PhD burnout :(

posted
12-Jun-13, 13:21
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for Sammyboy
posted about 6 years ago
Early second year PhD student in the UKand also a warden in university halls, i.e living in halls and looking after freshers welfare and organising events. So I'm a full time PhD and working a few evenings a week. I think I'm a workaholic (or at least was) and completely burn out atm. From what I've read I need to take take a few months or so off, but my supervisor is so demanding. I've had to give 5 presentations in the last 4 months he wants 6 papers out this year and has Proff's form all over the place coming down for last minute visits that he expects me to entertain. My schedule is full booked for like the next 5 months. I'm at breaking point and just want to quit - but I dunno if I can get a job in this recession, also PhD is in a good field (guaranteed industry job) so feel like I shouldn't just walk away - I'm so tired sick of life, how do I get better? I feel trapped :(. How do I tell the university I need time off? Presumably I'm not paid for those months - but I could rely on my savings, but they wouldn't last long - also don't really get on with my criticising parents - they would love that I've burnt out, it would provide fuel for their negativity - so moving back with them is not an option. Has anyone else gone through burnout? I feel like I NEED to work but just can think straight or concentrate! help :/
posted
12-Jun-13, 16:18
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 6 years ago
I'm taking for granted that you feel you can't just book a holiday, which is the obvious thing to do as a first step. But you are not doing your health any favours not taking a break when you need one. Universities put stupid demands on their staff, and often it just doesn't occur to supervisors that the life they themselves lead is so abnormal, because they've come to take it for granted. And then they expect the same from their PhD students and the cycle is perpetuated... But if your supervisor is generally a decent person, I think I'd just go and say I need to take a holiday.
If you can't ask, I think a trip to your GP is a good idea. You sound like you are suffering from stress. Even if your GP signs you off for 2 weeks, speaking from experience, 2 weeks of decompression time can really help to get things back into perspective. Then you can make sensible decisions about whether you need to take a few months off, or even quit altogether. Sometimes walking away is the right thing to do. But right now you aren't in a mental place where you can make good decisions. You need a bit of time to breathe first. I'd also suggest that as the undergrads have all left, that this would be a good time to see if you can book an appointment with the counselling service. Talking it all through with someone trained might help you think through your options better.
posted
12-Jun-13, 16:39
edited a moment later
Avatar for Smoobles
posted about 6 years ago
How is your PhD funded? If it is supported by a research council (such as the BBSRC) then you are entitled to a certain amount of leave a year without it affecting your monthly payments. From memory, I think I was allowed around 8 weeks off each year, although I never took anywhere near that much! I tended to take the odd day off here and there rather than big chunks at a time, but I never even asked my supervisors I just didn't turn up that day! (they were pretty relaxed about it). Check your handbook and see if you can find out. As for your warden work, I don't know what would happen about that as I guess you get a 'holiday' from that when the students go home at the end of each term? IF it was a 'normal' job you would be automatically entitled to some paid holiday. Do you have a staff handbook? It might be in there.

If I were you, I would explain to your supervisor how I was feeling, and tell them you need a couple of weeks off. If they refuse, show them your handbook. If they still refuse, ask someone else such as a head of department or at the postgraduate office to intervene. Failing that, your university presumably has a welfare officer or counselling service? Talk to them and see if they can help you get the break you need. No one can work every day all year without a break, you are entitled to it so go and find out what the rules are and get something sorted before you go crazy :)
posted
01-Jul-13, 11:30
Avatar for Sammyboy
posted about 6 years ago
Hey guys thanks so much for the replies. Been to Dr and gone on anti-depressants (again). Visiting professor coming over in a week and I'm suppose to be writing a paper with him so can't take a break at the mo :/ - but I think that may be the straw that breaks me - really unproductive at the moment.

I think the main thing that’s stressing me out is my unrealistic superior - he wants 6 papers out this year alone!? But I think also its the academic culture which is really getting to me. I was sat in a talk the other day and two profs started arguing - basically semantics - and it wasn't even a discussion, it got really personal. I was sat there thing what the hell? Also in my department there are so many underlying grudges between the academics that seem to spill over to the Phds. For example a fellow phd is working on a topic which another academic in the department is a specialist in - however he wont help that phd because he has a feud with his supervisor. Its pathetic! All I keep thinking is why am I even bothering with these childish unprofessional lot? I think the other thing is the lack of respect, I'm treated like a child and I'm sick of it! On top of this I'm wardening and that is equally as pathetic, the university moves you to supervise a different hall and gives you like a months notice to move? The hall supervisor calls meetings last minute and demands you drop your evening plans left, right and centre.

I'm a year and a half in so if I do quit how would that look with potential employers? I was thinking maybe trying to get into actuary? but at nearly 25 not sure I could become a trainee/get on grad program? An I too old?. I'd like a carer that allows you to also have a life :/. Cheers.
posted
01-Jul-13, 11:47
by tt_dan
Avatar for tt_dan
posted about 6 years ago
Quote From Sammyboy:
thing that’s stressing me out is my unrealistic superior - he wants 6 papers out this year alone!? But I think also its the academic culture which is really getting to me. I was sat in a talk the other day and two profs started arguing - basically semantics - and it wasn't even a discussion, it got really personal. I was sat there thing what the hell? Also in my department there are so many underlying grudges between the academics that seem to spill over to the Phds. For example a fellow phd is working on a topic which another academic in the department is a specialist in - however he wont help that phd because he has a feud with his supervisor. Its pathetic! All I keep thinking is why am I even bothering with these childish unprofessional lot? I think the other thing is the lack of respect, I'm treated like a child and I'm sick of it! On top of this I'm wardening and that is equally as pathetic, the university moves you to supervise a different hall and gives you like a months notice to move? The hall supervisor calls meetings last minute and demands you drop your evening plans left, right and centre.
.


I'm having the exact same problem!

Boy... sometimes the more you study, the more dumb you'd become : /
posted
01-Jul-13, 13:14
by wowzers
Avatar for wowzers
posted about 6 years ago
Sorry you are in this situation but it's not really much different in 'the real world' either. I think seeing your PhD like a job might help. As others have said, look for what you are entitled to re holidays and sick leave. you have been diagnosed as depressed so already you will probably be covered by the Equality Act, meaning your uni counsellors or disability support officer should be able to help you make 'reasonable adjustments' over duties with your supervisor regarding unrealistic workload. Whilst supervisor may not like this, it's better than you dropping out or having a breakdown. And btw disappointing supervisors is not the worst thing that can ever happen to you so don't worry about that. Some academics have never done anything outside of education, they went school, college, uni, work in uni so playgound mentality can follow! But you get this in work too, some people just never grown up.

Do you get stipend? If you do the first thing I expect your supervisor will point out is that you are also working and they will probably argue this is the point of stress that you on your own terms have taken on additional work. You might need to look into quitting this job.

Try and do practical things to reduce workload. It can be achieved. However, if you need to quit, just quit. Don't worry about what others will think, you're really only answerable to yourself. As for employers I'd be tempted to say you left for financial reasons because of the global recession and needed to work to earn rather than study but highlight the practical, employable skills you gained in your PhD time.

Good luck
posted
02-Jul-13, 12:47
edited about 21 seconds later
Avatar for Sammyboy
posted about 6 years ago
Ok I have discussed it with a few close friends and we have a plan. I'm going to focus on fishing the two papers I'm currently writing and then in a few weeks take a 3 week break - No work, just play. If after that break I come back and still can't face it I will walk away with an Mphil. Anyone know what the chances of getting a job after leaving a PhD are? Could I get into actuary or finance? Has anyone done this? My Phd is in applied Math and computing, really enjoy the subject but I want a life also!

I don't get how to balance your life with a Phd - I think that's a skill in its self? I want a partner, I want to live in a home, - not a gritty run down student house and a job that on an average week I can knock off at 6 and have a life! and have a weekend! God how I want a weekend! For hobbies! I use to play piano! and draw and go to the gym! How do you all do it? The stress gets to me sooooo much! My department always need me doing something, attending conferences, courses, giving talks, lectures, computers fixing, codes debugging, reports left right and centre! my research doing, entertaining visiting proff's and industry experts., working weekends, late nights just to keep up! and for what?

Don't get me wrong I do hang out with friends, but not as much as I want to as I need to and when I do I always conscious that stuff needs doing. Yes I enjoy my subject - but there’s more to me, more to life than just it. I'm only 24 but I want to start a family by the time I'm 28! I want kids! soon! Did I get over ambitious? I no longer know why I started the Phd?, maybe it is just burnout, but maybe its me doing something I just don't care for any more?
posted
02-Jul-13, 13:58
edited about 10 seconds later
by wowzers
Avatar for wowzers
posted about 6 years ago
Good plan. Although I do have to say, as a working mum, work life balance rarely exists so try not to think having a partner, house etc is easier with a job opposed to PhD as you migt just find a job brings the same issues.

What's your first degree, is it heavily maths related with a good grade? If so I'd say the world is your oyster, bonus if you have a Maths or computing related MA too. I can't tell what age you are but there are loads of well paid maths/ICT internships/graduate positions out there. I know Goldman Sachs have recently interviewed for paid interns. Government related departments are alse advertising for graduate schemes and look for maths and computing brains forall sorts of interesting departments.

Plus you could always train to teach secdondary maths (they pay those with good maths degrees up to 20k just to train or be a school bursar/financial manager, they can get paid whopping salaries in the larger schools. Maybe check out Teach First as they give you a one year paid internship in some amazing companies then you go teach with them for a year or so.

You might want to chat with your uni's careers advisor

The future's bright :-)
posted
06-Jul-13, 17:15
edited about 35 minutes later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 6 years ago
Well here goes with an increasingly rare post from me!!! But Sammyboy right now needs friends.

Your situation is one reason I would always advise people to check the department out they intend to work in before agreeing. I had a generally good PhD and first post-doc experience, but a poor second post-doc experience. The second post-doc, I went against my gut instincts to avoid.

Six papers in a year is unreasonable when you're trying to actually produce data for your PhD. However, this is also a situation that can be taken advantage of as the papers could later be used to form the chapters for your PhD with only a little reworking (restructure into chapters, adjust for new data and findings since the papers were written). The average PhD student normally produces four papers maximum during the whole PhD with many not managing more than one or two papers.

Also your supervisor cannot expect you to drop everything at the last minute to do what he wants. You are entitled to a life and I do think he's bee unreasonable.

You do sound as though the situation has got the better of you and you do sound at breaking point. Go to your GP and talk to him. Some time on the sick if only to get your head sorted and decide what you want to do is exactly what you need - there's health and stuff your supervisor!!!

As regards you parents, it's your life, not theirs. In my case, a very supportive mum was a big help (even though she quietly didn't agree with me giving up a well paid job to do the PhD).

You want a job, be married, have a house and kids as soon as possible? Erm, these things need to happen at a time that is right for you. You really need to sort your immediate problems before allowing your mind to race ahead to things in your life that are yet to happen.
posted
06-Jul-13, 17:49
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 6 years ago
A real world job with a real life aren't necessarily the solution to your problems. You can find yourself in a job that is equally as bad as regards the conditions you face. That's life. The stereotype of wife, job and kids by the time you're in your late 20s does not happen with everyone (some earlier, some later) and you should not pressure yourself by thinking this way. Let things happen at a time they are right for you. Kids especially are hard work (but also rewarding with it).

You are having a bad experience and perhaps after time out with the help of your GP, perhaps the right thing is to quit (I probably would withdraw under your circumstances). However, not all academic departments are as you describe and many of us have a much smoother ride (good supervision, clearer research programme, results falling into place, etc). I stayed out of any battles during my PhD and first post-doc, which was a really big help.

Not all departments are the same and some people who've had a bad experience in one place successfully do a PhD in a different University, older and wiser. In other cases, people are not cut out for the PhD experience and move on recognising this.

In addition to the bad experiences you are having, I don't think you entered the PhD with a clear picture of people's expectations of you for that particular PhD programme. I go back to checking out departments before you start and additionally talking to current students away from supervisors. This above all else lets you know what you are in for.

You have to want to do a PhD for the right reasons and that for me is to undertake a major programme of research designed to produce original findings and add new data to your chosen field. I went back at 30, once I was sure this is what I wanted to do. You need to ask yourself whether you entered your PhD for the right reasons.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
08-Jul-13, 17:15
Avatar for Smoobles
posted about 6 years ago
your last couple of posts made me want to come and post again to give you a bit more advice! if you want more of a work-life balance, and you want to get your weekends back, then DO NOT BECOME AN ACTUARY. I have a number of friends who are training to be actuaries, so have seen how it completely takes over your life. It takes much longer to train to be an actuary than to do a PhD (about 7 or 8 years) and during that time you will be constantly studying and doing exams. You will be working full time as well. This basically means for at least 9 months of the year you will have no evenings, and no weekends. You will have no social life. And this is every year, until you are fully qualified. You certainly won't get any time to do hobbies or meet someone and settle down.

The only positive is that you will be well paid so you might get that house you're after - but you'll never get to live in it because you'll always be at work. Seriously, I know this sounds like I am exaggerating, but I have seen a very close friend (who is extremely bright) battle her way through years and years of training and it is not an easy ride. Another friend quit as an actuary to do a PhD as she knew it would be easier. So whatever you choose to do next, do some research first as I think you will be in for a shock if you think being an actuary will help you get your life back!
posted
08-Jul-13, 22:41
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for Sammyboy
posted about 6 years ago
Hi Smoobles, thanks.

Its not so much the hard work I begrudge but its the amount of time I spend working/researching with little or no gain - little pay, no respect from my department/supervisors, no reward other than intellectual stimulation and spend most of my time feeling very overwhelmed and stupid :/ - partly because my supervisors response to everything is "this is trivial" and then can't go on to demonstrate it himself.

I know about the actuary exams and they sound challenging, but I'm far better at exams than I am research, also my Phd is in applied math, I love math, I'm really good at math, I enjoy learning , but I don't love research or academia - so actuary looks like it could be a way forward? My Phd will either lead me into a low paid industry/engineering job (based on those phd which have left our department) or a quant job (high pay but very stressful lifestyle :/ ). Even if I left now I can get a masters/Mphil so it wouldn't have been a waste of time. I might take some time off the phd and try and do an internship and see what I think?

I agree I shouldn't assume that the grass is always greener - but exams are my strong point, research appears t be a clear weakness. Also sometimes/a lot of the time research/coding just doesn't work - so very frustration too, I could get over the frustration if I thought well at least I'm being paid enough to do this / I can own my own home / have a decadent lifestyle given the number of hours I put in. Does this make any sense? :/

Thanks again.
posted
25-Jul-13, 14:35
Avatar for Sammyboy
posted about 6 years ago
Ok so I have had some time to think and been working with this prof from outside the university and realised what real supervision is like! My God I have never felt so stress free! And passionate and motivated about what I'm doing! Its amazing! Unfortunately he's not hanging around and going back to his university.

My problem is definitely my supervisor and the fact that I get no say in the research direction, he's in no way passionate about research and I was, I was so passionate, I still am I just need to be around someone who respects me! who doesn’t treat me like I'm disposable! I've also thought about a slight tweet in field and there's a PhD in the university just across the way that would make great use of the skills I have developed thus far.

There is no one in the my department that I can change to, so is it worth an application to a new PhD? Will I even be considered for funding if I look like I'm jumping ship? My supervisor is getting more PhD's in next year and there will be 15 of us in total! (I was number 4, we are up to 12 now) he say he wont have time to help me out at all next academic year, he already never reads any work I send him and my transfer reports are way overdue/have been sat on his desk since last year! I doubt he'll even read my thesis!

But: how will I know if this superior is any better? I think I need to leave my current supervisor - he/this university are the root of my depression and its way too unhealthy to continue working in this toxic workaholic environment . Good thing is the field is the same (just different application) and I'm only a year and a bit in so I think I could get into the swing of the new phd very quickly. thoughts? Either this or a job. Cheers guys!
posted
25-Jul-13, 15:38
edited about 3 minutes later
by tt_dan
Avatar for tt_dan
posted about 6 years ago
Quote From Sammyboy:
Ok so I have had some time to think and been working with this prof from outside the university and realised what real supervision is like! My God I have never felt so stress free! And passionate and motivated about what I'm doing! Its amazing! Unfortunately he's not hanging around and going back to his university.

...

But: how will I know if this superior is any better? I think I need to leave my current supervisor - he/this university are the root of my depression and its way too unhealthy to continue working in this toxic workaholic environment . Good thing is the field is the same (just different application) and I'm only a year and a bit in so I think I could get into the swing of the new phd very quickly. thoughts? Either this or a job. Cheers guys!



I completely get what you're saying OP. I've lost a lot of trust with my current supervisor and have no idea what to do; either do another PhD or get a job.

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