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Am I suitable to do a PhD?

  1. Feb 5, 2014 #1
    Am I suitable to do a PhD??

    Hey guys, I''m having a bit of a crisis atm and need some help. I'm sure this is a pretty common thing to happen to most people at my stage, but we will see.

    It has come to my own realisation that I can get easily depressed when I lack a certain direction in my work. I have just finished an undergraduate degree, and I loved it. I enjoyed the fact that there are assignments to complete, exams to finish and people all around in the same position. I love theoretical physics, it became one of my favourite things to study at uni. I have just come from a short research scholarship project on String Theory, where I was working through a series of problems from a textbook, which I really enjoyed.

    But as soon as I run out of problems to solve and have to choose my own path to take in the research, I can't enjoy what I do anymore. I start to procrastinate and sluggishly stare away at information without taking it in. In the end, I start feeling depressed and not find interest in anything. This is what happens when I don't have a deadline or a task to complete by a certain time.

    Is this a common thing for undergraduates to go through? I am just about to enter an honours program in theoretical physics, so I guess I will see how it goes. I always looked into my future and thought "I love physics, I want to do a PhD". But I know that PhDs require a lot of persistence and motivation from the student. I just don't think that I will start to have the same experience that I enjoyed during undergraduate.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2014 #2
    I'm speaking here as an undergrad doing research, not as a PhD student, but this is something I've found as well. Although I enjoy doing research, sometimes my research advisors allow me to choose a project and try and work my way through it. I never get very far because, like you said, I don't know how to start out and which direction to take, and so I throw in the towel altogether. It feels like there is so much information, and you can't possibly understand it all. And then you hit a road block, and don't know where to turn.

    Is this what you are experiencing? If so, you are not alone. I have thought about this too, and the fact that I also want to pursue a PhD, but just like you this aspect of research makes it really unappealing. I guess that as you work your way up to a PhD, you eventually learn how to tackle problems like that. Hopefully someone who has taken that road can offer you some advice too.
  4. Feb 6, 2014 #3


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    From the way you described your education, my guess is that you're in the UK, or in a system similar to the UK (I wish people would clearly state where they are at! With people from all over the world on here, people need to be aware that we all are from different educational systems!). I am not sure how strong of an influence your academic advisor is in that situation. Here in the US, typically your acadmic advisor, which usually is your mentor/thesis supervisor, is highly responsible in directing your research work. So I would suggest you see this person and talk to him/her in getting some sort of goals and organization to what you will be working on. This is especially true here because it appears that you require a bit more guidance, based on your description.

    Besides, when you are really doing your own research, wouldn't your advisor/supervisor require constant update on what you are doing and your progress? I monitor 2 PhD graduate students right now, and we have weekly meetings to keep us up to speed. Even when we can't meet, they send progress report via e-mail, and we give them feedback on what they got, and what they should proceed with next.

  5. Feb 7, 2014 #4
    If you are in the UK all three years are Research. This is because you will have done an MPhys or MSci so you cover the required modules. If you do not enjoy directing yourself you will not enjoy a theoretical physics degree. However, if you can get in to a more experimental PhD it is POSSIBLE that you will be assigned to a team and told "figure this out" and that might be more suitable.
  6. Feb 7, 2014 #5
    That sounds very, very close to what I just experienced finishing my PhD (in math). You are right that you would probably hate writing a dissertation because the difficulties involved are precisely the kind you are dealing with now. So, I think before you embark on that, you need to think very hard about time-management, ability to motivate yourself, and so on. There are lots of books written on this sort of thing. As it is, it sounds like you are in for a lot of pain and suffering. You might have to start doing a lot of annoying stuff, like keep time logs of how you spend your time, learn how to talk to yourself so that you don't get overwhelmed.

    Here's something that I just came across that might have made things a little easier, had I seen it before starting my dissertation:


    But you might also want to question the value of the PhD in the first place. The odds are probably against you getting an academic job in the end, and so on. Also, it is possible that the nature of the subject will change in a way that you don't like by the time you finish. That's what happened to me in math.
  7. Feb 9, 2014 #6
    Thanks for the responses guys, I live in Australia (although doing a PhD overseas could have been an option). What I believe is that this rests as an issue of personality. I have the type of drive where I have a project and see the end product immediately and then come up with the steps necessary to get to the end. Then do the same and repeat again. It is probably the main reason I got through my undergraduate years as I did.

    I would suspect for some people in a similar position to myself would find significant stress in not knowing with where a project is leading towards, or even if there is an answer at the end of it.
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