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Physics Is it normal to lose motivation/concentration after 2 years?

  1. Jul 5, 2016 #1

    My title is a little too long. I have graduated two years ago in applied physics at a master level and did nothing since then. I am isolated and I feel a lack of motivation to apply for PhD offers (and never had any motivation to apply for any other kind of job offers) and I lack concentration when I want to read an entire book of physics while I usually cannot understand very technical articles without reading simpler books before. I can follow MOOCs easier than books...

    I would like to know if this feeling is normal? What to say in a motivation letter and during an interview? I have always felt well in laboratories and research interests me but I think I need first to be into a structure, a team, and have a specific research goal in order to recover my motivation and not the other way around. I don't know if that's something that professors want to hear from a candidate but I don't want to start lying either.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Then I would recommend against pursuing a PhD. You need to be motivated before considering it.

    This is a bigger problem. You need to find what you are motivated to do and then pursue that.
  4. Jul 5, 2016 #3
    What I mean is that the only places where I have felt comfortable, apart from home, are laboratories. I did not lost interest in doing research and learning about physics, only motivation. I don't know how to recover it without starting something again. I am just staying at home and little by little I have lost motivation in doing bascially everything.

    I am seeking advices about what to do from now, but without giving up the idea to do something I like (a PhD)... I don't really see how one can get the motivation back before doing anything. Reading physics book is too hard, that's at least thousands of pages with no clear path in mind (each topic of research is itself wide). Should I meet people? Are there specific places where lots of researchers come to talk with people about what they do?
  5. Jul 5, 2016 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I think that motivation is a very personal thing. What motivates me may not motivate you. So I don't think that I can give you advice on how to get motivated.

    All I can do is warn against starting a PhD if you lack that motivation. You will have a miserable time and a high risk of losing many thousands of dollars and a couple of years with nothing to show for it.
  6. Jul 5, 2016 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    What about working in industry in a laboratory setting? You don't have to confine yourself to academic labs...
  7. Jul 5, 2016 #6
    I understand what you mean but I have already lost time and I don't see how I would lose money since PhD are paid positions, it is not an internship.

    I don't exclude it but I don't see what it brings that a PhD does not have. I would not get the diploma so nobody would accept me if I come back to university for doing research, right? And I like when there is a fundamental part in research, I am afraid that in many industrial labs that would be totally lost and the focus would be only on a very little applied improvement of an existing technology.
  8. Jul 5, 2016 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    The already lost time is irrelevant, it is a sunk cost. Nothing you can do now will change it. Only the future time commitment matters.

    You will lose the next several years if you go for a PhD. If you lack the motivation to complete it then you will lose those years for no gain. In fact, if you start and do not complete it then it will be detrimental as some employers look at uncompleted degrees as a sign of a lack of commitment and follow through.

    At a minimum you will lose the money for the employment that you will sacrifice, this is called an opportunity cost.

    In addition, it is likely that you will accumulate additional debt as a PhD student. There are many reasons that funding can dry up unexpectedly, you should at least be prepared for the financial risk.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2016
  9. Jul 5, 2016 #8
    I think that the risk of not having sufficient motivation does exist, and I take your advice seriously. However, I don't know how it works for other people, but my motivation usually increases with time when I am involved in a project and I count on that... It seems logical to me because in the beginning you are in front of a topic you don't master and start learning about it. But after a few months you have lots of ideas emerging, you are much more deeply involved always thinking at which solutions could be the best for solving your current problem, etc. I am rarely very motivated before starting something.

    The second part of your message, I still don't understand it. When I look at offers, it always states that it is paid for all the duration of the PhD, and very often the salary is also mentioned. Only in a few offers in the UK I have seen that they ask students to pay themselves, but I would never go into this.
  10. Jul 5, 2016 #9


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    I think you may just be depressed. Depression often causes one to lose interest and motivation in things that they were previously excited about and also make it difficult for them to concentrate. If this is the case for you, once you address the problem and start feeling better, things will come together.
  11. Jul 5, 2016 #10
    radium, it is true that I have been depressed and I may still have some sequel of that (for example I was reading at least 1 book per week in the past and now I don't read). But the worst part is over now, and this problem cannot really be addressed except by doing something, and I think getting an interesting job is a good start. Because doing nothing will not lead me anywhere...
  12. Jul 5, 2016 #11
    If you haven't applied to a job for two years after graduating, you are in a depression. Something needs to change. Seeking professional help is the standard answer here. Seek a catalyst from within yourself would be my personal suggestion for you.
  13. Jul 5, 2016 #12
    Actually I have applied to around 15 offers maybe, even went to a few interviews, but I was not selected. That's also a reason why I am losing motivation.
  14. Jul 5, 2016 #13


    Staff: Mentor

    Without a background in economics or business most people are not trained to think in terms of sunk costs, marginal costs, or opportunity costs. So your reaction is understandable.

    Even paid PhD positions are not well paid. So if you estimate that you will make $15k - $20k per year less at a paid PhD position vs a job then over the course of 3-6 years you will wind up somewhere between $45k - $120k behind as a result of pursuing a PhD instead of working.

    Student loans are also very easy to obtain and quite hard to resist. So chances are that you will come out with additional debt making you even further behind financially.

    If the end result is a higher paying job or a better lifestyle, then this financial setback can be overcome over the course of your career. But nevertheless the cost and the risk must be considered.
  15. Jul 5, 2016 #14
    Ah it is clear now, thank you. You know, I have applied to a few PhD positions very well paid actually! Around 40k per year, but they are not the most common of course, and I guess it was very challenging to be selected. Where I live, I have never heard about student loans for PhD, it is more common to get them for undergraduate studies...

    I think that as long as I can live without problems during the PhD, it is okay and I can delay a higher paying job to a next step. Or I can apply to a few more well paid PhD although I don't know if I have any chance of success in these ones.
  16. Jul 5, 2016 #15
    Echoing what others have said, you should definitely go see a professional clinician, especially if you exhibit signs such as loss of motivation, sleeping a lot, or disinterest.

    In terms of motivation, it seems like you know what you need to do to become motivated so do that or go get professional help. It is also possible for interests to shift, and if physics isn't your passion anymore than you may want to do some exploring. I would highly advised against beginning a PhD program unless you are positive it is what you want. In addition, the idea of being in a laboratory and doing research - as it is highly romanticized - is extremely different from actual science and research.

    P.S. In simple terms, opportunity cost is the possible choices and outcomes an individual sacrifices to choose another choice/outcome. We only have a limited amount of time and limited efficiency. You can't do everything, and you can't do everything at once.
  17. Jul 5, 2016 #16


    Staff: Mentor

    If you are impressive enough that you can get selected for a $40k grad school then chances are you could also be selected for a $55-$60k job, so the opportunity cost would still be present.

    Yes, that is the trade-off that you need to consider. A good job now or a better job later. However, if you fail to complete the PhD due to your motivation issues, then you would just wind up financially behind with no delayed benefit. So that is the risk to consider.
  18. Jul 5, 2016 #17
    Not necessarily since it does not imply that such a job exists for a beginner in a similar topic in physics. But in the end, I cannot measure that quantitatively since it is impossible to know this risk for me, even approximately. It is like some hidden variable from my point of view, I would never know in advance if there is 20% risk of failure due to lack of motivation or interest or any other problem!

    I hope my interests are not shifting, I still find physics interesting, I still do exercises to learn more theory and not forget everything I already know. I just have some trouble for concentrating during a long time, especially on hard technical articles. I did internships in three different laboratories and I felt quite well in all cases. So I think I would not feel bad in other laboratories unless I am very unlucky or the ones I went before were all exceptions.
  19. Jul 5, 2016 #18


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    I think people forgdo higher pay to do a PhD usually because they believe it will help them get a job after they graduate which will be very interesting in addition to paying well. Even outside of academia (in data science/ other similar industry positions) it seems that a PhD gives you a lot of autonomy which you would not otherwise have.
  20. Jul 5, 2016 #19


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    Once you get past the master's level I think it's reasonable to expect some loss of motivation if you don't have a specific direction.

    Through your undergraduate work you're concentrating on building a foundation in physics. Though many concepts are daunting, you can power your way through them if you don't find them inherently interesting. (And generally most people who chose to study physics find most topics interesting enough that studying is something they're happy to do.) But eventually you get to a point where learning more requires a large amount of specialization and a certain amount of guidance. So I can understand how generally one might still be interested in a subject, but lose motivation to work through a textbook on it - particularly in the absence of the pressure that comes with a course.

    It sounds to me like you need a specific project to work on at the this point, which is what a PhD is all about. The thing is, it's important to spend time figuring out what you want to work on. Going into a PhD without much knowledge of the projects available or the subfield can lead to trouble because it's a big commitment.
  21. Jul 6, 2016 #20
    I don't understand all this talk about how scientists can't understand sunk costs or opportunity costs. A person can't get a job and lost motivation. What does this have to do with a PhD costing money? Compared to what?

    And what is the cost of getting stuck in a career you hate? Did you calculate that?

    PhD jobs are very different from MSc jobs.

    Skillsets are also different. Someone good at a PhD job may be bad at an MSc job for exactly the same reasons.
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