Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crisis averted

My mid-PhD blues have been replaced by frantic experimenting and panic, which is much, much better. I got through that rough patch by taking a mental vacation and just accepting the fact that I wasn’t going to get anything brilliant done for a while. I took a few days off and didn’t do any work. For a week or so after that, if something didn’t absolutely have to get done, I didn’t do it. I’d set myself a few (3 or less) small goals for the day and once I accomplished them, I’d let myself off the hook. If I wanted to do more work, I’d do it, but if I didn’t want to, I didn’t force myself. After about 2 weeks of this I started feeling much less depressed about the state of my research and started thinking about some new ideas and directions I could explore.

The timing for this worked out particularly well- coincidentally my bosses were distracted with other things and I couldn’t get access to the equipment I needed until after I was feeling better. When I feel like I’m not making research progress my instinct is always to try to push ahead as much as I can. But perhaps sometimes it’s better to just coast for a bit instead of getting worked up over things that are a very small part of the overall PhD process.


  1. I'm glad you seem to have found your footing! Ultimately a period of coasting is well worth it, if you can regain perspective and focus. Rock on!

  2. Hi! Fantastic blog you've got here. My research also involves MATLAB and expensive equipment, and it's great to hear another student's perspective on the daily struggles of graduate school. You bring up a lot of issues that I can relate to in this blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on these topics!

    I have also learned the hard way how important mental breaks can be. I tend to get frustrated when my research isn't working out, and I just blow a bunch of energy battling my own impatience and stubbornness. Over time I've come to realize that it's unreasonable to expect my performance to be at 150% constantly, both because my brain can't sustain that level of activity and because circumstances just aren't usually ideal. Sometimes lack of progress can be compensated for with hard work, but when that doesn't do the trick, a brain break can work wonders!

    The Engineer with a Closet