feelings and recovery year Ian has mentioned for in his post is over shortly.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Quote From Pjlu:
This is a really interesting topic and thread, and I have loved reading the shared wisdom and knowledge that it has inspired. Huhu, I hope all goes well over the next few months, also hoping that the uneasy feelings and recovery year Ian has mentioned for in his post is over shortly.

The one or two years I mentioned, that was a long time ago now.

One thing that does not disappear easily though, after you've probably pushed yourself as hard as you can and a PhD is a massive achievement only one percent of people will manage, is where next?

That takes a lot of thinking about and going back to settle for the mundane takes a lot of getting used to. Add to that people's perceptions of a PhD and the problems that in itself entails.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)