Am I screwed? :( A year in, still zero motivation, not happy with progression...

19-Aug-18, 15:12
Avatar for CadmiumRed19
posted about 2 years ago
I'm at the end of the first year of my PhD. I don't feel like I've done enough work and I'm not happy with my progression. I keep panicking that I'm screwing myself over by not working hard enough and I feel as though I've wasted my first year. It genuinely terrifies me that I can't pull this back. Yet, even though I feel that way, I just can't seem to stay focused and work as hard as I want to.

I loved my MA. I worked my arse off and was so proud of how I did. This PhD is just completely different. It feels so pointless. I'm not part of a community. I don't have classmates or deadlines like I did on the MA. It's just me sat staring at a screen on my own day in day out. I love my topic but I just can't find a way to motivate myself whatsoever. It doesn't help that there doesn't seem to be a clear goal. Most of the post-PhDs I know doing are doing jobs they don't even need the PhD for.

So many other PhDs seem to work so hard that they find it hard to switch off, yet I can't even switch on half the time. I'm at such a loss and I can't go another two years feeling this way. I genuinely thought I'd love doing my PhD. It upsets me so much that I'm not enjoying it at all.

Any advice or support from people that understand would mean a lot :/
20-Aug-18, 09:22
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 2 years ago
Hi CadmiumRed19. I am sorry you are going through this. I think I know exactly how do you especially "It's just me sat staring at a screen on my own day in day out." I had this feeling for 5 years and ended up without a PhD.
You have a real issue. Do not listen to people who say, it is normal. Our PhD was like this the first year and it gets better. You seem somehow like me. I am never good without particular tasks and deadlines. Also "PhD is about self motivation and independant research" is just blablabla. There are good supervisors and bad supervisors. What would have suited you is a pushy supervisor.
Now what to do? I think you need to talk to your supervisor. Take tasks and deadlines from him. Work efficient. If your effective working hours are 4 a day, this will be fine. When you start something, set a timer, let us say 20 min so you work 20 min without leaving desk or looking at facebook, etc.
If you find it really impossible, quitting the PhD is an option exactly like divorce is an option. If you quit after 18 monthes, better than leaving after 4 years without a PhD.
I wish things work out for you but they won't without a big change from you and the PhD environment.
20-Aug-18, 11:54
Avatar for kenziebob
posted about 2 years ago
Hi Cad,

I'm also at the end of my first year, and I've definitely had bits of time where I've felt like this. One thing I did to help motivate myself was to come up with really quite small deadlines (i.e right now one of them is 'finish transcribing FG 1 by Monday 5pm') and I emailed the spreadsheet to my supervisor. Knowing that she knows where I am supposed to be (even if she doesn't comment, which she normally doesn't!) gives me a bit of a kick up the bum to get moving.

It is hard working without classmates. Are there any communities in your department that you can join? I found another student at my Uni doing work on a similar topic to mine (focusing on a different aspect of it), and we have started a research group for that topic at the uni. I only found out about her via Twitter as well! Is that something you might be able to do?

A PhD is a really difficult move from a Masters for all the reasons you described - if you love your topic is there anything you can do to reignite your motivation to study it? Is there anything you can look to that makes you think 'that's why I'm doing this'?

I do agree with eng77 above - something like a Pomodoro technique might be useful to start off with, maybe working in 20 minute chunks? And you could definitely send a plan to your supervisor - even knowing that they have it has been helpful for me.
20-Aug-18, 20:08
Avatar for Mattfabb
posted about 2 years ago

It was exactly like that for me too. I did extremely well in my MA so they offered me a scholarship to do the PhD. I always loved beng a student but the PhD is something else. Are you in the humanities? I feel like the lack of direction is typical in the field of humanities...

Having said that, you are in your first year, so its expected that most of your time will be spent reading up on your field. At the end of this period you should be able to come up with a good understanding of what needs to be researched, what questions are worth asking. If that isnt the case, you may want to rethink your research topic.
21-Aug-18, 13:35
edited about 3 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 years ago
I think I agree with Eng here. It is a good time to stop and take inventory. Is the second year looking like it will be more busy, i.e., do you have lots of tasks lined up - data collection etc? The PhD needs to bring some results (i.e., data that you make sense of somehow) - what plans are in place for you to achieve these? That's the most important thing I think - having a clear plan of what you are doing will drive the whole project and you forward.

Also, what is your PhD trying to find out? If you are able to remind yourself of this (remind yourself of the original gap you planned to address) it might help give you direction. The supervisor should be able to help here too if you are feeling a bit lost. If they are not fulfilling their role, maybe you need to talk to another academic about things.

If you want to leave and get a job then that is an option of course. I would just urge you to think carefully - would you probably regret it? Would you be happier on your PhD if it was more structured? If yes, then you can try to create that structure through your task list / project plan. Hope this helps.
21-Aug-18, 13:51
edited about 4 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 years ago
Quote From CadmiumRed19:

So many other PhDs seem to work so hard that they find it hard to switch off, yet I can't even switch on half the time. I'm at such a loss and I can't go another two years feeling this way. I genuinely thought I'd love doing my PhD. It upsets me so much that I'm not enjoying it at all.

You know, having had a bit of a similar experience I would advise you to a) make a plan of action that you will carry out within a set amount of time, b) assess the results of that (i.e., am I now happier with my progress / the PhD), and c) if yes continue... or if not, consider leaving. Don't leave it too long... maybe a few months would be enough. And in the meantime, see if you can find other opportunities that you think would float your boat. The earlier on you are, the easier it is to find something else (before leaving), explain why you are applying (i.e., this suits me better - I'm passionate about this), and move on! I have a friend who did this at the end of her first year, and she is now super happy in her new PhD. Of course you could re-think your research topic as Mattfab suggests - you don't need to leave - you could do it there in the same context. Either way, as Eng says, some big action is needed. You do not want to be saying the same thing in year 3 of your PhD...
22-Aug-18, 01:56
edited about 2 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 years ago
You can probably resolve this quite quickly.
Meet with your supervisor and ask them to be brutally blunt about how they see your progress. By definition you are not best placed to judge. You supervisor is. Let their answer guide your next move.

Oh and NEVER compare yourself to other students. It is pointless and it's the road to madness. Take it from someone who learned this the hard way. You probably won't be competing with them for jobs.

If you have completely lost interest in everything it might be time to walk away with an Mphil and try elsewhere.
22-Aug-18, 07:38
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for vespatonowhere
posted about 2 years ago
HI Cad, just a shoutout saying I feel that way right now too, so sending some digital support. Just me staring at my screen, day in day out, with no real idea of whether I'm achieving enough or not. I still love my project, but it is really hard and isolating. You've received some good ideas from the other posters, but I just wanted to say I think feelings like that can be pretty normal (of course it doesn't mean you shouldn't try and do something about it). Reach out to this community if you feel like you can't turn elsewhere for more support. Maybe go write in a library or someplace that you find inspiring for a day a week. Find a discussion or feedback group (I'm looking for writing buddies right now!) Maybe find a conference to go to early in 2019 to help motivate you?
Take a realistic look at your planning of when you would like to submit and then work backwards - is it achievable?
All the best!
22-Aug-18, 20:39
edited about 7 seconds later
by MyWorld
Avatar for MyWorld
posted about 2 years ago
Hi Cad,

I am in that situation sometimes, I am a third year PhD student, and the two first years I had a lot to do but sometimes was really boring and zero productivity. I think that they gave you a lot of good ideas, you can have something else to do apart from the lab (I am doing gym time for example) and maybe go out with another students and you will see that they feel like you a lot of times.

You can use the apps that are suggested or use google calendar with an organized schedule for the day and what you achieve or not...that will give you a goal for the day/week.

I hope that it helps and I feel like you sometimes and although it is normal is better that you solve it!

All the best.


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