Throughout my time doing my PhD I have discovered things do not work. I’ll expand on this a little more below, but for now lets just go with it. How do you cope? How do you get up in the morning? I’ll try to answer these questions.. I guess it really comes down to hope…
Let me begin by saying that these are hard questions and come down to the individual.
Sometimes things do work, the feeling when something goes right, where you fight through and make a sample or your experiment runs and your results are consistent and repeatable is unbelievable, it’s great. But the effect of this does diminish as you get through, as the end looms in front of you the victories become less sweet and the fear grows.
I have the say the thing that helped me the most was my friends. It’s one thing to get up in the morning and know you have to drudge your way through 10 hours in a clean room poking, spinning and evaporating it’s another to start that day with seeing some great friends that make you laugh and smile. The people make your work, without good people you’re unlikely to want to turn up every day; humans are social animals the people who surround us matter!
One of my friends once said to me “just remember after these 3 or 4 years you’ll be a doctor forever” and it’s true. I’m not sure it’s enough though, really what does it matter if you’re a Dr or not? It doesn’t frankly, it’s nice but I’m not that fussed. It’s nice to have a PhD but again it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t have one. What is nice and what really matters in my opinion is that I’ve advanced the world of science and human knowledge, I’ve added something. I can point to a document that contains knowledge that if it was not for me no one would know. That is a pleasant feeling it is.
When you’re feeling down you have a few choices, push through, take a break or quit. For the most part you’re unlikely to actually go through with quitting, by the time people feel like that they normally have too much invested to quit, don’t do it, really you’ll get through and come out a better person than you would if you quit. Whether you take a break or push forward will depending on where you are and what you’re doing, I did both at different times. I never really took a proper break though, I found taking a evening or two every week where I completely avoided doing anything work related, I did fun things. This varied greatly from going gliding to running around in forests in the rain. All great fun, all with people completely different to those who I saw during the days. It worked for me.
Frankly though, life goes on, if you quit you will not explode, you can always just say you worked as a researcher for x years no one will really know. Your PhD may feel like everything and your whole world, it is not, try to remember that, I sometimes wish I had more.