First year, no confidence in my ability

posted
09-Mar-18, 10:35
edited about 26 seconds later
Avatar for chantedsnicker
posted about 3 months ago
Hi everyone,

I'm feeling really down today.

As a bit of background, prior to starting my PhD I was in a job that wasn't a good fit for me. Likewise I had a boss who made me feel stupid, like I couldn't do anything right.

Fast forward to now, I started my PhD in October, I have absolutely no confidence in my abilities. I've actually had a pretty success week, but I can't shake days like today where I feel sick and lost, like I'm not doing enough or I don't know enough. I also feel like I have to get my supervisor to agree everything, like I need her to hold my hand.

Is this normal? Does it get better? Will I be able to go a whole week being pleased with my progress?
posted
09-Mar-18, 10:44
Avatar for bongmaster5000
posted about 3 months ago
I'm in pretty much the same position as you, having also come back into academia after some difficult workplace experiences.

All I can say as - I am with you! I constantly feel like I don't know enough, don't read enough, don't have anything to say or contribute, or am not making enough progress. Actually having one of those days now, as it goes.

I know this is considered completely normal, so have decided to try a strategy of head down, one foot in front the other, concentrate on the work in front of me, and trust absolutely in my supervisors' judgment. It's first year, you are going to need that kind of interventionist support for a little while, but absolutely everyone I've spoken to assures me that it gets easier. I am starting to feel like making big progress on that front, but still have many days/weeks like you're going through now.

I think the important thing at the moment (for you and me both) is to accept where we are at - the 'conscious incompetence' stage, perhaps, and keep doing what we are doing. As long as your supervisor isn't sounding alarm bells about anything, I suspect you're doing totally fine.

Do feel free to PM me if you want to commiserate together! Good luck.
posted
09-Mar-18, 10:45
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 3 months ago
Hard to say. Could be that you are usually insecure? In which case, I'm not sure what will change? If you're usually confident in your abilities, then it's probably just a blip and we all have those days/weeks/months.

And I agree with what Bong said.
posted
09-Mar-18, 14:42
edited about 11 seconds later
Avatar for chantedsnicker
posted about 3 months ago
Quote From TreeofLife:
Hard to say. Could be that you are usually insecure? .


I've never been the most confident person, but I don't remember ever being this bad.

Thanks for the encouragement Bong, it's really helpful to know I'm not alone. I know everyone says that it's difficult in the beginning, but everyone round here seems to be more clued up or have a lot more extra stuff going on - Which probably is't the case. I think perhaps I need to be a bit less hard on myself as long as I'm getting the work done. This week has been a good week and I've got nearly everything ticked off my list, so I should feel pleased going into the weekend.
posted
09-Mar-18, 18:26
edited about 12 seconds later
Avatar for kenziebob
posted about 3 months ago
Hi,

I am in a pretty similar position to you. I've had a rough few years in terms of job prospects, and finally found a job I adore in this PhD. But I do also constantly think I should be doing more, I feel like I am always trying to catch up with academics who have been doing this for years and years. Realistically I know I am doing ok (my SP is brilliant and would definitely let me know if I wasn't!) but that just doesn't stop me from comparing myself to others in my office who are published or looking to publish, doing conferences and so on. I've been to two conferences but have absolutely nothing to present or submit to a journal thus far!

It is really tough -- for me this is the toughest part of the PhD so far. By nature I think a lot of us are quite analytical, and I know I definitely find it hard to stop myself from constantly thinking about what I should be doing/haven't done/other people are doing.

You are most definitely not alone!
posted
09-Mar-18, 19:09
Avatar for Mattfabb
posted about 3 months ago
Quote From chantedsnicker:
Quote From TreeofLife:
Hard to say. Could be that you are usually insecure? .


I've never been the most confident person, but I don't remember ever being this bad.

Thanks for the encouragement Bong, it's really helpful to know I'm not alone. I know everyone says that it's difficult in the beginning, but everyone round here seems to be more clued up or have a lot more extra stuff going on - Which probably is't the case. I think perhaps I need to be a bit less hard on myself as long as I'm getting the work done. This week has been a good week and I've got nearly everything ticked off my list, so I should feel pleased going into the weekend.


You didnt say what your PhD is about, so some of what I am going to write may be irrelevant, but in my experience what really boosted my confidence was attending conferences and presenting my research. It made a difference because I found out that I could easily get accepted to conferences, and other people’s presentations weren't mindblowingly great. Everybody was more or less like me, knowledgeable but not particularly brilliant.

I think you may feel the way you do because you need more contact with academics. Right now yiu have no idea of how good you are compared to everybody else. Most PhD students in my opinion think they have to be brilliant, but you don't, a PhD is just the beginning of your academic career, nobody expects you to revolutionise your field of research with your first project!
posted
09-Mar-18, 21:52
edited about 1 second later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
Hey! Doing a PhD can be a real trying time for self-confidence! Lots of things can go "wrong" (failed experiments, rejections, etc), and there are plenty of opportunities to compare yourself to others or feel like you're being compared to others. You are definitely not alone! But - and this is the great part - you can change things!

The best thing I can suggest (from my own experience) is to DO things. No matter how small - accomplish tasks (e.g., learn a method, write a chapter, give a talk - whatever you can handle at the time). When you've completed something and you're proud of it, your confidence begins to grow.

All the best.
posted
09-Mar-18, 22:36
edited about 14 minutes later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 3 months ago
Quote From chantedsnicker:
Quote From TreeofLife:
Hard to say. Could be that you are usually insecure? .


I've never been the most confident person, but I don't remember ever being this bad.

Thanks for the encouragement Bong, it's really helpful to know I'm not alone. I know everyone says that it's difficult in the beginning, but everyone round here seems to be more clued up or have a lot more extra stuff going on - Which probably is't the case. I think perhaps I need to be a bit less hard on myself as long as I'm getting the work done. This week has been a good week and I've got nearly everything ticked off my list, so I should feel pleased going into the weekend.


Do you think perhaps part of the problem with the PhD is that most of us go from being at the top of our game (as undergrads, Masters' students, or professionals), to being at entry level again, and at entry level with many other experienced, smart and accomplished scholars, postgrads and academics around us and above us.

It is a real reality check for many I think- and then you add the fact that the process is really tough- gruelling, a mental marathon. Tough all the way, although we probably all have slightly different watershed moments, personal crises and meltdown points. Then also, because the PhD is rarely finished before 4+ years, once you factor in your examination and corrections processes into the equation, students, (even the younger PhD students), are at that stage of life where stuff happens. By stuff, I mean for example, grandparents and often parents becoming more frail, needing care or experiencing serious illnesses, relationships beginning and ending, general adult problems hitting, as they often do, in groups of 3!

Analytical and thoughtful people often overthink matters as well, and PhD students would be, as a rule, more often than not very conscientious high achievers, who might be overly negative (on themselves) when they don't appear to be coping as easily as they did in undergrad and grad courses. Then you add some supervisor issues into the mix (and we don't always have control over who we get as a supervisor and even less control over our examiners), perhaps it is not so surprising that things can become very challenging without much of a pre-warning. I think it is important to be kind to yourself and make sure if things do become overwhelming, to reach out for those supports, whether these be friends, family, counsellors or other postgrads and academics (if supportive). Best wishes to you for a much more positive week this week ahead.
posted
10-Mar-18, 10:36
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
I agree Pjlu - especially about being kind to yourself. Sometimes this can be as simple as treating yourself to a hot chocolate or similar. And patting yourself on the back for those small achievements.
posted
12-Mar-18, 09:04
Avatar for chantedsnicker
posted about 3 months ago
Thanks everyone for your replies. They have been really helpful and made me feel better. I even found some motivation to get some stuff done over the weekend... I think to be honest this winter hasn't been great for my depression either, but at least the weather feels like it's turning a bit (she says as it's raining outside her window...).

I'm a scientist, so definitely over analytical, I've also discovered among all the background reading and learning new methods that I'm definitely an output orientated person. Switching from a quantitative background to a mostly qualitative PhD is a mental challenge - I should keep reminding myself that's what I wanted!

No one can say that a PhD isn't a journey in personal development!
posted
12-Mar-18, 16:42
Avatar for Candyfloss20
posted about 3 months ago
Hey,

I'm also in the same boat. I started my PhD last September and didn't really get enough time to properly settle in before being thrown in the lab a month later and planning experiments. I have a hybrid project - between biological science and chemistry, so not really anything I've done before so i'm trying to learn as fast as I can too! I try and try again and feel as if my efforts are wasted and that i'm not progressing as well as I "should be". Lately I've been feeling particularly crappy and have not wanted to leave the comfort of my own bed. I'm losing weight and my hair is thinning but I can't help to think that I am just stressing myself out? To top it off, I rarely receive a pat on the back from my supervisors until i've completed an experiment.

I'm finding it hard to find someone who can be my shoulder to cry on - it seems that no one really does understand so it is somewhat comforting to know that there are others out there who feel the same way too x
posted
13-Mar-18, 15:19
edited about 10 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
A lot of people doing a PhD are going through similar things, Candyfloss. Remember to be kind to yourself! It sounds like you've noticed a whole bunch of signs that say that you are stressed. Make sure that you don't just continue like that without addressing things - maybe talk to someone - like a uni counsellor. And welcome to the forum!
posted
24-Mar-18, 12:43
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for Candyfloss20
posted about 3 months ago
Thanks for your reply Tudor_Queen, I think that is my biggest problem because I am fighting myself. I think I need help, and i'm not talking about from an academic perspective although I think that would be good for me too. I am really struggling to find a balance between work and social life and I'm starting to resent making the decision to come here in the first place. I'm just really unhappy as a person at the moment and for some reason I can't seem to relax or take a step back from it, I can't even express how I feel in words - i've never felt so bad before and I don't feel like myself any more. I just want to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel...
posted
24-Mar-18, 23:13
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
Hi Candyfloss, Sorry to hear that you've been feeling so bad. Not being able to relax or step back from it are sure signs of needing to do just that. Please do take some time out. Are you living by yourself or with family? If the latter, maybe you could visit family for a few days and regain some perspective and distance from your PhD? Sometimes, when the going gets tough, I remind myself that I can leave my PhD right now if I want to. I have a choice. Somehow that takes away some of the pressure in my case. Another thing I have found helpful is visiting websites/reading books to do with things like stress, confidence, etc. Some of these can be extremely helpful in just helping you to understand why you're feeling a certain way and helping you to challenge the beliefs that are bringing you to that place. Big hugx
posted
25-Mar-18, 02:27
Avatar for Candyfloss20
posted about 3 months ago
Hey Tudor_Queen, I’m living in halls of residence at the moment with a friend but will be moving into a house at the start of July with the same person and a few others so I think that would be a lot better! I do tend to go home every third weekend but usually get my family to come over to see me if I have lab work to do on the weekends. Yeah I got some comfort reading other people’s stories on this forum, I know I’m not alone. I was having a look around for some books actually - a bit of a long shot but do you know any that are good?

I also think I might try counselling, I’m worried about my mental health :( *hugs* x

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