Post-PhD: I feel like a complete failure


I think that there's something seriously flawed in me that prevents me from finding a job and advance my career. I tend to compare myself to other PhD graduates that are now working in wonderful postdoc projects and earning a good salary at a prestigious company or university.

When I look at myself, I really think I did my best to earn a PhD, but maybe I am wrong. The thing is that I had to deal with abusive advisors that took advantage of my work and tasks unrelated to my PhD that took many hours to complete. At the end of it, I felt burned out and tired, and wanted to quit academia.

Deep down, I think that some of them have had it much easier than me. Their thesis supervisors treated them as decent and valuable human beings, they came from wealthy families, people paid more attention to them and their needs and they often got away with cheating.

Not only do I think that my career skills and knowledge is mediocre to bad, but I think that no matter what I do, I will never be able to accomplish my goals because there's something wrong with me as a person.

My PhD dealt with biology-related topics. The problem is that during 3 of the 4 years it lasted I spend most of the time doing simple techniques such as PCR or DNA isolation. I have no computer skills either. Do you think any lab would hire a PhD graduate with such mediocre skills? Definitely not.

Perhaps I should enrol on a bioinformatics or advanced laboratory skills course, the problem is that I have no money, and I can't apply to any state subsidies.

When it comes to a job, I has been three years since I defended my PhD and I have had no luck so far. I constantly ask myself what is that I did wrong that prevents me from accomplishing my goals. Likewise, I don't know why have I been so miserable during the PhD while others were having so much fun. Is it as simple as that life is unfair?


Dear Jenny,
I am so sorry that you feel like that. A PhD should be a period of inspiration and learning - including a lot of work of course :)
I have heard similar stories quite often during my career counseling activities for our Doctoral School and for my blog
Many young scientists suffer from imposter syndrome - in particular when they have not been educated in fancy methodologies. This feeling is normal and many senior scientists still have this feeling :)
But you should not feel like a failure and stay in this state of mind.
One core problem is the feeling of helplessness.
The best strategy to overcome this feeling is to make a plan and take actions that are under your control. This will immediately increase your self confidence.
The first and most important question is: Do you really want to pursue a career in academia?
If you apply now for a postdoc, you MAY learn some great technologies that qualify you for a career in academia (= becoming a professor) provided that you also publish very well and raise quite some grant money.
However, if you have already decided that academia is not the right career path for you, it can be bad for your soul and your finances to add a postdoc period to your previous unpleasent PhD experience.
If you want a nice or great job *outside* academia, you should make a list of several potentially attractive jobs, go to LinkedIn, find some people who do this job and ask them for advice. Most people are helpful and love to talk about themselves. With this feedback you know much better what you really want and how to qualify yourself - and you DO something to gain more clarity (action = control = reduced helplessness).
I hope this helps,
all the best,
Sven Hendrix


Have you tried asking someone to look at your CV and cover letter? Your phd happened years ago! It’s time to move on from that now - start thinking about how you are going to get a job


My PhD dealt with biology-related topics.

A STEM degree, not to mention a doctorate, provides you with many useful skills and knowledge.

I have no computer skills either. Do you think any lab would hire a PhD graduate with such mediocre skills? Definitely not.

This sounds like all or nothing thinking. You do actually have some computer skills as you managed to post this message under your user account. If you want to develop more skills, such as programming and data-analysis skills, you alluded to the way forwards yourself:

Perhaps I should enrol on a bioinformatics or advanced laboratory skills course, the problem is that I have no money, and I can't apply to any state subsidies.

I wonder what it must have been like doing a Ph.D. (or even BS.c./MS.c) in early 90s before the internet. Or what about in the early 80s when word-processors when not so readily accessible.

Nowadays, so many people want to present themselves as teachers, you can find lots of FREE resources and tutorials on a variety of technical and advanced "computer skills" such as programming and bioinformatics. You don't even need to leave the comfort of your home!

You could learn Python and then some data-analysis skills. You are spoilt for choice on free resources for this.

Good luck!

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Hi JennySawyers,

I agree with Jamie_Wizard. A PhD in itself is a massive success and don't let people put you down. For your PhD you would have had to do data analysis on a large project that puts you above non-PhD students. For post-doc roles I can't give you much advice other than fake it until you make it. There are surprisingly large number of post-docs who exaggerate their CV to get roles and if you aren't doing it you are at an a disadvantage. Jamie has given some good advice on how to build your skills and I would add that you could try to reanalyse some of your old PhD data and possibly get a paper out if to reinvigorate your academic CV.



I totally understand you. I had the same experience during my PhD. I used to feel like you after my PhD. But one day I started thinking- there must be something inside me for which I earned this PhD. I gained the courage to continue applying for postdocs. And then the magic happened! I got a postdoc! Your advisors were abusive, don't let them upset you. It's your life! People will continue trying to break you. Just believe in God and yourself, and try. You will get there.