Are PhDs meant to be this stressful?

A blog by rewt

Second Year Blues

by rewt
on February 21, 2019
The PhD honeymoon has died for me over the last few weeks. It is kind of sad but also inevitable as I have literally sat at my desk for the last 2 days or so with no energy or motivation to do anything. I have so much to do but just can't be bothered and surf the web.

Honestly I think I have too many commitments and not enough support. By not enough support, I have let friends drift and find myself with an ever smaller group of non-PhD student friends left to talk with, who unfortunately tell me to "man up" and just deal with it. And it is hard to organise to do anything with them as they all have good graduate jobs and every time I suggest something it ends up at somewhere way too expensive for me. When I tried explaining to them once

But back to the commitments and my PhD. Simply, never sign up to a conference organizing committee or volunteer to chair it. It has caused me way to much stress and anxiety just for a line on my CV. The organisation has been a complete shambles and a lot of it is my fault. None of us had organised a conference before and the admin person helping us hadn't either, I should have seen that it was going to be a train-wreck earlier. Plus my supervisor never supported me doing it (should have listened). But as it went over the months we always just scraped by until a few weeks ago when that admin person left. Another admin person ,who actually knows what to do, replaced him as our support staff and basically said we were massively behind. Cue mass panic of work and activity and it seems to be back on track but there is still so much to do.

I keep having to do a lot of the work because the rest of the committee just want to sit back. I ask them to do something and day of their deadline they either have a sob story or ask for help as it is due(having done literally nothing). We have people who don't turn up to meetings saying give us something to do and then refuse to do it. Or one person who doesn't turn up to meetings but starts an argument over the decisions we made in her absence. It is a dysfunctional committee but when I try and escalate anything the others sit back. I feel responsible and don't want to quit so close to the end but I feel that this conference will have wasted 1-2 months of my PhD. I can't go the graduate team as they think it is my responsibility to get the committee to share the work but I can't force other committee members to do anything.

But I also sit back and think in the last 2 weeks, I have submitted my first paper (finally), got some great results (that could be the basis for another paper) and made another price of equipment finally work after 12 months. I just feel I can never stop as I have way too many commitments between the conference, my needy supervisor, my own PhD experiments and everything else. It isn't helped by my lab space issues that mean and I could potentially have at least 6 months with no lab space at all. So I have to keep grinding out data now or risk having to do experiments in the final few months of my PhD after spending several months twiddling my thumbs.

And I have kinda just cracked, for the first time in 18 months I can't motivate myself to do anything because it never ends. I still hold the slight hope of a career in academia and I have been trying hard to do everything that will maximize my chances but I clearly can't hack it. I am seeing my dreams slip away and can't help but do nothing. I hope that after this conference is over, I can sit back and relax, even for a week. Burnout is 100% real.


21-Feb-19, 17:45
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 7 months ago
You say you still hold out some hope for a career in academia but as far as I have been told by many people in that job and through my own eyes, you will be doing the exact same types of things in that job that have driven you to the point of a breakdown. An academic at Cardiff Uni killed himself over the amount of admin work he was having piled onto him.

What you have experienced is part and parcel of an academic career.
Are you really sure you have thought this through?
22-Feb-19, 10:53
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 7 months ago
You are right pm133. I am realsing that I don't enjoy academia in its current form but still love research. I just need to figure what I am doing with my life then. I am naturally quite lazy unless I am working towards something and that spark that has kept me going, has disappeared. It is probably just second year blues but I don't want this to continue for too long
23-Feb-19, 19:09
edited about 57 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 7 months ago
In my post that last sentence should have read "Are you sure this is what you want" rather than what I wrote. Thanks for not taking it the wrong way.

You are in the exact same position I was in at the same stage. I love research but I'm not interested in administration in general and academia (for many reasons) in particular. I have the added twist that I also don't want to be an employee anymore but essentially it sounds like we are both dressed up but with no obvious place to go. It's very frustrating and unfortunately I can't offer any advice in that regard.
Second year PhD blues are inevitable and I got that too. Took me ages to get through it and, like you, unless I know where I am heading I find it very hard to focus. The inspiration came back in patches with surges lasting several months at a time but the blues came back out of nowhere on a regular basis. I was especially disinterested in the research work of other people.
It feels the same as burn out or brown out and there were many times I had to focus on the end point of actually gaining the PhD (I hate doing things like this but sometimes it's the only way to keep going).

The positive for you might come from considering industrial research as a career option.
23-Feb-19, 21:34
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 7 months ago
I agree, the admin, bureaucracy and constant pressure is not worth an academic research career. But I haven't ruled out a post-doc or two. I don't mind people working for people and happy to move. I just have this feeling that my research could lead to something and I want to follow it this avenue as far as I can. I am fortunate that I have moved my work towards proving a concept that could be widely applicable. In a way the research could be bolted on to a lot of larger projects. Which is why I thought I had a chance of getting a lecturer job one day, but it is not for me.

I am listening to my own advice and am booking both a long weekend and a holiday in the sun. I am going to treat the PhD as a 9-5 job for a few months and see what happens. Worst case I still have no motivation but should have enough data for a thesis.
15-Mar-19, 14:08
by Zena85
Avatar for Zena85
posted about 6 months ago
Every PhD student face the point of not wanting to do anything even though when there is lots of stuff to do. My advice which has been shared by another PhD student is to take a break and go away for a week, you are not working either way but still you will benefit from taking a break and come back fresh to work. That helped me a lot during the last two years of my PhD specially when the stress started to increase. I organised a trip every two months to go somewhere and relax for 5 days and then back again to work. Look at the bright side it will finish at one point and it will worth at end .
19-May-19, 08:04
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for jasleenkaur
posted about 4 months ago

Message pending approval

To protect against potential abuse of the forum, all new user's initial messages are temporarily kept hidden until they have been approved by a moderator.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

25-May-19, 23:29
edited about 42 seconds later
Avatar for shortfatchemist
posted about 4 months ago
Sorry if you think that this is going to be unsympathetic but I have done this twice so far!

If you think that this point in your life is stressful, you have no hope. If you are in your second year then next year you are going to hit the “thesis blues”. This is where you suddenly realise you absolutely hate the F*ck out of your subject and even having to have to write the damn thing is vile.

So grow some balls, push through it and get the job done. Once you finish that thesis your life begins!
27-May-19, 13:41
Avatar for Dr_Crabby
posted about 4 months ago
We have all been there and it is a very real and horrible phase of PhD life, my only advice to you is be kind to yourself and try not to focus too far on "post-PhD life" until you really have to.


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