Are PhDs meant to be this stressful?

A blog by rewt

Too many commitments

by rewt
on February 05, 2019
Hi Guys,

I don't were else to go but here.
Stress has finally got to me, at present I have; a supervisor pushing me hard to finish a paper, another supervisor leaving, lab issues, family problems and a stupid university conference to organise. I have been trying to manage over the last few months but today I have spiraled into an anxious mess. I can't focus on anything but the amount of work I have to do and can't focus on the work itself. I know need a break but I feel I can't drop anything at the minute. I have so many people/groups pulling on me that I can't focus on any one thing. I feel control is slipping away.

What has triggered my anxiety is this university conference. I am somehow the chair of this committee and have been bumbling through but found out today, that we have a huge amount of work to be done, with less than a month to go. It is a serious amount of work and the rest of the committee prioritize their own PhDs ( I don't blame them) but it leaves me doing a lot of the work. I can't quit the committee as the conference won't happen, without me (not kidding) but I don't want to have to give up a month of my PhD. I also feel that , as I lead everyone into this mess and should at least help fix it. If I could get past this anxiety everything would be great but my mental health has failed and so have I.

The problem is my PhD is going okay. I have nearly finished 1 paper, have enough data for a second but I have the threat that I will lose some of equipment in the next few months. The lab the equipment is in, is due for refurbishment and they don't have any other space for me. So I am looking at 6-12months with that equipment which basically means I should be focusing on lab work at the minute. I am trying my best to get as much data as possible but I can't find the time due to other commitments. If i don't get it now, the final few months of my PhD is going to be awful. It doesn't help my supervisor is pushing me to finish a paper so that she can mention it in a rather large grant application. Her grant application would basically fund my post-doc so I need to get the paper out soon.

I simply need to say no to someone and can't. You will probably hear of my nervous breakdown in the next few weeks as I try and struggle through all this.


06-Feb-19, 09:22
edited about 29 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 year ago
No, PhDs are NOT meant to be this stressful and Yes you have overcommitted yourself.

So you need to prioritise. These are my suggestions. The decision is ultimately yours.

1) Conference committee - Use your position as chair to whip your committee into shape. Delegate work and set deadline. Get new people on board to replace those who do not perform. No one can mention this on CV if they just piggy back and did not contribute. You may not be well-liked when everything is over, but hey, at least the job is done.

2) Lab equipment - Yup, this sounds like a MAJOR priority. Get your data generated ASAP. Is this an equipment that belongs to the supervisor who is moving? Then yes, get your sh!t done now. Everything else is secondary.

3) Paper for supervisor - Talk to your supervisor about the lab equipment issue and write "manuscript in preparation" rather than "submitted/accepted" on the grant application. You have your PhD to complete. You don't even know if the funding will be successful (Most aren't anyway, sad reality). So to plan and say that this is for your postdoc, when you are not certain you will get the funding but in the process put aside your own PhD which you have higher probability of getting is unwise. If you are delayed in your PhD and the supposed funding for the supposed postdoc position comes through, will your supervisor wait for you or hire another postdoc? Go figure. Her priority is for her paper to save her own career, not you.

4) Supervisor leaving - Not sure which supervisor this is, but I assume this is the secondary one on paper. But, is she your primary one when it actually comes to getting experienced supervisory input, trouble shooting, and gaining methods and lab equipment. If yes, I would consider moving with her if possible. To lose one year is better than to lose an entire PhD due to lack of supervisor's guidance. Unless of course that your remaining supervisor is awesome.
06-Feb-19, 19:39
edited about 2 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 year ago
Your last two sentences are worrying.
Are you seriously suggesting that allowing yourself to have a complete breakdown is preferable to saying No to people?
You need to reconsider this.

You have over-committed and lost control of what you are doing. No shame in that. We have all done it.
Delegation is the easiest way out of this and that should start in the morning if you have not already done so.
You need to regain and positively assert personal control of the things which are important to you. Not to your department or your colleagues or this conference. To you. Why? Because nobody is looking out for you while you are working hard for everyone else. Learning the power of saying No is completely liberating. You simply must learn how to do it.

On the positive side, you've learned something valuable about where your personal limits are. You are also about to learn who has your back when the chips are down. That is no bad thing and will definitely help you in the future.
13-Feb-19, 08:21
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for kitalaratlasi
posted about 1 year ago
Hello everyone, I am a PhD student in Czechia. I am trying to post some useful academic writing posts about different subjects. Come and have a look :) And please make a review to help me improve myself.
27-May-19, 05:58
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for thesisdoctor
posted about 1 year ago
When I was in the first year of my PhD, I overcommitted myself as well. You'll find that there is no need to do EVERY other task that people ask you to do; eventually you have to say NO and focus on your primary goal of the PhD.
I understand that at the moment you have many tasks to balance. In my second year I started going to a gym and it really helped me! I found that if I was frustrated at something in my thesis, having a workout helped me dissipate some stress. Perhaps worth a shot.
Always take time each week to do something for yourself away from the PhD - even with your hectic schedule a few hours unplugged from a computer etc. one day a week may help you to recharge.
I hope the conference goes OK and just remember; all these things you do now can be added to your resume :) Good luck!
28-Nov-19, 21:45
Avatar for Babygirl
posted about 9 months ago
Hi just reading this and my heart went out to you there. Very good advice have been given to you. I hope you made use of them.

You sound like a people pleaser if I can be blunt. You are trying to please everyone at the detriment of your mental health. Doing a PhD has enough impact on one's mental health let alone adding more to that, it will be overkill. I really think you need to prioritize your health and stop biting off more than you can chew.

Honestly without you that conference WILL hold, trust me, so delegate, be firm and make your life easier. PhD shouldn't be so stressful, it's a long journey and should be enjoyed amid the hardwork and grind, rather than endured. Take breaks, relax, ease your mind, balance life, do something fun routinely, live. I hope you made the right choices. You'll be fine. Best wishes.


Copyright ©2018
All rights reserved

Postgraduate Forum

Masters Degrees

PhD Opportunities

PostgraduateForum is a trading name of FindAUniversity Ltd
FindAUniversity Ltd, 77 Sidney St, Sheffield, S1 4RG, UK. Tel +44 (0) 114 268 4940 Fax: +44 (0) 114 268 5766