My PhD has literally been an emotional rollercoaster – sometimes, I feel like a manic-depressive. In discussing this idea with other PhD’s using a grounded theory approach, and have arrived at four key themes of PhD: depression, guilt, glory, and motivation. These themes are cyclic in nature, and can be extremely severe. At times, it can result in “academic suicide” in which someone decides to just plain quit.

Depression: PhD work is lonely. You’re on a path that no one else has travelled, and far too often, it seems like no one cares what you’re doing. This may or may not be true; regardless, it feels this way. As a PhD student, you invest so much effort, so much energy into your work – and it’s really personal energy since it is your work, and not something you don’t care about. Often, this work gets rejected (“We’re sorry to inform you…”). This typically brings on a fresh wave of depression and self-doubt. That depression is accompanied by feelings of apathy (what’s the point?), and distaste (my project sucks). That meta-realization of these secondary feelings (e.g. of apathy) translate into more depression. This depression translates into a slowing of actual PhD work. Output crawls at times to a grinding halt because of this emotional low.

Guilt: The offshoot of this “PhD Depression” is guilt. You feel like you’re wasting your own time, the time of people around you, and the money of those around you. This crushing guilt is debilitating – it makes you feel more depressed, which means that you do even less work. The consequence of low output is feeling extremely guilty. It’s hard to feel good about oneself in this situation. One’s own self-worth always seems in question.

Glory: Sometimes, just sometimes, submitted work gets accepted (“We’re happy to inform you…”). This outcome is often accompanied by ecstacy, chest thumping, fists in the air, and random shouts of elation. This energy is amazing but short-lived: after telling all of your closest friends and your family, getting the obligatory, “Congratulations,” you realize that: (1) the world has (amazingly) not changed, and (2) still no one seems to care what you’re doing. And so, you cycle back into that depression that we talked about earlier.

Motivation: This emotional rollercoaster known as the PhD then has a significant impact on motivation. Essentially what it means is that when you’re riding a big high, you need to use that high and just drain it to the utmost degree, squeezing the very last possible piece of productivity out of it while you can.

There are upsides to PhD’s, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the downsides are so much easier to talk about.

Next time: What I’ve seen successful PhD students do…


Anonymous (2006-08-15 18:50:00)

don’t leave me hanging! where’s the part about successful PhD students that will pull me out of my depression/guilt ;-)

Petra (2006-08-28 05:04:00)

Plus, you definitely forgot the panic, pillar number 5.

Felipe (2006-12-11 18:43:00)

Dude, your post appears in the top 5 results of a google search for ““phd depression””, and I gotta tell you, it’s so very true. BTW, I got those results while searching for this because, guess what, I am awfully depressed!

Anyway, you helped me feel better, and I’m definitely adding your blog to my bookmarks.


Anonymous (2007-02-04 13:34:00)

Been there, done it and I’m not the same I was before after successfully completed my PhD…It’s truly hard work and dare I say it’s not EASY at all…

I am feeling the depression but what can one do now is to take it slowly.

Anonymous (2007-02-15 23:19:00)

I am PhD student. I am kind of depressed with it all. I google ‘PhD Depression’ and one the links is this post. I felt better after reading this. I am not alone.


alicja (2007-02-24 08:46:00)

This was really helpful. I didn’t other people actually google ““phd depression”“… how about this one for a laugh: my deparment accepted me to a program based on a proposal that they KNEW no one there could help me with, because, well, no one actually worked on it and i was too young and dumb to know NOT to apply there. then they spend years blaming me for not getting things done like I should have, and offering no support. i learned everything myself. THEN, when i finally found an outside advisor to help me, they have been questioning my capabilities to this person - ones they are in no position to judge themsleves. so life only gets better. but come on - we’re all in it together right? we can surely do it. cheers for the blog!

Anonymous (2007-03-08 02:01:00)

Awesome article! Like most here, I googled ““phd depression”” and felt pretty stupid about it, until I found this article.

Feelings of isolation can’t be overstated. I’m basically not even a student here anymore. Done with classes, adviser relationship is now so weak that we meet a couple of times a semester, haven’t really met any of the new students and the ones I knew have graduated and left. Hardly ever even set foot on campus these days. And definitely no one has even noticed.

Anonymous (2007-09-20 14:37:00)

Too true, too true! The only thing that exacerbates all these feelings is being a ““mature”” student!!! Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous (2007-10-28 01:45:00)

Hi there. You’ve strangely cheered me up. Plugging ‘PhD depression’ into the computer within a month of handing in my own behometh seemed a little like begging for a disaster to befall me (or at least crazy self-help books for sale). Instead I can chuckle at others’ misery (not in a Kathy Bates sort of way) and realise I am not alone in the madness that is a doctoral degree :)

Rod (2007-11-03 06:25:00)

haha! I searched for ““phd depression”” too and I like your post. It is quite true. I think one thing we can all do with is finish the darn PhD and move on with our lives!

Anonymous (2007-11-06 05:58:00)

hey guys, could you please help me, my boyfriend has been having chronic depression due to his phd work (fear of being judged….), and I feel helpless…He has panic attacks where he withdraws and stops working for a month or two, then he remerges. He has no will to do anything else but to wait for it to pass…He refuses to see a doctor as he thinks that it is part of the process of growing as a Historian…It is putting a big strain on our relationship…please help!

Anonymous (2007-11-13 19:56:00)

dear anonymous,
i can relate to what your boyfriend is going to - i have to add, though, that I think he is in denial: I’m not sure phd should be this much stress. couldn’t he talk to his supervisor or maybe a therapist?

Anonymous (2007-11-13 20:10:00)

also, try and talk about how his stress is making you feel - i find it helpful to distribute my stress evenly :) among my friends, would go crazy without my therapist (well, not really, but it does help) and still find some time for my partner :
we had some problems at first but i find it helps if we actually schedule our time together. i know this sounds terribly unromantic, surprisinlgy, though, it does work for us - you don’t have that persistent feeling you should be doing something else at the time (i.e. stressing about phd).
and talk, talk, talk toe ach other. it also helps if you two have a separate life to a certain extent (meaning your own friends, hobbies, etc.), so you don’t find your everyday life completely taken over by the ““phd crisis””.
in terms of your boyfriend’s writing block: if he has access to jstor, he could try and look up some of the work on writer’s block by robert boice (i.e. Writer’s Block and Tacit Knowledge, Why Academicians Don’t Write …)

Anonymous (2007-11-15 20:04:00)

Wow, thats my last three years summarised perfectly in 4 paragraphs!!
I’m just hoping i can become the person i used to be….before i forget who that person was!!!

Anonymous (2007-11-25 11:44:00)

It’s so comforting (in an odd sort of way) to find that other people are experiencing this. I wonder if ‘PhD depression’ is actually viewed amongst the medical community as a condition?
My depression is stemming from the fact that I haven’t gotten any decent research done since I started! I began two months ago, and my supervisor has already loaded me up with work. I ask: ‘When am I meant to get any proper research done?!’ I’m so busy trying to fulfil his requests, that I feel like I’m spending all my time preparing for our next meeting! Is anyone else experiencing this?

Anonymous (2007-12-16 00:16:00)

I have the same feeling, in my first year my supervior helped me but always pointed out, it is your PhD you do it. When I try to do myself he is NEVER satisfied, I lost motivation and felt i am incapable. In the second year of the PhD the institute did not have funding and they did not allow us to buy reagents and kits to do experiments. In the third year I did not have any data, I almost went into manic depression. I spent my three years of PhD preparing for weekly lab meeting journal clubs, attending seminars. I had pressure from outside (supervisor) and inside (my guilt). Finally I complete a PhD with very great difficulty.

PhD Student
Institute for Animal Health, Compton, UK

Anonymous (2008-01-29 18:23:00)

Funny you used a grounded theory approach. FOUR years ago I agreed with my supervisor that i was going to use a grounded theory approach…and now…in the writing process she tells me thAt she thinks it’s a ‘risky strategy’!!!!! WTF??!! She couldn’t say that anytime over the last four years??!!


Anonymous (2008-01-30 14:46:00)

I couldn’t help but notice. . . further down the ““phd depression”” Google list is a web page that talks about PHD (not Ph.D.) - Post Homicidal Depression - a common problem in serial killers.

We’re in good company, aren’t we?

Kinho Pizzato (2008-02-21 07:13:00)

We are definitely not alone. Almost everyone that commented were depressed PhD students getting here via web search. Just as a comment, I am a depressed PhD on a verge of ““Academic Suicide””. I was almost jumping down the cliff (i.e. filling the withdrawal forms) when I was rescued (with some insufficient extra funding). Let’s hope things go alright this time… apparently there are still hope.

Anonymous (2008-03-03 02:18:00)

Reading the comments is almost as comforting as reading the post itself. It becomes clear that I am not alone and that the situation is similar even in different fields and different countries. I searched for ““darn PhD”” in Google and found the page. It is my fourth year living in a foreign country far from family and friends and no meaningful results yet. I don’t even care about my principles and beliefs which motivated me to start. I just want to finish all this and return home.

Anonymous (2008-03-11 11:06:00)

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

Anonymous (2008-03-18 05:05:00)

So why do we do it???? Remind me cause at this stage I just feel trapped.

Anonymous (2008-05-05 22:19:00)

I’m increasingly of the opinion that my lab is a lunatic asylum which pays a stipend to the patients to attend for the first three years or so. :D

Anonymous (2008-07-05 04:43:00)

I think I have had one of the worst PhD stories in recent history. Have been working on the PhD for 7 years. Have gone through 4 PhD supervisors, have had a severe academic divorce, had my work confiscated/published without any acknowledgement of my contribution, been subjected to severe emotional bullying….am on verge of committing ““academic suicide”” as have lost complete faith in the whole process

Anonymous (2008-07-14 15:33:00)

6 years in (PhD program)…. working a full time job as well.
Supervisor is using every opportunity to knock me down. Zero motivation left. 2 cm from academic suicide as well. Hate my topic. Do not feel like i contributed anything to the field. Trying to write-up… struggling. Need to finish… just to finish. May not be worth all the fuss. :(

gabriel (2008-08-03 21:15:00)

Well. It is time to share experiences.

I’m starting my final year PhD (6th) in Astrophysics (I’m 27) as an international student. Although I been working on my thesis 3 years (before I just spent time in course and small research projects). Finally I’m gonna publish a paper related to my Thesis, and my supervisor (god bless him) thinks that I will be able to finish if I work very hard (I’m her first PhD student).

Why has taken me so slow?:
My supervisor offered me several projects, and I picked the most difficult one (my fault, but I enrolled my program just after finishing my successful undergrad, believing I can do everything). After a year of bad results I started to suffer panic attacks, I thought that it was a brain tumor or something, but after screening its I found out that it was all in my imagination. After that I realized that I was going nuts and felt into a depression. I may be a lucky guy, cause I would be depressed one week a month, then come back and do good work, and fell depressed again and so.

I’ve also struggled with relationships, but so far I’m happy than I’m not sharing this bullshit state with anyone else, at least I don’t make people around me unhappy.

I totally believe if that I picked an easier project or I would’ve published earlier in my career, I would be an arrogant prick and would be a totally different person. So I take my PhD as a lesson of life, that the fact that I haven’t been successful is just a part on my general bad psychological habits (perfectionists, career-driven, isolation tendency, daydreamer).

6 months ago I give it a try to enjoy my life out of the PhD. I got a nice girlfriend and enjoyed the moment, then I came back to work. But the enthusiasm dissipated completely (well I guess it was slowly going down with time).

So I decided that I will fight to finish my PhD, and then leave academia (my awesome supervisor don’t know this, but it is my life not his). Not because I don’t like my field, but because I understand that I’ve wasted my life only in my career, which is none-sense and because I don’t feel happy working the whole day. I decided to try to balance work and life and enjoy every single moment. I’m confident enough that the skills I got will be good enough to work in the industry. I need to settle down somewhere, make some cash, and enjoy my single life. If I can find a job related to my expertise, awesome!, if not, at least I’ll make some cash, and when I make it I’ll try to find another one (same thing happens in academia, there is also mobility, although you never know if you ever gonna get a tenure, and the money just sucks, not that I want to become rich, but at least I want to feel financially secure).

So, I would recommend, go to hike, stay alone, sit down, and meditate. What does your soul wants in life?, what makes you happy?. If balancing life is important, you can still do it in academia, but you have to be clever in how to arrange your time, cause you need to work really hard.

The majority of us when leaving college pursue a PhD because we like learning and doing research, or because we didn’t want to have a regular job. We didn’t do it because of the money. But at some point money is important, and have free time for oneself while you are still young also. So if you don’t feel like doing research will make you happy any more, and that all the other implications of being in academia (supervise students, apply for grants, teach enormous courses to student that barely care about it and way less free time than you had as a PhD student) don’t seem to be worth of your energies. I would suggest to quit if you haven’t yet passed half of your funding, do a masters, and quit, or if you passed half of your PhD, swallow your unhappiness and finish, your brain will be at least happy that you close that door, and maybe there will be some employers that will take you seriously.
you are smart enough to (using google) learn how to advertise yourself and to find out jobs that may be right for you.

Finally I would ask those of you that did finish after many years of depression, what are you doing now?, what would you change about your past decisions?, and if now life seems to be a little bit better.

When I finish I’ll let you know what happened to me, so maybe I can help some others in similar situations.

I wish you all good luck.

Anonymous (2008-08-17 17:32:00)

googling ““phd depression”” seems to be a good step. We all found each other; we all know why we came here…we’re in the same boat, so let’s feel a little motivation from that. I’m beginning the writing up and the immensity of what’s ahead makes me want to sleep all day. ““where to start?”” is the hardest for me. Be strong everyone.

Anonymous (2008-09-05 18:52:00)

I also arrived at this page by googling ““phd depression””. Depression is a bit hash way to describe how I feel, but I’m not that far from it. I’m on my third year, and I can’t wait to finish my PhD and get out of here. I don’t even care all that much if it’s with a good thesis or a mediocre one.
Although wanting to finish (and having recurring dreams about being unable to do it), I’m still stuck on a motivation low, and consider a it a good day of work if I work a solid two hours. My advisor is a great guy and a good scientist, but lives on the moon or something, and has done very little advising. I have no publications worthy of that name, and my deadlines are approaching fast. I have a little bit more than a year of funding left, hope it will be long enough, but I would finish this as soon as possible if I could. I think I will stick to the end, otherwise I would be wasting some 4 odd years, but that is one of the few things that keeps me going: I don’t even really care about the research itself anymore, it seems so meaningless.

Anonymous (2008-09-14 11:16:00)

I am a foreigner in Germany and am into my PhD for 1.5 years now. I guess I am in the thick of things, and terribly depressed. I don’t see the end in sight, and my stuff is not getting even published ! Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel. Thanks for this website. It helped !

Anonymous (2008-11-05 21:25:00)


this was so awesome, such a relief to read, and my heart has settled back to a cool 200 beats per minute compared to the usual 300.

good luck, everyone. i’m in that depressed, wasting my own time, wasting everyone’s time, guilty stage. ugh. not even nutella and a spoon is helping.

Moose withthoughtslikemine (2008-11-13 23:10:00)

I was once a depressed PhD student - but am now enjoying my current PhD project. I think the saddest thing that can happen is when you start a project with much love and expectations, only to have it implode around you…I know a few people like this, and they will never go back to their field of study.

Anonymous (2008-11-24 17:43:00)

Hey everyone, the fact that we are all actually googling PhD depression is a very good sign in that we are certainly all experiencing something that is common to the majority of PhD students. In a way, although it’s extremely hard to deal with now, it must mean that at some point this feeling will end! Just be glad that we have PhD depression rather than a depression with no possible end in sight. If we finish our PhDs the depression will end, if we decide it’s not worth finishing, the depression will end, no matter what at some point it will end which is great news i think :-) I have nearly quit so many times and my supervisor is such a controlling psycho combined with being so utterly useless that other academic staff have actually advised me to quit!!!! But i know in my heart that it would stick with me for the rest of my life if I quit - it would always hangover me that i quit. So ive decided to try to make something of it and write it up. At least if i don’t pass my viva i can say i tried my best and get on with my life without any dark shadows - and if i pass it will be bliss!!!

Anonymous (2008-11-25 10:34:00)

Wow, I am not alone….
I am 2/3 into my PhD, googled PhD depression and I am currently considering quitting my PhD. Why should it be so hard? But on the other hand, should I just ignore the fact that I worked for two years and a half as a maniac on a project that started as the project of my life. I used to really love what I was doing and now I just would like to go back in time and stop myself enrolling in the program. Sad, so sad.
My problem was very, very, very bad supervision. (I recently changed my principal supervisor, but I did it too late)
I keep repeating to myself that it is ONLY a PhD, and that there are worse things that could happen…I just hope I won’t lose myself in the process, as I don’t like the person I’m becoming.

CambsPhD (2008-11-28 16:05:00)

Like pretty much everyone who has commented here, I stumbled across this site having Googled ‘PHD depression’.

I am in the first term of a PhD at Cambridge, fully-funded. ‘Woop de doo’, you might say. And, in this sense, I do appreciate that I am lucky.

At the same time, I am increasingly aware that, while a Cambridge PhD is not to be sniffed at, I dont need this qualification; my recently-completed MSc is vocational and applies to the sector that I wish to work in. Also, I did well at it.

The fundamental problem here is that I am not overly interested in the material foisted on me by my supervisor. There are many other subjects in this field at which I am MUCH better, and which I prefer. Basically, I feel like I am wasting my time here and that I would be playing much more effectively to my strengths if I was in relevant and gainful employment leading to professional status as provided via the accreditation of my MSc.


arfnob (2008-11-29 09:45:00)

nah bollocks, don’t even think about quiting. alternative is some gay job with no end in sight, which youre gonna have to do after this anyway. it’ll be finished before you know it, and then you’ll be doctor whatever. nothing else to do, so who gives a fuck.

sat on my own reading pdfs on saturday night. just like i did last night. fuck it, im gonna cut myself ;)

ifastudent (2008-12-06 21:40:00)

please change your topic to what you want so as not to waste a great opportunity

CambsPhD (2008-12-08 12:54:00)

Good point. I would like to change my topic and spend three years examining second-order urban design, but this is basically impossible under my current arrangements of admission and funding, where I am charged with producing a mathematical model (shudders). This is coming from someone who got a ‘D’ at maths AS level and has subsequently avoided the subject like the plague.

It’s my own fault; I got myself into this mess and only have myself to blame for it.

Anonymous (2008-12-08 13:16:00)

Wow! So many bad experiences - but I guess the good ones aren’t likely to show up here. I am in my 3rd year out of 4, but have only been doing research for the last 1½ years (1st year was an MSc). I have made many mistakes since I started - including in selection of the programme. One of my main problems is that the programme is all pressure and very little guidance. An alumni I talked to recently remarked that my PhD programme is excellent for those who don’t need supervision, but quite bad for everyone else.

However, not knowing that at the outset, I thought a PhD would be a great opportunity to learn new methods and enter into areas which I knew little about. That is the wrong approach. I would advise anyone starting a PhD now to go for a topic in their area of expertise! That’s at least one way of lessening the suffering. I don’t think it’s possible to do a PhD completely without pain, but it should be a more balanced process than I think most of us here have experienced.

As for quitting: I am thinking about it on a daily basis and think at this point that it’s more likely that i do that, than that I stay. It’s a simple case of not liking the person I am becoming (and encouraged to become). And like others here, I seriously worry whether it’s a matter of getting out while I can or whether I’ll be able to rediscover my old self after completing that stupid thing.

I don’t want to feel like a failure, but from within the academic world, it’s difficult to see oneself as anything else. It’s easy to say the PhD is just a job, but I doubt that many PhD students feel that way…

Anonymous (2008-12-08 22:11:00)

Dude, that’s hilarious that we all found one another by googling ““PhD depression.”” It’s so sad yet such a relief to know that there are so many of us feeling the same way. I’m in my third year of my program and the PhD depression has hit hard and I’ve contemplated quitting like many others who have posted, but this has been encouraging to read. It’s also uplifting to know that so many continue to post comments on this blog even though it’s from 2006. Thanks to all and good luck in your respective programs.

Sothy (2009-01-04 16:32:00)

I so depressed with my conference paper review and felt the same. Only one reviewer was so harsh on my paper..I guess he was not patient enough to read the paper with his personnel problems. Even though i got good reviews from other two reviewers, it got rejected. I am pissed off totally and in my verge of depression. After reading this, i could realize the day to day live of a PhD candidate…Thank you.

Tina M (2009-01-21 19:26:00)

Guilty of searching ““phd depression”” and finding this as the first hit! I’m so overwhelmed between word of an awful academic job market next year, several yet to be submitted projects (though they could be ready with just a few weeks of work on each), and a year left before my husband REALLY starts wondering what the heck I do all day long!

All I have after passing exams last year is one obscure pub and an approved diss. prospectus. And did I mention the several unfinished projects? I just don’t know where to start in order to finish. Seems like a daily battle.

chemist (2009-01-28 19:36:00)

yeah!! I also find this one by googling ““PhD depression””..glad, this is sort of a normal thing for phd..

Literaryscholar (2009-02-19 15:48:00)

It’s clear that dissertation depression is widespread. The attrition rate speaks for itself: 50% of all doctoral students never progress beyond ABD status. Most people who have posted comments seem to be in the sciences. I think things are even worse in the humanities, where our work isn’t based on empirical research, experiments, or data collecting. I’m now in my 6th year, and have not managed to write a chapter in over a year, even though I’m on fellowship this year and not teaching. My adviser, a famous person in my field, doesn’t want to give advice; he just wants me to send him my writing. I haven’t seen him in a year. The worse thing for me in this whole process has been the isolation. The only person I talk to or spend any time with is my boyfriend, who successfully completed his thesis a while ago, and doesn’t understand my anguish. In fact, if anything, my panic irritates him, so now I can’t even speak to him about it. I feel like such an imposter. I have received all these awards from my university, so I feel like it’s only a matter of time before people find out how substandard my work really is.

Anonymous (2009-02-24 06:50:00)

Be very careful with your PhD at Cambridge, make certain that your topic is practical, and that you are assertive with your supervisor. Don’t waste your time doing something you’re not interested in, its your life. Pleasing a supervisor is a WASTE of time, some of them are mentally ill, socially disfunctional, and have spent too long at Cambridge. Overseas PhD students are a good source of revenue for the University, go to the UL and look at recent examples of successful PhD dissertations in your exact field. Your relationship with your supervisor is the most important thing, not the topic. If you are depressed, take a one year or six month break from the University. Go home, there’s more to life than PhD research, get away from that suffocating atmosphere, take a year out or away. Get the forms from BOGS, you save Comp and Coll Fees too, and have an additional year to work on it secretly at home in Canada/US/ or wherever. Remember, becoming a world-class PhD is a dream. Stay mentally healthy, exercise, work-out, join a gym. Avoid the MCR room. Stay out of College politics, they don’t matter. Keep a low profile. Avoid gossip. Enjoy yourself if you can. Do not spend five or six years there. Go to a US or Canadian University, the programs are better organized and taught. They don’t let you drift like they do at Cambridge and Oxford. If you’re at your wits end, contact an experienced editor/researcher for assistance. Or submit your work for publication as a book and get it edited professionally.

Anonymous (2009-02-24 07:04:00)

As a point of clarification, in the above post, what I meant was that your research needs to be within an area you have expertise in. If your supervisor wants you to do something you are disinterested in, consider finding a supervisor you get along with and who’s field meshes with your own interests. You cannot, repeat CANNOT get your PhD if you have an adversarial relationship with your supervisor. If you do, change, and if you cannot, GET THE HELL OUT. Don’t waste your time, the politics at Oxbridge are DEADLY. These academics are expert at dealing with one another in College, never mind students who might be troublesome. NEVER tell your grad tutor about a supervisory problem, there is NO privacy at Cambridge. Keep a low profile, don’t gossip in small colleges about Professors, and keep personal information about yourself private. I spent 4 years at Cambridge, had a publication offer from C.U.P., and a hot topic for the PhD. I had invitations to present at Yale, and other Universities. I notified my grad tutor, that my supervisor had refused to see me for 3 years, and I lost my scholarship, funding, rooms in college, and even got banned from the College Library. This was at TH, the guys name was Padfield. BE CAREFUL. Some of my work was published by Profs I sent it too for support with scholarship applications. Don’t be naive, if you discover something, submit it to a journal properly and publish it UNDER YOUR OWN NAME first. Don’t EVER trust an academic, most of them are politically astute, and will not hesitate to steal your work. There are exceptions, but be wary. Some of the most famous names out there will lift conclusions, disguise them a little, and publish your ideas. Its hard to believe, I know, but it happens. You won’t be referenced. Remember, a PhD has to be original, but don’t make it TOO original, keep it humble, and make your point gently!

Literaryscholar (2009-02-24 18:30:00)

The person writing about Oxbridge politics and encouraging people instead to study in the United States, is a little misguided: things are every bit as political in the US and students do not necessarily receive better guidance. I think the lack of support and political infighting are endemic to acdemia at large. So if you’re going to toil for years to complete a PhD, do so at a big name school like Oxford, Cambridge, or at Ivy League institutions in the US. With the surplus of PhDs floating around, those will be the people who get jobs.
BTW, I’m not at an Ivy and I erroneously chose my program because I thought I would get good support here.

Anonymous (2009-02-26 01:22:00)

I agree with you, that pursuing a PhD at a first-class Oxbridge,or Ivy League University is strategically sensible. However, the politics at these Universities are absolutely deadly. In essence what you experience, generally, is academic excellence combined with social-elitism. There is no doubt that you will have access to world-class scholars. The difficulty is that unless one of them is your supervisor, they have little time for you. Aside from that, though, is the monetary aspect of social elitism. I observed European MPhils, who spoke excellent English, but could not write it. I remember a German, who’s sentences were a paragraph in length. He returned to Germany, worked in Bonn, and had an English specialist edit his dissertation. Don’t get me wrong, he was a highly intelligent individual, the social element came in with his ability to purchase expert assistance with presentation. He sat his PhD examination 3 times, as one of his examiners smelt a rat. Eventually he got the degree, but did not enter academia. Everyone takes a different track, but whereas you or I might be there with a scholarship recognizing academic excellence, you encounter wealthy students your own age, who know all the short-cuts. At Oxbridge the PhD is relatively unstructured, though there are more extensive written guides to formatting the finished product now. This is because the EC threatened to cut funding as over 50% of PhD entrants were not graduating. Supervisors were unavailable or disinterested, for the most part. Not all of course. In Canada, where I did my MA, the courses were structured. Politics were there, but there was a clear step by step process, especially in the course-based programmes. I know friends who taught at Yale, and the elitism was similar to Cambridge. I enjoyed myself, for the most part, and had excellent North American references, the trouble was the social side of things at Cambridge. Some of these Professors see themselves as aristocrats, and are distant. Some don’t like the telephone. Some don’t collect their post from their colleges for months. Some are misogynists, some are aggressively homosexual, there are many excellent supervisors, but there is a tolerance at Oxbridge for ‘eccentricity’ as long as the Professor publishes and attracts inteternational students. You can survive, if you know the game. PhD study is difficult when you don’t know the rules of the game. Try to enjoy yourself, it’s a privelage to have 3-4 years to indulge your interests. It was a great place in many ways, for me it was EXPENSIVE. Even Profs from less prestigious Universities, such as Durham, told me not to linger at Cambridge. ‘Finish, get the degree, and get out, don’t spend too long at these institutions.’ They aren’t good for your mental-health, that’s my basic point. There’s more to life than your PhD, don’t get so depressed you’re becoming ill. Take a break, I did, and came back renewed. Remember, you are a talented person, or you wouldn’t be there. Believe in yourself. Take a year out if you have to, and travel, work, teach, and experience life. That’s all!

Anonymous (2009-02-26 01:51:00)

Literary Scholar, I’m familiar with the situation where you hold a fellowship at a first-class institution with a name-brand Professor. It can be tricky. I had a supervisor for a while who was a retired Harvard Department Head. He would talk about scholars who had written articles in 1929 as though their approaches were recent. ‘Oh that chap was an American aristocrat don’t you know, the son of a billionaire who spent his life in England in the archives, he wrote 3 volumes on Elizabethan history, wonderful stuff.’ The Professor I was drinking tea with was a millionaire, also, but would not write a good reference for a student if his life depended on it. His books were all about sixteenth century elites, and conservative politics. The approach he took was Victorian in flavour. Many of his ideas had already been superceded by modern articles and entire schools of thinking. He was 80 at the time. Amusing in an old-fashioned sense. They still had him teaching undergrads, he would fall asleep during supervisions. God it was awful. At Cambridge, the porters knew he was distinguished, but the list of his enemies was extensive. The man was brilliant, but he was an old-fashioned prick. A first-class prick. Don’t get me wrong, I had other Ivy League advisors, from Yale and elsewhere who really were first-class and terrific, so I knew the difference. The advantage of a second-class (non Ivy) University is that YOU ACTUALLY GET THE PHD in 4/5 years. You can have an ivy league supervisor, but one who has his feet in the real world, and who you can talk too honestly. Here in Canada, the dissertation I wrote was twice as dense as a typical Canadian one. The Department Head, who actually knew the (helpful) Yale Chair (who loved my work) as a friend, fell over himself when he saw the sheaf of letters from 5 or 6 Professors who had written in support of my thesis. I actually sat with a Regius Professor at Oxford all afternoon, so I was accepted socially by these guys, I was smooth and as diplomatic as all of us have learned to be. I guess my point is that here we are, typically, as grad students competing with one another instead of helping one another. After 6 years you know you have a problem, after 3 at Cambridge I knew I had one. My supervisor disappeared a month before my PhD Oral exam, this was the retired Harvard prick. I since learned that I should have had an active Cambridge academic, with a track-record of guiding PhD dissertations through the eye of the needle. I had a completed dissertation, vetted by 6 world-class scholars, and a publication offer for the book version from a UK and US publisher. I had no time to fuck around, and I’m telling you, drop the facade of sophistication. Fellowship or not, I mean I had a Cambridge Commonwealth Fellowship, you NEED THE PHD, fellowship or not. Forget polite cocktail parties and black-tie events, these are fun, but get the degree. Sometimes you have to push your supervisor to get the degree through the various stages. The problem with the world-class guys is that they’re not the kind of Profs you want to pressure. I once had an argument with a leading intelligence (history) don at Corpus Christi. First-class Prof, but with an ego the size of a European country. Ferociously intelligent, and willing to end the career of a grad student with a single phone-call, if disagreed with. I’d seen the guy cut down Professors equally famous at international seminars, so I know how difficult they are to deal with. I have a friend who worked with Chomsky, and actually got his PhD through, so it is possible. I just wish we could all help each other here, there are ways of succeeding, but the clock is ticking. You want the damned PHD by the time you are 34 or 35 at the latest, you want to start your career!

Anonymous (2009-02-26 15:37:00)

Here is the low-down on the PhD depression thing. You need to be active, exercise really helps you to focus and decrease the impact. Activity. Stay active. You also need to consider teaching, there is a reason Prof's teach, it stimulates your mind. Teaching and research are a great combination. Like the author of a book, you can seek editing assistance with the final draft. In any University town, there are a host of retired academics, expert in your subject, who can advise you (for a fee).

Look in your Univ Library for examples of successful PhD dissertations in your field. Study the structure, the degree of originality, and the format. Break your own study into chapters, try not to write too much or make the thing monstrous in your mind. Be aware of the minimum length you can get away with, my University was 80 000 words, which isn't too bad. You need to be original, but you don't have to write something so groundbreaking it shatters previously held theory. Save that for your post-doc! Honestly its easier to publish something radically new as a book than get it through as a PhD. Be original, but at the same time respectful of previously published work. Committees of examiners LIKE THAT. In your 20s and 30s there is a tendency to be brash, flashy, and youthfully exuberant. Temper that to some extent, be respectful of previously published work, and present your findings diplomatically. It's do-able, just stay on track and think positively!

There is also a book called 'How to get a PhD', by EM Phillips & DS Pugh, which is useful.

Anonymous (2009-03-03 19:25:00)

I’m almost half way through my full-time Ph.D. and seem to be having the same experience as many others who have commented here. I’ve certainly taken some comfort in the above posts, and to know that there are others experiencing the same thing is reassuring, but i still worry gravely about whether what i’m putting myself through is actually worth the pain.

Between UG and the PhD i had a gap of three years where i was continually working but travelled a bit, generally having a good time. The jobs i was doing weren’t particularly related to my original degree. The opportunity for funded PhD came along at a time when i was between jobs and was wondering what to do with my life. The decision had to be made quickly and the program was to start within a couple of months. I’m ashamed to admit it while i’m surrounded by people who seem truly passionate about their topic and research, but i fell into the phd, because there was nothing better on the table at that particular time. My topic was already decided as my sup and another academic put a collaborative proposal together and this was the basis of my funding.

So here i am half-way through and I feel as though i have lost all motivation to go on. I’ve become severely disillusioned by the way things work in academia and i’m becoming more and more cynical by the day!! I’m planning to meet with my sup in the next few days to see if i can take a break as i’d hate to quit but cant see how things can get any better if i just try to soldier on.

Thanks for all your messages - its good to know there are other depressives out there :)

Edgeman (2009-03-05 05:22:00)

is joining the club… :(

Anonymous (2009-03-12 12:22:00)

I don’t think I’m currently depressed although I believe I was at certain points. Right now I’m at the 4.5 year mark and should finish in the next 6 months god-willing. There’s nothing like working 12 hours and then making a tiny slip and ruining all of your day’s work. And then doing this again the next day. If I could go back I would certainly think long and hard about dragging my girlfriend (later fiancee and now wife) into this mess. She has stuck with me throughout this ordeal. Unfortunately you just can’t realize how hard it is until you’re in the thick of it.

I had a good friend who left about 2 years ago to work, and he has never been happier, haha.

On the bright side this has shown me that I do not want to be a full-time prof. at a university. I can’t stand the thought of doing a post-doc for 2 years and then working even harder until I get tenure. I hope to have a life and a family and not feel like I’m neglecting them.

I have an advisor who couldn’t give give 2 craps about my project for years 1.5 - 3.5. Now he’s involved because he wants me to finish and not have to come up with funding for me. I made the mistake of allowing him to become disengaged for 2 years. Do not make the mistake that I did. Keep in touch with you advisor even if they make no effort to do so.

Good luck to everyone.

Anonymous (2009-03-14 17:48:00)

i’m also joining the ““i googled phd depression”” and stubled across this article. reading the article and the comments, has made me feel abit better. i’m feeling very stressed and panicked about my viva. i was forced to submit my thesis which was substandard but the university told me, either submit or we will exterminate you and you fail by default.

now i’m avoiding my supervisor as i dont want my viva because i dont really understand my thesis or what i did. even though i have two papers published from my thesis. i just feel like an imposter, i dont really understand what i did. i know it sounds really lame. i have such low confidence.

i submitted my thesis back in november 2008 and the past few months i’ve read my thesis, but have already forgotten it again, and been reading papers but keep forgetting what i read. i just keep panicking and am hiding away from the world, sort of having my head in the sand.

i feel like, if i never have my viva, then i can never fail my phd, but also means i never move on! its really stupid and dumb. sometimes i just feel like getting it over and done with pass or fail and then being able to move on with my life.

i made a list of viva questions from various sources, and am having such a hard time forumalating answers to the questions.

but i’ve finally decided to contact my supervisor for help and to ask him when my viva will be. i cant hide away forever. life doesnt stand still. and i really do want this nightmare to be over.

i just have this overwelming feeling im gonna fail in my viva. i wont remember anything and i wont be able to answer any questions.

Anonymous (2009-03-15 11:48:00)

I am so happy to have stubbled onto this site. Thanks people!

Anonymous (2009-03-17 15:58:00)

This blog is becoming an interesting resource for PhD learning!

Anonymous (2009-03-18 03:05:00)

I just graduated with my Ph.D., and I’m waiting for the depression to subside. (It’s only been three months.) I wish I’d found this while I was still in school. I felt like I was the only one experiencing the pain. It seemed like any admission of difficulty was a sign of weakness. I secretly went to counseling, feeling like I was doing something dangerous. I spent as much time outside as I could, and basically just powered through. I’m relieved to be finished, but I feel beaten up, emotionally. By the way, I Googled doctorate and depression and found you…It is both funny and terrible that so many people are doing that!

Anonymous (2009-04-04 00:37:00)

Oh my goodness, I have joined the PhD depression blog! I swore this would not happen to me, but I knew it was inevitable when I googled PhD depression. It is good to know I am not crazy. Or at least not crazy alone. Take care everyone.

Anonymous (2009-04-20 14:36:00)

Hello rusty fellas

I have this guy in my advisory committee who keeps sabotaging me with mean comments about ““my behavior”” (as a person). He never brings to topic any academic issue at all, and have been tempted to say in his face ““if you dont understand what I am talking about, please do not interrupt or block me””. Of course doing this would be academic suicide, so I am waiting to get my PhD to tell him a piece of my mind….(may never happen, once I am out I will fly away I guess). My primary advisor is bugging me with meetings EVERY WEEK which sucks. So i was surprised at finding out that for most people the problem is the other way around. i.e. lack of advising.
At the end of the day my boss has no idea what I am doing so I am just scared of showing something to him, and then he dismissing me, and publishing it by himself ^_^. I have gotten scholarships supposedly I am at the top 2% but my work is substandard according to myself because my boss does not give me time to prepare :(
I have felt suicidal since this weekly meeting things are happening, I am just in my 3rd year of a PhD program, …

Somewere in canada

Anonymous (2009-04-21 04:44:00)

hi guys,
i also got here from googling for phd depression. Is there some sort of forum or support group or something i can join?

Anonymous (2009-04-24 18:08:00)

Thank you for all your comments. I just started a British PhD program at a distance and went into a clinical depression within a few months. I’ve taken a six month medical leave and am wondering if it is worth it to go back. My supervisor is great but the program is too unstructured and isolating for me.

somewhere in Canada

Anonymous (2009-05-07 21:39:00)

The secret to not being (too) depressed during a PhD = NEVER work weekends. NEVER!!! Go out with your friends and have fun! Life is for living! xx

Anonymous (2009-05-12 17:15:00)

Me too dude !

Think if I continue to be here I may die soon :)

Anonymous (2009-05-12 17:23:00)

Dear Pals,

I said to myself WOW, when I came across ‘the 4 pillars of a PhD’…it was summarized perfectly.
Here comes my lengthy painful experiences !!!

I thought I was the only one who has this PhD depression. I was almost on the verge of collapse /suicide or getting REAL MAD !

Though I am an average student, I crave being a scientist since childhood and eventually landed on PhD on my favorite specialized branch and on the most favored topic. Then started struggle ..

My boss hired me as we knew each other…we discussed about the topic and lucrative offers like researching abroad etc…after that she left me alone to try things on my own…after 4 months she gave me a paper then I started working on it after all trial and error (as it was a new method). During middle of the project…she asked me the complete results!!!
GOD DAMN!!! I was bemused !

She said…it’s been a year and u say u don’t have the results ????? I got shock like nothing ! I explained her I am in the middle of the proj and the reasons for the delay…
After that we had lot of arguments, misunderstandings and lot of ego problems and I was blasted like anything !!! Result ? Couldn’t see her face till now :(

As she was very angry she ordered me to complete another new proj in less than a month time !!! as she was on my nerves…I tried to finish asap…after a months time she told there are so many errors…and I want u to repeat it …GOD DAMN!!! since then I repeated the exp 4 times wasting my time, no results and by then its almost 2 1/2 yrs over by now…and I came to know that she doesn’t know anything abt the projs what we are handling !!! as she is specialized in something else :(

I am glad in one way that I am sole responsible for my projs coz that gives me experience but rejecting all my results (as she doesn’t know abt it) pains me a LOTTT !!!!

Other problem is, she really expects the results that matches almost nearer to other publishers…People in my field knows its not possible (probably except her)…

The lessons I have learnt…

1. As a responsible guide, she failed to discuss about the project in a scientific way at first point.

2. She failed to plan how to manage me and my experiments in the beginning. No periodic checking.

3. She has shown anger on my results/work that resulted me to think in wrong direction.

4. When I arrange for discussion, no positive or scientific comments from her …she leaves me saying…try these try that…trying things takes hell lot of time but no useful results

5. I realized I should have joined in a big n better grp who has focus n clarity on their work…me and my boss thats my grp now…really sucks me :(

6. Dont want to join a grp who wants results with which they will boast aloud!!! and actually there are many problems to be solved before producing a clear cut results for which each grp should work together with other scientific back grounds…so as to produce both quantitative and qualitative results…

Think everyone is in hurry to publish..publish…publish…by doing so they are wasting money and time (not pointed at all the groups)..but many of them..

Last but not least, I have been told many times that I will not get PhD when ever we had fight !!! GOD ONLY KNOWS WHAT MY FATE IS ?
Due to these, I lost a taste for research, and lost spirit and motivation. Had worst thoughts, had to spend most of the time at lab, months of work gives me a table and graph !!!
Gone really nuts !!!!

I am in the final stages ie., about to write my work…yet I am not sure whether I will get my degree or not-…coz she said its with external examiners to decide whether to grant u or not !!!
Currently she shows no interest in my work nor talks abt it…

But back at my home country, my parents and family are eagerly awaiting and dreaming to see me as a Dr.X !, for them it is like dream coming true and they feel that their efforts have been paid off for what they have struggled all their life !

Has anyone had similar fate ?


Kuma (2009-05-12 18:07:00)


I too face similar mental tensions and problems…

I am soo depressed now as my instructor lack clarity and focus of what we do…topic is on one thing…but he insists the topics (no relevant to PhD topic) which interests him…if I don’t do he will make me to !
Donno what I am upto…lost confidence and interests in PhD…
and the way my research is going…really sucks !

But I have gotto say life is more beautiful…thanks for the blog to share my penny contribution :) I can sleep well today :) lol

Guys…cheer up !! there is lot more in the world than our research !

Nightmare (2009-05-12 18:13:00)

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.

Don’t worry guys. I too had same terrific n horrific nightmares during PhD. Once left, I am happy now.

Finish the work, gain exp and leave the place. Find the dream job or be an employer.
Everything will be alright in due course.

Anonymous (2009-05-12 18:19:00)

It’s so comforting after reading the article…Thanks for sharing.

Mwaika (2009-05-12 18:57:00)

On what basis they grant PhD degree ?
in other words, what are the factors will decide whether to grant PhD or not: esp in Germany ?

Anonymous (2009-05-14 09:07:00)

Ooooh my GOD!…its not only me !!!
I’m just hoping I can become the person I used to be…

Anonymous (2009-05-14 17:14:00)

Somehow googling ““depression”” ““PhD”” and finding all of you does make me smile. Not that you’re struggling but that we’re not alone. I am in my third year now and it has got better towards the end as I’ve realised what I’m actually doing. I really didn’t have a clue what my project was about for over a year, then everything went pear-shaped and I had NO data, but had a complete turn around. I guess it’s going to get LOTS worse before the actual end but I don’t care as I’m closer to finishing this nightmare.

Why does no one who hasn’t experienced a PhD first-hand or v.close proximity to someone else realise the pain?! People keep asking when I will finish, what the ‘course’ is I’m doing and why it might not finish on the exact date specified like an undergrad. People are even jealous that I get to sit at home like a recluse.

I HATE working alone at home like this but live too far from uni to go in every day. I can’t stand it when the sun is shining outside and I’m sitting inside with my guilt when I know full well that if I was more organised and better planned I could well be outside at that point if I wanted to be….

Please please can some more people who have finished give us some encouragement/inspiration?!

Anonymous (2009-05-28 12:19:56)

The same here. I just passed 3.5 years, started to write up and the more I organize the dissertation, the less sense it has. After these years I finally understood why the bloody project can’t work but is this going to make me journal papers I need? F..k no! This is why I think my supervisor sucks, because he should know it earlier, right?. In electronics, if you do not have positive, cutting edge results you have nothing and worth a piece of sh..t. What a waste. Good to know I am not alone, though! Depressed PhD students unite!!!!

CambsPhD now ex (2009-06-05 17:30:13)

After 6 months at Cambridge, I quit my PhD two months ago and it is one of the best career/life decisions I have made. If it isn't right for you, and it isn't necessary, then for God's sake don't bother. SO many people wind up regretting their PhDs, your heart has GOT to be completely in it.

It also taught me a lot about myself. I started it against my instincts, but felt that I "ought" to do it. Having gone through mental agony before resigning, I do know that I never really wanted to actually do it at all.

To quote lyrics as a source of wisdom is normally stupid, but in this case, I think that Billy Talent's advice to "Trust your instincts like you trust what's in the mirror" should apply to anyone who is doubtful about their PhD. Also it's never too late to seek professional/objective advice if you're getting your knickers in a twist.

And also, if you leave for a good set of reasons, no-one will think any the less of you for it. If they do, they're clearly idiot.

Hope this helps!

Anonymous (2009-07-09 09:35:29)

they made me take a course in a language that i dont speak or write or understand,a course i was not interested in (the text was english- thank god) and now they question my motivation and intellect! now i also have an attitude problem it seems! am i crazy or its just how it is ?

Anonymous (2009-07-29 20:11:40)

thanks for the blog and all the comments

it's actually uplifting to know we share the experience

I'm in my 3rd year and got 2 months with funding to go and then have to pay fees (the cheap 3,000 EUR) and life expenses myself. This sucks.

When I started I loved the project and thought i have a good supervisor. After two weeks, when we went sampling to the field, I learnt that he has alcohol problem and that emotionally we don't get on well together. Also, that he has no clue about the methods to be used.

I have tried hard to develop and test the methods having practically NO facilities in the department. To do any work, I had to go abroad. Travelling is cool and you meet lots of new people in new departments BUT it delays all work. This way I am stuck as one of some unique instruments has been broken since mid-2008 and I can't get HALF of my results.

The other half, which was supposed to work doesn't get to the publishable standard. Precision that we get is bad. So instead of getting decent papers, I have to be satisfied with abstracts.

So, after three years of very hard work (usually free weekends though), I am left with half of the expected amount of results of bad quality, no money and a vague promise that the other half of the results will come when they fix the machine in another country. No one knows when…

Rollercoaster. There are days when I feel I will finish. When I am confident, I know I can do it and that I WILL do it.
On bad days, I feel only like quitting and getting back to my previous happy self that got killed over the PhD process.
On a bad day, you all know how it is…

I know it could have been avoided if I decided to get a job straight after my masters. But i wanted to be univ. professor… NOT ANYMORE I am afraid.

Good luck to all of you struggling. I will be thinking about you and pushing the atoms between us to tickle you a little bit to remid you of your inner joy that has been once piled so high and deep…

Tim Ellis (2009-08-08 15:57:12)

You guys are wonderful. I also found this page by searching for "PhD depression". My supervisor chose my external examiner as he wants to sleep with her and she ended up ripping my work to pieces. Everything was written in the Postgraduate school submission guidelines, but she wanted it rewritten to her own style.

Anonymous (2009-09-04 00:18:08)

The PhD process has been quite painful. I'm 3.5 years into it and its been a roller coaster ride. I sometimes feels as if I'm spiralling into the dark, lonely and endless abyss. Its hard to do anything else but think, think, think…stress, stress, stress…about my research. It reassuring to know I'm not alone in
this depressed state of mind. I hope I'll be "normal" again when this is all over.

Ali (2009-10-02 00:02:32)

I just started a PhD program and am already feeling depressed! I am overwhelmed with all the expectations, isolated from family, studying amidst rather unfriendly people, teaching and working all while taking 5 classes while expected to do a pre-dissertation thesis. Okay, I'm done whining now. Sorry, I just feel so awful. What have I done?! How to make it stop!?

Anonymous (2009-10-11 18:13:18)

Hi, good grief we seem to be numerous.

Too late for me to try and push it. I have given up. I quit.

I should have done it a year ago. Instead, I lost twelve months burning bridges, producing nothing and driving myself nuts.

For some of us, there is perhaps still hope, and standing up and fighting is the appropriate thing to do. For others, fighting is exactly the wrong measure.

In the future, I will only fight for things I have faith in.

This has been a nightmare that is hopefully coming to an end now that I am letting go of it, but god it is painful, still.

Anonymous (2009-10-13 16:16:40)

Another one joins the club. How many of you Googled 'PhD Depression' after having wasted almost 10 hours straight doing nothing but surfing the web? I have just started my fourth year, and desperately need to finish. I make so many promises to myself every night that 'tomorrow…tomorrow'…When tomorrow comes, so does the procrastination, accompanied by the guilt…how can a person feel two such contradictory emotions simultaneously? A burning desire to finish/unrelenting apathy? Aaagh!!

Anonymous (2009-10-21 07:59:22)

For anonymous October 13, 2009 9:16 AM:

I'm the one who wrote the comment about quitting above yours. I forgot to say that I, too, googled "Ph.d depression". Here I am :)

It is now official: I am quitting, after about three years. Quite accurately half of this time was pure hell. I am pretty sure I would have qualified as clinically depressed most of that time, too.

I wish I could say something wise to all the people going through similar times. I guess it is just impossible to summarize it all in a nice piece of advice. "Listen to your heart", harhar.

My hugs for anyone in need of them. Please take care of yourselves!

Paula (2009-10-27 21:31:52)

Hi guys, wow. Yeah. I can relate to so many of your comments. Thank you to the original blogger and posters! One of the anonymous posters asked: Please please can some more people who have finished give us some encouragement/inspiration?!

I have not finished yet, but I have submitted the PhD thesis, and am in a relieved state but also wondering if I can get back to being the person I was before the PhD or the person I want to be. So the emotional churning doesn't seem to dry up immediately!

There is so much given up to do a PhD, it is not a surprise that depression sets in, especially when additional obstacles are thrown onto the process!

Anyway, I just wanted to share some insights that might help bring more light, rest, and comfort to some of your journeys. I think at least 95% of a PhD is what you do yourself. If you are expecting more of a partnership, a PhD may not be the best idea. I also think most academics have a MASSIVE MASSIVE ego. Don't be fooled. A PhD is all about using your personal relations skills and not being naive, expressing you appreciation to your supervisor as much as possible and gently doing things in a way so as not to be taken unfair advantage of.

Regarding motivation … The most important thing I ever did in motivating myself for the difficult-to-enter, HORRIBLY ENDLESS write-up stage was to create my document template with a beautiful cover page with the university logo on it. Then I chose what I found to be a pleasing font and format in line with university guidelines and created a linked Table of Contents and then put all the material I had ever produced of relevance into the appropriate subsections. Then it seemed like I had something there, and I would know exactly what remained to be done.

You are smart, you can do this, even if it's a rough outline of the table of contents. Then you ask your supervisor if that looks okay and you go for it! You actually are making up the chapters yourself, better to start soon and waste as little time as possible, because the longer you spend on the PhD the more of a burden it becomes (to your time and your psyche). [A final deadline like UK PhDs have is good idea, so set yourself one even if not required - also write up really does take about 6 months to 1 year fulltime even for the most enabled writers.]

In spare time, I worked on formatting, so that the document itself would be pleasing and beautiful. Also, spend time looking at other people's PhDs so you feel comforted that they're not expected to be phenomenal or perfection. See if there's something in one or two that you'd like to emulate.

Another thing to do is use the calendar functions in Microsoft Outlook (1 month calendar, 1 week calendar). Click on them and print them out for yourself. Schedule your week and your hours. Have TO DO lists that have a line down the middle, one side for big things (that require your best mental energy) and one side for things you can do in the in between times. I actually typed these TO DO lists out as tables using the 2-column function in Word. I delight in scratching things off lists, and then eventually making an updated to do list with any undone items rolled over.

I would recommend having a look at this website to give yourself a motivational shot in the arm.

I bet your thesis falls into one or more of these 12 categories. Write into your own thesis how yours conforms to one of these standard templates and spend some paragraphs talking about what your research contributes. This should fill you with some inspiration to finish, if not because of what you are doing, because you know an examiner cannot dispute that and will likely be amenable to awarding the degree ultimately. Also, don't be afraid to write the chapters out of order! I wrote a lot of my concluding material quite early on when I had inspiration and tweaked it later.

(2nd part of the post immediately following)

Paula (2009-10-27 21:34:09)

Emotional aspects are probably the hardest part of the PhD. Make sure you have some supporters and at least one very good friend (a fellow PhD student is ideal). Three of us were trying to finish around the same time (due to deadlines in the fourth year, UK system), and I had friendships with each individually and we would send each other encouragement emails.

With one of the people we had a goal to graduate at the same time, and he needed the motivation and asked me if we could shake on it that we would do it and encourage each other to the finish line. He would say something like I plan to complete my Ch4 by next Monday. What are you doing? And we'd tell each other when we were completing our goals. Or we'd just more generic emails saying hello, I'm just checking in and sending friendly encouragement. Or we'd vent to each other the way this blog does, and it felt so good not to be alone, we'd have fresh energy to continue! The one very dear good friend you need for the more dire moments, and so share understanding words when you do have an emotional crisis of belonging or depression. These do happen.

Globally about the PhD, I would say it's important to do things that allow you to feel human and a sense of your self worth. This will be different for different people, but for me it involved being a tutor in a class with someone other than my supervisor and working with a charity supporting disabled adults to reach their dreams. Their work towards their dreams was every bit as hard and taxing and uphill for them as the PhD was for me. It helped me keep perspective.

Our lives and these years of our lives are precious, and I think it does hurt us to go too long without fulfillment. So during your PhD, find what else in your life will make it livable for you and make you feel like you are still progressing as a professional and spiritual being. Do take every opportunity for positions and publications that will fill out your CV. Then even if you do see your time as a waste, it won't look like it on paper! As far as your emotional/spiritual wellbeing, having even just one really good friendship can be a lifesaver. Find people to treasure outside your department, people who will really mentor you, care about you, and celebrate your successes. Otherwise it can really be terribly lonely.

Good luck everyone. You and your wellbeing are important, and what you are going through is hard! You will get through it. However, it is INCREDIBLY hard for some of us, and it is worth considering, given your individual circumstances, if it is worth it.

I will leave you with some words from my 93 year old grandmother that helped me through many 12 hour days of writing! It especially helped me that she used words like spectacular, momentous, 'handling challenges with grace' etc. that appreciated the hugeness and difficulty of the task and her confidence in my ability to do it with grace.

"Your Mom nd I are having prayers for you and your spectacular endeavor- the completion of your dissertation- every morning and at bedtme. We pray for your strength and courage, for youe knowledge and new ideas, for your health and for the wonder of your words on the final pages of this momentous effort."

christos (2009-11-02 17:38:22)

so very true, your post

I ve been wondering if i am truly depressed or what i experience is normal physiological response to the very nature of PhD research. Although you read and know by personal experience that most people are like that, you might still fall to the trap believing all the bad things of the world happen to you !

Friends who didn't follow this path and have a normal daytime job 08:00-18:00 don't really understand the pressure, effort and psychological setting involved in this task. They simply refer to you as a "student", just because you are officially still under an education program that leads to another degree. And a student you are indeed as you learn new things with exponential rates. However, the fact that you might be under some sponsorship and actually earn your living (allow me to note that you are you are massively underpaid for what you are going through), doesn't change the student status.

What I envy from their lives is that when they go home after 18:00 (or later - doesn't really make a difference) is that they completely switch off and enjoy their lives. This "thing" cannot be left at the office however. It haunts your thoughts and you carry it like a suitcase everywhere you go. This could be the beach during summer holidays or when you go out for a evening drink. True relaxation is not really an option. It also makes me feel imprisoned as I feel I don't have the option to quit before completion if i don't like my job. You need to finish in order to go on with your life.

On the bright side, I ll tell you what I enjoy though. For all the pain of anxiety of traversing uncharted territory without knowing the outcome and where the only true help can come from within you (and support from family/friends and random blogs ;) ), if I was asked to quit for a sum of money or go back in time and change my choice to follow this path, the sum had to be a really really substantial one.

You might be temporarily sick of the complexity of the problems you am asked to solve and the quality of the work asked to produce, however the fact that you are already doing it a indicator of your personalities and your curious spirits. What I dread most (although I miss it at the moment) is to have a dull daytime job, trapped in a routine without variation or intellectual pursuits and challenges.

The true benefit of this experience is not the attained expertise on the specifics of the subject itself. The true benefits regard the identification of your personal limits (endurance - physical and emotional, organizational, dedication and many more) , the ability to reach them and ultimately surpass them. As an athlete reaches its limits in training in order to progress and evolve, the same process occurs during your PhD.

This blog is like as confessional - although in this case the priest and the penitent is yourself and once again the help comes from within. (note: Save the terminology, I am far from religious)

i wish i could write my thesis as fast as it took me to write this note :)

Peace Lover (2009-11-05 11:06:09)

Dudes look at this alarming news !!!

Germany Rocked By Allegations of Ph.D. Bribes

Investigators in Cologne are looking into whether a company bribed dozens of professors to advance the academic careers of its clients. A number of Ph.D. holders might soon lose their titles, and academics are worried the scandal will put a dent in the reputation of German universities.,1518,644639,00.html

This news and the postings really questions me: is academic career really worth or is it only for self sustenance ?

Many people join PhD programs dreaming of something valuable outcome. However its seems to be more of mental torture and sustenance than a learning process as a team !

Think we all should reform the way of doing PhD. Shouldn't be cake walk though, research focus should be more of group work from variety of backgrounds so as to find a solution to the scientific problem !

Any comments ?

Anonymous (2009-11-20 11:48:12)

However, how normal is it to feel the way you describe as an MSc student?

SKK (2009-11-25 18:41:11)

Is it the time to change our education system ?

I just feel as if I have a solution so called to the PhD depression. Change the education system !

No doubt that today's world is very competitive. So we are. But I used to ask myself many times… are we heading the right direction in this competitive World or is it mere self sustenance ?

Not all researchers, centuries ago, did not have so called PhD titles, if I were right ! But all top researchers had good training and some of them learnt by themselves deeply on the subject of their interest !

We all get good training and exposure to many subjects during our Bachelors degrees. However, in some parts of the country, we are not specializing in one particular topic at Masters level. Mainly coz they offer few electives at Masters level! In my point of view, one must really specialize in one particular area of research interest to give him/her strong foundation. Mean to say that, if you want to specialize in the area of Biotech-Enzymology, then u should take necessary subjects and get trained throughout ur Masters studies. After completing Masters course, one must work with senior experts/researches as well as with (interdisciplinary) group doing scientific work at least for about 3-4 years to establish very well in their field of choice! Once established they can seep slowly and deeply by pursuing PhD's then.

This will eradicate problems like depression or low self confidence or unsuccessful thesis.

If the candidate feels he might be unsuccessful in the chosen field , he will have time and choice to shift while pursuing masters itself !!!

With these in my mind, I feel our educators should decide how to channelize the future generations of researchers!

Coz, tomorrow me sitting in the top most decision making position, I dont want to follow blindly the rules framed by ancestors that are not fruitful !

Any comments most welcome.


Hummingbird (2009-11-25 21:43:20)

First, thank you for writing this blog and generating conversation with so many of us who feel alone in the libraries, offices, labs, and homes scattered around the world. In my 5th year of my PhD, for the very first time - even though I've heard it before - I don't feel alone. And, perhaps even more significantly, I don't feel like a failure for experiencing inner struggle to complete this chosen degree.
I too have questioned whether I will return to "the old me". I am not sure that I will - and that's ok. The position I'm trying to hold now is that this experience, these learnings, these challenges, this depression - will and is forcing me to become an even stronger and better person than I was before. I am learning to fail. I did not accept failure before - in myself or in others. I am learning that it's ok not to be perfect. I am learning to think more deeply about the world I live in and the worth I have for my own happiness. I am learning about the type of professor/teacher/mentor/advisor I may/will be if I choose this academic route. I am learning to 'stay' in the darkness, commit to my goal, and hone in on the inner strength that I didn't really have to use before - because I was smart enough to breeze through most challenges with a tiny bit of sweat and tears - until now.
I wonder if I'll "always be this way"…struggling with loneliness, not knowing how to balance my time, questioning whether I'll regret complaining about the 'privilege of all this free time' (so outsiders tell me), feeling guilty almost every single day… I worry about my ability to interact with others, be a truly 'present' citizen, family member, partner, colleague. I struggle to believe in myself in every capacity of what I believe makes me "me".
And now, as I look forward to more days in isolation and darkness, I question if I am even able to know who "me" really is.
Unlike many who have responded to this blog I've had the privilege of working with (notice, not "for"…as many advisors like to think of their grad students position) a stellar advisor. He treats with me respect, values my choices for personal growth, encouraged me to choose a dissertation topic that reflected my research area and epistemological positioning…quite frankly, he's a gift.
Yet, amidst this supportive bond, I've also experienced many, many disenchanting and infuriating situations, and even an abusive confrontation (yes, it went all the way to the top of the university…and his ass was still covered..). These are constant reminders to me of the smallness in universities and the petty egos that dance about in the self-contained bubble of academe.
So, what am I really trying to say….
(I think) We each chose this PhD for a reason. Be it that it may, these reasons are varied and multiple, however I believe that something pulled us to this challenge. Can we do it? Can we rise through the darkness?
I believe we can.
And, time and time again we'll experience challenges beyond our control - may they be reminders of what exactly we do not agree with and WILL NOT BE. I am angry and exhausted by hearing these stories. It's disgusting and time for change. We must get there first though.
Lastly, STAY IN THE DARK. Reading of poets, artists, and writers…there's a period where many speak of this place of the unknown from which genius comes from.
When you're in the dark - accept it. Open your eyes. Softly and slowly shapes, shadows, and LIGHT will appear.

Respect to and for each of you.

tneveca (2009-11-30 08:44:33)

I'm in my 6th year of a PhD programme and can't write. I managed to produce a chapter a year and a half ago, but since then I've just been agonizing over endless visions and revisions. I've poured so much of my life into preparing for an academic vocation that abandonning the degree is out of the question. I would rather die than not finish. I'm 32 and live at home like a child. I work part time at something completely different and unfulfilling. I hate myself and have a plan for suicide, but am hesitant to act on it because I won't abandon this tortured hope of finishing. I didn't come this far to quit and get some "job" in an unrelated field, probably at low level. I would far rather slash my throat to the spine than suffer such failure and humiliation. I'm prepared to live at home like the half-man shit-fetish cowardly sick loser I am until I'm 45 if that's what it takes.

You guys can all relate to this, right?

Anonymous (2009-11-30 16:05:25)

I get this. And I also question if our time in the "academic bubble" has distorted our ability to realize that millions of other people find fulfillment in careers OUTSIDE of academicland. In fact, depression and loneliness, bullying and egotistical rants are everpresent in universities. Why do we assume this employment realm is far superior than all else?
…because we have freedom to think?
…because we have freedom of time?
…because we have freedom to be independent?

In reading the posts and seeing my own uni, I'm not sure if these assumptions are even true.
And, even if they are, at what cost?

Moreover, can we not use our intellect to create these opportunities outside of this domain?
Makes me question the validity of my assumption that I'll take a job "below me" and submit to "the man".
Or is it more of the ethos of secured-through-tenure professors creating an unrealistic, and moreover wrong, image of the "outside" world.
It's such crap.
How sad is it that the patriarchal domain of the university makes us feel "lesser than" if we finish our degrees and don't want jobs in the university?
I can imagine that medicine and law is similar.
But, once people get out, I wonder how much more 'free' they feel?

is it suicide? or is the transition from one dream/goal to a better one for you?

if we let go of our identities being SO attached to our successes, will we be able to look at our decisions (and outside influencers) more clearly? and without guilt…or pressure?

tneveca (2009-12-01 09:12:20)

I worked full time in the so called "real world" after completing my M.A. It was excruciating hell. I suppose I'm not cut out for five days a week in an office all day doing meaningless, alienating administrative tasks. I was even part of a "creative" marketing team and wanted to kill myself out of boredom and humiliation. I kept thinking, how do all of these normal people go on living these empty utilitarian lives? They work, work, work, work, work; then they put all of it behind them for the short remainder of the day and go home to their families tired and ready for television, then to bed. Then they get up early, fight the rat race, and back to work, work, work, work, work–unthinking, untroubled, and somehow not unfulfilled. Their contentment is that of the cow or ox. They don't live in the "real world," but in a world suited to ordinary, dull, practical people who spend most of their lives in an unreflective, automatic stupor. As Tolstoy wrote, "such lives are as though they had not been lived." I hate ordinary people. Feel free to express hostility towards ordinary, practical people, by the way, since they don't pull any punches when it comes to criticizing us and mocking what we value. It's called anti-intellectualism, and it should be classified as a hate crime.

Jaco (2009-12-08 18:19:40)

I have just finished my PhD about two months ago. The silliest thing of all is I'm now stuck with a post-PhD depression, I guess since the thing that has occupied the last few years of my life has just disappeared and I'm still not sure if it was actually worth it, crazy!!

Actually, in the end I do think it was worth it just from a personal growth perspective. The whole "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger" thing gets driven beyond all rational boundaries. Or maybe, it is just me looking for self-justification?

Anyway, great blog and actually a needed contribution to a part of society that can only get support in understanding (which is hard to find).

Anonymous (2010-02-04 05:59:42)

Thank you very much for this site it really helps. I can relate myself to some of the stories posted.

Somewhere in Australia

EVWA (2010-03-01 21:59:33)

Wow - I never expected to find so much out there when I googled "PhD depression". I teach full time, so doing my PhD has taken 6 and a half years. I'm lucky that I've still got friends, because I never actually do anything or go anywhere any more. In fact, I'm surprised I'm still married.
I have felt all the things described above. I supervise my own students and try to build them up. Why can't I do it for myself.
Please somebody, tell me that I WILL get through this…….

Prajna (2010-04-18 01:19:52)

Thats very true. I am into severe depression phase. I am just wondering can I get out of it someday, I feel like its just increasing day by day. If there is any forum to share experience of PhD students, please share.

Anonymous (2010-05-18 10:37:00)

Brilliant! This analysis is simply brilliant! I have come to terms with realizing the most difficult part of a PhD is coming face forward with one's own weaknesses (loneliness, procrastination, fear of rejection). I think we all go through it. Hang in there everyone!

Anonymous (2010-06-11 20:47:01)

Nice to read, but I think you left out anger rumination and revenge contemplation.

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Anonymous (2010-06-21 10:27:58)

hmmmm… so may people undergo the same phase as i m going…feel not alone.
This type of feeling visits me weekly i guess …
All I can say is let's hang on, do it since we started it. We all know we can't leave things half-way.
For me, I also think independent research is an option while you work on some thing other than your interests.

How about this option? - Independent Research - because we know what we need to do after going through some period of our PhD's - I think this will avoid supervisor's tension and at the same time , you can enjoy when you like. The basic thing is your interest and your research - if we carry on with that PEACEFULLY, sometime we will get results and satisfaction .

Thanks again to all the people for sharing their opinions.

Anonymous (2010-07-31 16:39:29)

Thesis blues. Two months to defend. One month left to write. And I was put on a high pressure short term project instead of being given time to collect my thoughts and write a thesis up. Life effin sucks right now. I don't want to quit academics after this but everyone else I see, who quit after an MS or undergrad seems so much more better off. I wish I could punch their grinning, happy faces… :(

Anonymous (2010-08-06 09:57:36)

Another aspect to consider is the vaccuum after completion. Four years of hard work is finally recognised at the graduation ceremony, then what…..?
Although I am still working on publications, I have found it extremely difficult to adapt to 'normal life,

Anonymous (2010-08-09 14:56:15)

Dear Anonymous,

It took me roughly 3 months after the thesis defense to get back to normal. From what I've heard it's pretty normal to take some time to bounce back. Although I've been through that it's a bit hard to explain why: after all one just successfully completed an important degree, celebrated, etc.

redmonster (2010-10-05 03:05:00)

I am utterly depressed about a PhD (googling PhD depression too!) and I think I am almost in denial about my oral defence coming up. Six months f waiting i feel i have forgotten most of it. Thank you for your comments, I see there are plenty of us and some lessons have been learnt.

Lessons learnt:
1) Don't try to save the world and juggle too much at once. I hopped across three areas and now I am not an expert in any. Stick to what you do best, whatever your background was, and strengthen it. I wish i had gone for Animal Science, for example.

2) Don't study (3) degrees in a row.Work in between so you can value yourself as a worker. I was trying to find out who I was by studying various things (at least I enjoyed the papers in the masters, and parts of my PhD). Now I am 35 and I still haven't got a career, or any work confidence. If I applied for a Postdoc, I would need to have 3-4 years experience in the field, yet my filed is so small there wouldn't be any funded postdocs offered in it, and don't have enough expertise in more commercial fields. If anything I will get the PhD and be another scientist looking for funding, or commit academic suicide and work on whatever, maybe make up a business instead!

3) Don't trust your supervisors blindly to guide you through. In my case, they had little idea for what i was trying to do, so best intentions and all, I spent months messing about on my own without any decent results or short-term goals. When i did have results, there wasn't a lot to say about them, as it was not an area of interest fro them, plus, to be honest i had so few good results and the topic turned SO TECHNICAL that there isn't a lot to talk about. I wish i had done it on a topic I really loved, with someone who loved it too.

4) make up your mind early on about having kids at all, and when. It is not fun trying to do the PhD at the same time.

On a social downside, the stigma of being a PhD student is huge. Your family members, partner, and even, say, strangers, make jokes about their expectations that you should be brilliant and solve everything and anything quicker because you are the" PhD student". this a price they expect ypou to pay for the letters after your name: to be picked on for it forever.

All the best guys, hang on there if you can, or just let go if it is not too late.

redmonster (2010-10-05 03:07:01)

I am utterly depressed about my PhD (googling PhD depression too!) and I think I am almost in denial about my oral defence coming up. Six months of waiting and I feel I have forgotten most of it. Thank you for your comments, I see there are plenty of us and some lessons have been learnt.

Lessons learnt:
1) Don't try to save the world and juggle too much at once. I hopped across three areas and now I am not an expert in any. Stick to what you do best, whatever your background was, and strengthen it. I wish i had gone for Animal Science, for example.

2) Don't study (3) degrees in a row.Work in between so you can value yourself as a worker. I was trying to find out who I was by studying various things (at least I enjoyed the papers in the masters, and parts of my PhD). Now I am 35 and I still haven't got a career, or any work confidence. If I applied for a Postdoc, I would need to have 3-4 years experience in the field, yet my filed is so small there wouldn't be any funded postdocs offered in it, and don't have enough expertise in more commercial fields. If anything I will get the PhD and be another scientist looking for funding, or commit academic suicide and work on whatever, maybe make up a business instead!

3) Don't trust your supervisors blindly to guide you through. In my case, they had little idea for what i was trying to do, so best intentions and all, I spent months messing about on my own without any decent results or short-term goals. When i did have results, there wasn't a lot to say about them, as it was not an area of interest fro them, plus, to be honest i had so few good results and the topic turned SO TECHNICAL that there isn't a lot to talk about. I wish i had done it on a topic I really loved, with someone who loved it too.

4) Make up your mind early on about having kids at all, and when. It is not fun trying to do the PhD at the same time.

On a social downside, the stigma of being a PhD student is huge. Your family members, partner, and even, say, strangers, make jokes about their expectations that you should be brilliant and solve everything and anything quicker because you are the" PhD student". this a price they expect ypou to pay for the letters after your name: to be picked on for it forever.

All the best guys, hang on there if you can, or just let go if it is not too late.

Anonymous (2010-10-05 03:07:41)

I am utterly depressed about my PhD (googling PhD depression too!) and I think I am almost in denial about my oral defence coming up. Six months of waiting and I feel I have forgotten most of it. Thank you for your comments, I see there are plenty of us and some lessons have been learnt.

Lessons learnt:
1) Don't try to save the world and juggle too much at once. I hopped across three areas and now I am not an expert in any. Stick to what you do best, whatever your background was, and strengthen it. I wish i had gone for Animal Science, for example.

2) Don't study (3) degrees in a row.Work in between so you can value yourself as a worker. I was trying to find out who I was by studying various things (at least I enjoyed the papers in the masters, and parts of my PhD). Now I am 35 and I still haven't got a career, or any work confidence. If I applied for a Postdoc, I would need to have 3-4 years experience in the field, yet my filed is so small there wouldn't be any funded postdocs offered in it, and don't have enough expertise in more commercial fields. If anything I will get the PhD and be another scientist looking for funding, or commit academic suicide and work on whatever, maybe make up a business instead!

3) Don't trust your supervisors blindly to guide you through. In my case, they had little idea for what i was trying to do, so best intentions and all, I spent months messing about on my own without any decent results or short-term goals. When i did have results, there wasn't a lot to say about them, as it was not an area of interest fro them, plus, to be honest i had so few good results and the topic turned SO TECHNICAL that there isn't a lot to talk about. I wish i had done it on a topic I really loved, with someone who loved it too.

4) Make up your mind early on about having kids at all, and when. It is not fun trying to do the PhD at the same time.

On a social downside, the stigma of being a PhD student is huge. Your family members, partner, and even, say, strangers, make jokes about their expectations that you should be brilliant and solve everything and anything quicker because you are the" PhD student". this a price they expect ypou to pay for the letters after your name: to be picked on for it forever.

All the best guys, hang on there if you can, or just let go if it is not too late.