PhD: taking BS to a new level

I tell you, I’m a man who believes that I died 20 years ago. And I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.

– Malcolm X

PhDs are hard. But I think that the scholars pursuing doctorate degrees are much harder on themselves than they need to be, and it doesn’t make their lives easier.

For the past couple of months I have been going through phases of guilt, burn-out and existential dread. Cambridge is an unhealthy environment for overachievers because we can never achieve perfection here. The harder we work, the more follow-up questions and limitations we discover. For me what started as an elegant project turned into a butterfly effect of academic thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my research and I can’t describe how badly I want to make it work. So badly that after every botched experiment I feel like a failure and a fraud. I’m convinced that my problem is that I lack focus and am unable to accept the fact that I can realistically achieve about 15% of all my goals during a 3-year PhD. Hence, I end up doing too many experiments at a time and all I gain out of them is exhaustion that leads to careless and unsystematic science.

I’m glad I am in a position, where I have my mentors, lab colleagues and friends to talk about this. I am very excited about my field and I would still love to have my lab someday (even though some days I have to force myself to soldier on). Unfortunately, I’ve met fellow doctorate students who found the stress too overwhelming, and they decided not to continue with their PhD studies. If this is something that sounds familiar, there’s the Coping with Success and Failure event organised by the School of Clinical Medicine and Academic Women’s Forum (it’s free and not shameless advertising). You are most certainly not alone.

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Yours truly,

AM

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