I am about to enter my 3rd year of a well-funded, "prestigious" PhD programme in life sciences. On paper the project is going reasonably OK, could be better but not a disaster. I like the city and am in a great relationship.
Over the past two years I have struggled almost on a daily basis: my suitability for lab work, my place in research, and my overall mental wellbeing.
This time last year (heading into year 2), having reached almost breaking point, I reluctantly started a course of anti-depressants for about 9 months. During this time I was forced to take a leave of absence for about 3 weeks in the hopes that I could recharge and find out if I was to continue.
Today I sit in my kitchen, not for the first time, unable to face going into the lab. Unfortunately, bouts of severe low mood are becoming increasingly frequent again. Some of the thoughts that have been entering my head can be terrifying. My life-long passion for sports has dwindled and I'm finding it difficult to get enjoyment from exercise, instead I am reverting to smoking and drinking.
I'm wondering how I got here. I like science and was initially attracted to medicine, but I was never fully comfortable in the lab environment. Being honest, my reasoning for doing a PhD was not purely research-based, but perhaps more career-orientated. The old adage rings true "getting into a PhD is far easier than finishing one".
All at the same time I feel stupid for feeling like this, like a failure for not grabbing life by the bullhorns and pushing through.
I'm afraid if I leave the PhD I will eventually feel the same in another environment. Sometimes I have the feeling that I am not cut out for life.
Is this pain and hurt a necessary evil in the pursuit of a PhD title? Am I just not approaching it the right way?
Will 2 more years of struggle be worth it?
Sorry you are having such a hard time. You're not alone in this as you'll see if you Google something like 'PhD damages mental health' or 'PhD depression anxiety'. I would really urge you to go back to your GP but also to seek help from your university counselling service, or your GP may be able to refer you to counselling. I had some cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety caused by trying to do a very stressful full-time job and a part-time PhD. It gave me some strategies to help me cope with things like not feeling able to leave the house or deal with difficult tasks at work.
In the meantime, be kind to yourself and try to spend time with people who are kind to you. Would you tell a friend who was feeling like this that they were stupid or a failure? Hopefully the answer is no, so there is no need to beat yourself up either.
Unfortunately I think it is par for the course with a PhD (certainly for a STEM PhD). It really shouldn't be but it does push people to the limit for a prolonged period which we are just not built for. As you'll know with your background a little stress for a short time is there to drive you, but for a prolonged period anxiety and depression are the all too predictable results. I had never suffered from anxiety or depression in my life before my PhD, 3 years in an panic attacks had become a regular thing. We were pretty open between the students in our lab and we'd semi-jokingly compare our breakdowns that week. There was no real official support structure unfortunately and our supevision was fairly unsympathetic. My lab has a 56% non-completion rate, everyone but one of those who left while I was there was due to the mental health demands.
Only you can decided if it is "worth it". Though as you say it is a prestigious position (which comes with added stress to perform) and you are a good chunk of the way through. I found that sitting down and writing a pro/con list worked amazingly for me when I felt like quitting because I always came up with significantly more pros. That is a good one to do alone as you can see not only the reasoning but also are you more positive or negative about completing your research.
I am in the same situation may be worse, the problem is the environment is not encouraging, I wish if there is a supportive supervisor, I can feel all your thoughts. Honestly, began to feel that academic route isnot based on merit, but other qualities. I dont know how to advice, because I am suffering from chronic anxiety, depression, OCD, and bi-polar disorder, I am struggling to sleep for years, and I am struggling also to look sane in front of people, but inside me I feel lost because of the severe lab vibes, and i found there are other students have the same situation.
Hi Zimmerman, you are not alone. Most PHD students go through the same.
Masters DegreesSearch For Masters Degrees
An active and supportive community.
Support and advice from your peers.
Your postgraduate questions answered.
Use your experience to help others.
Enter your email address below to get started with your forum account
Enter your username below to login to your account
An email has been sent to your email account along with instructions on how to reset your password. If you do not recieve your email, or have any futher problems accessing your account, then please contact our customer support.
or continue as guest