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Am I just a lazy failure?

  1. Jan 1, 2015 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm three months into my PhD after taking a 2 year break between it and my BSc to work in government. I went back to academia because I thought I wanted to be a scientist - a proper researcher! However, I'm finding that my enjoyment and motivation to do the work has fallen to zero.

    I just don't want to put in 60+ hours a week plus weekends for this. And I really hate feeling like an idiot 100% of the time (I know, I know, it's normal). It's just really depressing.

    Yet, I still find physics quite interesting. Don't get me wrong, I'm by no means "in love" with it. It's not that great. But, you know, it can be cool sometimes.

    My question is this:
    Should I quit while I'm ahead? Try and find a regular job instead? Because that's what I'm leaning towards, but I feel like I'll be letting everyone down that's been cheering me on and expecting me to go on to do great things. I feel like I'm not "living up to my potential". Is this a silly thing to worry about? But what if I really regret quitting later on down the road? Help?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2015 #2


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    In what career is one interested? Is one's career aspirations compatible with the PhD or research topic/area? If not in research or academia, in what area does one envision oneself?

    One could look at the 60 or 60+ hrs/week as a short term investment.
  4. Jan 1, 2015 #3
    Well, that's my problem - I have no idea anymore. I've tried computer security, that wasn't for me. I don't seem to enjoy research. What does that leave? Teaching is definitely not for me. Programming doesn't seem to suit me either. So... Give up and go into finance? I mean, what else is there really?
  5. Jan 1, 2015 #4


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    Research is a pretty broad area, and there is the aspect of applied research or development.

    I worked for some PhDs who started their own company after working in industry for several years.

    Perhaps it is a matter of finding one's passion.
  6. Jan 1, 2015 #5

    Stephen Tashi

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    You could consider whether you are generally unmotivated to do anything. That might be a psychological state that won't be cured by hunting for something that inspires you.
  7. Jan 1, 2015 #6
    Have you thought about engineering in any flavour? I'm graduating with a physics degree this year and heading into an engineering technologist programme.
  8. Jan 1, 2015 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Getting back to the title, I don't think the only two possibilities are "finish the PhD" and "lazy failure".
  9. Jan 1, 2015 #8


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    Letting other people down shouldn't be a huge concern. It's great that people have been supportive of you so far, but in all honesty, aside from perhaps a little disappointment (that may or may not be justified) they'll get over it. And really, your true friends will support you in whatever choice you make.

    Letting yourself down is the main issue though. And it is quite possible that you will in the future wonder if you could have finished the PhD, if you decide to discontinue your studies.

    But all of life's decisions are like that. I'm happy with where I'm at in life, but I often wonder what life would have been like if I would have done things differently. What if I would have tried a little harder to make it into medical school? What if I had asked out that girl I had a crush on in 10th grade before she moved away? What if I stuck with plasma physics instead of going into medical physics for a PhD?

    You won't ever have certainty in knowing that you made the "right" choice, unfortunately. It's important to realise in situations like this that there is no "right" choice. It's obvious that you're taking the time to think it through and weighing the potential consequences, and that's important. It's important to seek advice and other perspectives because sometimes other viewpoints can shed light on ramifications of the decision that you haven't considered. But eventually you need to make the choice and accept the consequences.

    From my own experience, I would say that three months in is a little early to know what the PhD is about. For me, I was still locked in course work. It wasn't until I started doing research (my first summer, about eight months in) that I began to experience what the PhD was really about. So if you're still grinding through course work, it might be a little early to make any decisions - if that helps at all.
  10. Jan 1, 2015 #9


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    One more point, now that I think about it...

    There's no shame in realizing that you're on a path that's not right for you. By the fact that you were accepted into a PhD program, it is almost a given that you NOT are "lazy" or a "failure." It might feel like you're quitting, but not stopping once you've realized you're on the wrong path can have serious consequences - anywhere from failing out to the negative impacts of stress on your health.

    Edit: JTBell was correct.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  11. Jan 2, 2015 #10


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    I suspect that you omitted a "not" there. :oldsmile:
  12. Jan 2, 2015 #11
    Oh I've heard of those kind of schemes - aren't they kind of tricky to get into without an engineering background? Which company are you joining, if you don't mind me asking?
  13. Jan 2, 2015 #12
    Kind of makes me wish life was more like a video game - where we could choose to reset back to one of those pivotal points in life and go in a different direction. Just to see where it leads!

    The PhD so far has been maybe a bit non-typical, since I was thrown into research from day one because my initial project is just a continuation of work that another PhD student has been doing. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but there you go. It's stressful. One of my supervisors is the typical overachieving genius type, who expects everyone else to be on the same level and calls them stupid if they're not. Tricky after two years out!

    I've always kind of been expected to be a scientist. And when I was younger I think that's what I mostly wanted (that or a famous painter haha). Now I'm not so sure. But I think that's why I will feel like such a failure if I don't do it - because it's always been what I was meant to do, and I don't really know what else I can do.

    I will give it until the end of the first year. Maybe you're right, maybe I haven't given it long enough. If it still feels wrong after a year, I think I'll leave. No sense wasting 4 years of my life on this if it's not a good fit.
  14. Jan 2, 2015 #13


    Staff: Mentor

    Seriously? It sounds like you are drifting through your own life, expecting someone else to hand you happiness. You seem to be unwilling to figure out your own motivations/goals and unwilling to even do a minimal amount of thinking about possible options. Take charge of your own life. Stop with all of this "letting everyone down", "living up to my potential", and "what if I really regret" stuff.

    Step 1: Figure out what you want. This part you have to do on your own, and it is the most important step.
    Step 2: Decide how to get it. People can help you here with advice.
    Step 3: Go do it. This part is mostly up to you also.
  15. Jan 2, 2015 #14
    Changing course isn't necessarily a bad idea, but also consider asking yourself why you don't enjoy research.

    For me, I realized that getting absorbed in a challenging research problem required an understanding of the overarching purpose of the project, which is difficult to obtain with little experience. Once I achieved this, I became vastly more motivated, and spend a lot of my free time working because I'm obsessed.

    Spend a while with standard review papers in your field and your advisor's recent papers, see if you can push yourself to get a deeper understanding of what's going on.

    EDIT: I should stress that I found both coursework and research to be insuperably difficult before I grasped the context and grand scheme of things.
  16. Jan 4, 2015 #15
    I'm heading specifically into a type of engineering which my in my country is a nationally regulated trade - power engineering. You need no special background. Most technologist programmes here are direct entry after high school, I just happened to get a physics degree before enrolling. There are different levels of the license with examinations and time on-job for each level of license. In Canada there are facilities which require power engineers as staff to legally operate the machinery they use from refrigeration to oil processing to food processing to hospitals and obviously power plants.
  17. Jan 4, 2015 #16
    In my naive opinion, 'proper' researchers retire as early as possible to spend all day every day investigating a curiosity. That's a rare thing to be, and an unrealistic expectation to have. Everything else is mildly interesting, mostly tedious work. Try to think about what makes you happy, and hop on that boat. Most people fail many times before they find it.

    Also, get aerobic exercise. Life is simpler when your face is flushed and your lungs are empty.
  18. Jan 4, 2015 #17


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    A couple of thoughts:
    1) Your friends probably want you to be happy. I doubt that they will be crushed if you don't go for a PhD.
    2) If you went from undergrad classes straight to classes in a PhD program, that is a big step. You will be mixed in with students who have worked on Masters degrees and many who are re-taking classes to get back into the PhD stream. That can give you the wrong impression of your ability.
    3) Don't overlook the advantages of getting a Masters degree.
  19. Jan 6, 2015 #18
    Thank you for the reply, I find it quite encouraging! The idea that it's ok to try lots of things before getting it right is something that's been said to me before, but I'm still working on internalising that.

    Also, I agree with the exercise part. Everything always seems a bit brighter after my spinning class. But that is something I really don't like about my work at the moment - between that and exercise, eating and sleeping, there's really not a lot of time left to see my friends or my family. And since I live alone, having time to travel and visit people on the weekends and/or evenings is very important to maintaining my sanity (no seriously, I've started talking to myself quite enthusiastically, it's weird).

    I have found one interesting job advertisement, in the same city I'm living in right now. I've applied, I just gotta hope that they'll take me into consideration. I've not heard back yet...
  20. Jan 6, 2015 #19
    That is something I didn't mention - I am literally the only person on the programme without a Masters degree. So I do feel behind, though my supervisors seem to think it's not a problem (despite taking every opportunity to point out that "I should know this already"). I do think a Masters degree might be my ideal level, also it would grant the opportunity to explore fields I find more interesting, problem is finding the money to pay for the thing. I've applied for a job recently and I'm hoping that if I get it and work with the company for a while, they will sponsor me through one, since they're quite keen on educating their employees. But I have to get the job first!
  21. Jan 6, 2015 #20
    Well, see what I want and what I can realistically have are two different things. I mean, in an absolutely ideal world I'd love to go back to uni to do a design degree. But, I'm not in a position to do that. Therefore, I am currently in the process of finding something I CAN do with the skills and qualifications that I have. I thought a PhD would open more doors in this regard, but I don't think I can hack it for four years when it sucks this much life out of me. I just feel like a dick for taking all this support and love that my friends and family have given me and kind of...I don't know, throwing it all away? I guess I'm just plain looking at it wrong. They probably just want me to be happy either way, like others have stated in this thread. I realise that I need to live up to my own expectations, not others. And worrying about potential future regrets is not going to help me make a decision one way or the other.

    Thanks for the kick up the butt. I'll do my best. I will say though, this is something I put constant thought into, I just haven't arrived at any promising conclusions for so long that I've started to feel a bit dispirited. Hence the self-pitying "I'll give up and be an accountant" attitude earlier. I'll stop that, I recognise it's not helpful.
  22. Jan 10, 2015 #21
    Just do what makes you happy in life. If you don't know what that is, try to find it...

    In the end, it is your life and your life only. If you aren't happy with it yourself, then no other persons happiness can mend that. To be altruistic, you have to first be a bit egotistic...
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