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The Latter Part of a Ph.D.- Need Some Motivational Advice

  1. Jun 8, 2013 #1


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    Hi All,

    Hope all is well. It's been a while since my last visit to PF.

    I'll cut to the chase:

    I'm now in my 5th year of grad school, and I basically feel like crap. On the surface, things seem fine. I have two papers published, another accepted for publication, and a fourth in the revision stages. I am first author on two of them. All are in decent, respectable journals.

    Deep down though, my motivation and excitement has disappeared and my productivity and general contentment with my work has crashed. And I mean CRASHED. I am having trouble getting myself to do my work, let alone getting excited about my work. I can't seem to get myself interested in any papers I'm reading (or writing), and in general, I just do not feel interested in science anymore. Honestly sometimes I don't know remember why I even enjoyed physics in the first place.

    I'm really starting to worry. I'm afraid I'm going to end up with no hope for any type of career either doing or teaching science simply because I no longer have any drive to produce results. I feel intellectually and emotionally exhausted with the whole endeavor.

    Anyone been in this type of state. Any motivational advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 8, 2013 #2
    It actually quite common for PhD students towards the end of their PhD to realize that they are actually not that interested in academia physics. The advice would be: Finish your PhD, then quit physics.
  4. Jun 8, 2013 #3
    This sounds like classic burnout, and I'm willing to bet nearly every grad student gets there at some point. The standard advice is to take some time away from your research, and work at your own pace on some non-physics side project while you mentally recover a bit.

    Since you are nearly finished with your phd, maybe before you start putting your thesis together, you should step away from physics for an extended period of time, maybe a month if you can, and use it as an exploring alternatives period. Even if you plan to stay in physics, learning some finance or statistics IS fun, and it can help you mentally recover to switch gears a bit. Definitely take a break and get your energy back before you dive into a job search.
  5. Jun 9, 2013 #4
    I agree, it sounds like burn out. Which means you need to take as long of a break as you need/can take until your excitement comes back. I'm still an undergrad, so the burnout I've experienced surely doesn't compare to yours. But what has helped me is to do nothing for a while. Play games. Watch TV. Go on hikes. Whatever relaxes you. Recharge mentally and physically. After that, what has happened for me is I soon become bored and my desire for intellectual stimulation comes back along with my passion for physics.

    So simply take a break, if you can!! Recharge and then you'll know if physics is still what is right for you. You'll just get more burnt out if you keep trying to drudge on in the midst of burnout.
  6. Jun 9, 2013 #5


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    Take a break and do something physical, like doing some repairs or jogging or some type of athletic program at the gym, perhaps change what you eat. Lack of energy can be because of environmental factors too, especially eating poorly. Take a timeout, recover, then hit it hard again.
  7. Jun 9, 2013 #6


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    Have you tried talking with your Advisor? If he or she is a good mentor, this is something he/she should know. It might also be of interest to him/her because having a student who could not finish doesn't bode well for him/her.

    Also, was this a sudden onset or did you sense a progression? Did something trigger this or did you just got progressively less motivated? You might be exhibiting symptoms of a depression which might have very little to do with physics itself.

    I don't know how "common" a burn-out is at this level, especially when you are so close to finishing. I didn't have that, and I don't know anyone personally that had this while in graduate school. You need to talk to someone who knows you well and consider the possibility that help is available in some form.

  8. Jun 9, 2013 #7


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    Additional to and not contradicting any other advice, consider

    1 How you look from the outside
    2 Return on investment

    From the outside people, e.g. your potential employers, do not see your internal anguishes but only a rather high-level experience in an advanced field, somethig you can't do just anywhere, and therefore capacity at a prestigious place, the capacity further certified by publications and, if you don't slip now, a Ph.D. Hard to find for employers looking for that area of expertise, but certifying for those just loooking for more general capacities. However these certificates and publications that might at the moment look despicable to you are pretty much all they have to go on.

    You have invested a lot to get this far. Even the first years of you Ph.D. course it probably didn't come that easy. Now you are nearly as on top of the art and subject as you'll ever be, reap a bit of profit like writing your stuff up or some publishable further research. If you move somewhere else and stay in research you'll have the starting up difficulties again (and may miss the facilities and advantages of where you are) and so will you if you move into something entirely different. You have invested and maybe some other people have?

    None of this means you have to stay in research or science for ever or for long.
  9. Jun 9, 2013 #8


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    I'm sure this has something to do with it. I have had time off over the past 5 years, but usually that involved visiting family. While my family is great, there is enough negative dynamics involved to make family visits less than relaxing.

    I just don't have the money for a real, escape from the world vacation. I am doing my degree in an expensive city, and rent eats up a huge portion of my stipend.

    He is actually a great mentor. One of the best advisers I could have actually. I can honestly say he might care more about his students careers than he does about research. I haven't brought this up with him yet because I am a little embarrassed. I know he is a great adviser and has supported me well the past 5 years, so I don't want to come off as a complaining about what is objectively a good grad school situation.

    There have been ups and downs the whole way, nothing abnormal. I was really productive my first year in the lab. Then I took the oral part of my prelims and the post-qual slump hit. This lasted about a semester, but I pulled myself out of it and got some good results.

    In general I feel fine about my personal life. The feelings are confined almost exclusively to my professional life.

    Yeah, it's where I'm at that is concerning me. I thought that by this point I would get a second wind and be able to tackle the home stretch. That's apparently not what happening though. Making progress is like pulling teeth.
  10. Jun 9, 2013 #9
    A vacation doesn't mean you have to actually go somewhere. In fact, for recovering from this kind of burnout, not going somewhere is probably preferable. Just take some time off.

    I hit this kind of a wall during the spring of my fourth year. Took me about a month to get over it, but after I did, I found the motivation to finish.
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