PhDLife. Keeping motivated.

I work hard. I always have and probably always will. It’s something I pride myself on. And it’s definitely a quality you need to do a PhD!

Studying for a PhD was always going to be tough and require a lot of hard work, effort and determination! That didn’t phase me as I’m a bit of a workaholic. But I never realised I would feel like this…

Every day recently has been a struggle for me. I have always loved science (in fact, there are very few things in the world that interest me more!) but each morning for the last few weeks, I have woken up and I could not have been more uninspired to get into the lab!

I am completely and utterly stuck in a rut!!!

I am only coming up to the end of my second year, and so far, I haven’t found it too difficult to keep my focus and keep working hard. That is until recently. I have been really struggling – one failed Western blot after another, reagents not working for me, followed by more failed experiments just not doing what they are supposed to. It has been one thing after another, which up until know I’ve just dealt with, but these past few weeks it has even been making me question whether making the decision to do a PhD was even the right thing to do. Did I make the right decision? Is doing a PhD the right thing for me? Will this feeling ever end?  I no longer have the motivation or energy to keep going and make that failed experiment work! The one thing that is making this worse for me is knowing that it’s only going to get tougher over the next two years, as I’m watching some of my peers rushing to get final experiments done and writing their theses before submission by the end of the month. I feel panicked and anxious at the thought of having to do that at the moment! Perhaps this feeling has also been fuelled by the fact that it has been the summer holidays and most people are off from work, so when things have been going wrong I haven’t been able to easily discuss it with someone to resolve the problem, and so I have lost my direction and my focus.

Not only have I been feeling down about things in the lab, things out of the lab have been getting to me too. I am missing friends and family back home and I am missing friends from uni. A lot of people around me have been getting good news recently – there’s talk of new jobs, babies being born, holidays, engagements and just general socialising! I am the type of person that likes to share experiences with people, so I think I just simply feel like I am missing out! But at the moment, it is just not helping how I feel.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind of emotions for me lately – panic, anxiety, stress, envy, self-doubt… need I go on!

I think I’m just having a mid-PhD crisis!



I knew this feeling could not continue much longer or it would really start getting to me, so I’ve been looking for a way out. A way to regain my motivation to get into the lab every morning and take one step closer to that new discovery!

I needed something to distract me so I’ve been thinking about taking up a sport again, and to travel somewhere, but they take a bit of planning! I think it’s always good to write things down – whether to clear your mind or so you don’t forget something important! So I thought I would write down my feelings in this blog post, and think up some good ways to keep motivated to share with you (but mainly to motivate myself :P).


My top tips for staying motivated during your PhD:

1) Set short term goals – for me, rather than thinking I need to get all these experiments done to write a thesis and get my PhD, I focus on short term goals so I always feel like I’m getting somewhere then, whether that is needing to do these three Western blots to finish this figure for my thesis, or I need to image this to get another figure. It helps that I set myself deadlines for these goals too. I’ll be honest – most of the deadlines I set myself I never meet but just putting a date on it helps me! But you have to keep the big picture in mind! If you’re not thinking about how you’re going to reach your final destination, even with the short term goals, you will get lost.

2) Accept the failures – It is part of the journey! It is always going to be hard, and you are going to feel down at times, but the moment you realise that science just doesn’t work sometimes and you can’t explain why, you will just sweep those failed attempts under the carpet and be ready to go again.

3) Meet with your PhD supervisor often – I know sometimes this is easier said than done, as some supervisors are ALWAYS busy! But for me it really works. The likelihood is that your supervisor is not going to remember every detail of your research each time you meet as they usually have so many students to look after, plus other commitments, so meeting with them more often might allow you to discuss different ideas to the previous meeting, generate a different hypothesis and think about other directions your research could take you. I find that the more ideas I have motivates me to get into the lab to try and prove them all right and identify new things in my field of research! But sometimes too many ideas can get confusing, so these meetings also help me decide which is the best direction to take my research and keeps me focussed on one thing.

4) Relax! – I think it is really important to switch off when you’re not in work or writing at home. Thinking about the same experiment 24/7 is not going to make you want to go back into work on a Monday morning and do it again! So, go play a sport, meet up with some friends, go away for a long weekend, bake something, learn a new language, do whatever you want! Just do something that is going to take your mind off work so you can feel refreshed going in the next day and motivated to get that next result!

  I realise that this feeling is going to be part of the PhD journey. I just need some guidance, some inspiration, some direction. I have faith I’ll find my motivation again. I just need it back sooner rather than later!

How do you keep motivated during your PhD? Any advice?




Hope this post isn’t too depressing πŸ˜› I’ve tried to put a positive spin on things and hope it doesn’t sound like it is me just moaning. I have been feeling like this recently, but hopefully there is someone out there that is feeling like me, maybe they are feeling worse, but hopefully they will read this blog and realise they are not alone in that feeling and it might give them inspiration to get motivated again! I wrote most of this blog when I was feeling at the lowest I have on my PhD journey so far, but I did not publish until I was on the way out of my mid-PhD crisis and was in the right frame of mind to put a positive spin on things ( I couldn’t think of anything worse than me writing a really depressing and uninspiring post, which I hope it isn’t now).

11 thoughts on “PhDLife. Keeping motivated.

  1. Really great post and some excellent tips! I’m a firm believer in being totally honest about the PhD experience as so many people think that everyone out there is doing better than them when it’s just not the case, we all have insecurities! I completely understand the feeling of not having any motivation, I’d say second year is the worst for that as you can’t really see the end. I felt like I had no data literally until the very end of my lab time then last week I sat down and made a list of what needs to go in my thesis and I probably have too much! I promise you’ll be fine when the time comes! Your final years get better as you’ll start to tell your supervisor what’s what, rather than the other way around and that helps motivation a bit πŸ˜‰ Hang in there, you’re doing great and happy to talk if you need to πŸ™‚
    Sophie x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think The Thesis Whisperer named it “The valley of $***”!
    I’m also in my second year, doing a billion things yet not doing enough to get stuff into my thesis, whilst having existential crises. I guess it helps knowing that everyone goes through it. Good luck with those Westerns! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I went through a phase like this but the n once the light at the end of the tunnel behind to emerge you get a bit more drive! I’ve written a post that I think you and your readers can probably resonate with… Would be great if we could connect on Facebook because I’d love your feedback when I publish PhD-related posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I only got through an Honours year before life REALLY got too hard and I was forced back into my old profession. The year was it’s own reward though and I don’t regret it. You offer some sage advice Sophie and this post will help many. I’ve written a similar post on my own blog questioning whether an ultimately fruitless few years of struggle at uni were worth it from any practical point of view. I have to remain optimistic and say they were..Keep on truckin’! You’ll get there! You’re already further than I could get πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Committing to a PhD is not a decision to take halfheartedly! I have just submitted my thesis and am awaiting my viva and my God it’s been a hell of a journey! I’ve summarised the top 5 reasons for and against doing a PhD based on my experience here- Great post by the way-very helpful for anyone just starting out!


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