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Feel like I am stuck in a rut...upset post sorry


User: Natassia - 28 July 2010 14:30

I don't really know where to start with this one or how to make it read coherently, but I'll try. I just feel like I've ruined my Masters (dissertation) and that I shouldn't be starting a PhD later this year, although I am motivated and really looking forward to starting, I almost feel like it is never going to happen, like I am watching someone else do it for me.

I found the taught part of my MSc (ended in the middle of June) quite difficult for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I was juggling my MSc work with working part time, and I was diagnosed with depression as a result of bereavement, I am still taking antidepressants but hoping to start coming off them gradually soon. So during that section of my MSc I was working very hard and didn't have a lot of time to see my friends, let alone have a boyfriend. Gradually this made me quite unhappy as I felt like I was withdrawing from social life, but I was really enjoying my work and got accepted to do my PhD so that more than made up for it.

However since the middle of June when I have only had my dissertation to work on for my MSc I have been going out more, dating (now in the early stages of a new relationship which is going well), and generally feel better about myself, I look much better and brighter and have more of a 'spark' about me, people are noticing that as well. I have also had quite a lot of work to do on my PhD proposal as my supervisors wanted it to be at PhD writing standard, however that has been accepted now, so it is just my dissertation.

However I feel that in socialising more, and seeing someone, I have let myself down when it comes to my MSc, I have still been working on it but I know that I am behind, I envisaged spending most of my time working on it during the summer as I have with my taught modules, but that hasn't happened like it should have done. Although I am not, I feel lazy and incapable. I don't know how to get out of this mess, but I have decided to stop going out now, I have had a bit of fun this summer (and my supervisor told me to), but now it is time to work.

I just have this constant feeling like I have let myself down as my life has changed a bit, generally I am happier but I feel like I have lost some of my academic ability, and I just want it back. My supervisor has been away for the last few weeks so I haven't seen him, but he is back next week. When I last saw him he was really positive about my work so I know I can produce a good dissertation, I just need to get my a*se into gear and do it.

I know this is a bit rambling and muddled, but any kind words/advice will be appreciated, even just writing it now has helped.

Natassia x

User: helena_h - 28 July 2010 14:39

Natassia, I know all too well the guilt you're feeling. to be honest, that has never left me, I've had it since my final year undergrad and it's something we have to learn to manage, I think.

It seems to me that your problem isn't so much that you have been "having a life" as the fact that you feel behind. If you didn't feel behind, you wouldn't feel guilty. This isn't all bad because it is definatley something you can remedy by getting your head down, as you say, and working hard this month. Whilst I know the adivce it always to relax and take some playtime, it's very hard to feel 'safe' about it unless you know you're on track, so I'd start there. Work out a nice plan and set yourself some mini targets. Once you begin ticking these off I think you'll find you feel much less anxious.

I'm currently writing my MA dissertation and starting PhD in Sept too, the stress of the PhD applications and proposals was immense, I recall, but, looking back, it's just that: a memory. It won't be long before this summer is also a memory, and you can begin to take back your life (somewhat anyway!). Good luck :)

User: algaequeen - 28 July 2010 14:43

Aww Natassia don't feel bad! It's always hard getting used to balancing things, especially after a major upheaval like bereavement. Just because you have started refocusing energy into your social life and trying to get yourself back on track, it doesn't mean you are now incapable for a MSc or PhD. I'm not sure what your workload is like at the moment, but if possible you should continue to go out and do things, you need to keep the balance right in life. Even if you can take one day a week off you will feel better for it. It's obviously benefitted you having more time to focus on yourself and your personal life if people say you have your spark back, you can't give all that up for academia no matter what anybody says. There will always be periods where you have to cut down on the social aspect of things and draw away from friends, like when you are writing up, but this is a very difficult time and a very difficult thing to do, and as such it shouldn't and cannot be maintained for the entire duration of your MSc or PhD.

You can't let yourself down if you let yourself believe that your personal life and friends are as important to you as your work is. Which they are. Your academic ability is still there, true it's easier to tap into it when we are fully immersed in something but it doesn't mean that when we are outside of academia or doing other things we've suddenly become stupid. Just be kind to yourself, accept that you are only human and need to maintain relationships and activities outside of academia. And don't get sucked into thinking that if you don;t spend every waking moment of your PhD working on it and thinking about it that you are a bad researcher!

You will be fine! (up)

User: cheekybint - 28 July 2010 19:17

Hey Natassia,

I recently had to deal with a bereavement and, like you I've also noticed my social life going up lately which has made me also think that I've neglected my work. I just think we need a good balance, we all need a break and I've come to observe that masters and PhD students not having a social life is a myth. I work with the most sociable people I have ever met. If your supervisor is happy with your progress, there's no reason to feel behind. Also, the fact that you're happier is bound to have a positive effect on your work rather than a negative one, so keep smiling :)

CBx

User: nearly...finished... - 28 July 2010 22:37

Hi Natassia,

Firstly, I'm sure many are pleased to hear that you have found a way of gaining a bit of 'normaility' after a clearly painful bereavment.

Doing a PhD can take a toll on mental health, so if you can start off from a point of relative health, this is preferable - you've done exactly the right thing to prepare yourself in this way

Secondly, as regards your worries for completing your MSc - you may be 'owed' a short extension from when you were depressed, perhaps? Most Uni's are OK with you starting a PhD later than Oct., if you have good reason - which you have due to depression

It would also be useful to arrange a timetable for completion with your supervisor when they return - but try not to worry about it too much!


I have had a horrendous time with my PhD (11 years now) - as I have not looked after my mental health, and have given myself no social life. Please learn from my mistakes!! I have worked about 60-80 hrs. most weeks - and still things aren't good (aiming for perfection is a no-no, I've realised to my cost)

Although when there are deadlines, then yes, 12 hrs a day x 7 is common, I've realised that most usually there's no need for this. But you DO need a bit of normality at the weekends - for sanity sake. Having a night off, say, every fortnight, should be the aim - at least

My obsession has all blown up in my face - I have seen so many PhDs come and go during my tenure, and am very misserable (but very happy for them!). The most recent to graduate was happy, sociable, and insisted on only working 9-5, 5 days per week, and had 1 months holiday per year (I have had 1-3 days p.a.). She passed straight away, on time, but wasn't brilliant by any means (really!). An extra lesson to be learned from her is that her PhD was restricted to a very limited topic!

Good luck, and look after yourself!

User: Natassia - 30 July 2010 22:51

Thank you all for your kind words and practical advice. I agree in that I needed a bit of normality and a bit more of a balance in my life, in fact the family member that I lost was always telling me to do that, and I only really listened to him after he passed away in that respect. I am happier than I have been for a long time, and I feel more confident which should help my work really.

I have been setting myself targets again and have approached my work with fresher eyes which I think has helped, I am more enthusiastic and productive so hopefully the bit of down-time helped. I'm hopefully going to see my supervisor next week so I can get back on track properly. And maybe this time will help me in the end, it has told me that I can relax, see my friends and have a relationship like a 'normal' person...and still do well. I guess it's all about finding a balance, and that doesn't happen immediately.

Thanks again, Natassia xx

User: teek - 30 July 2010 23:45

Natassia, I am delighted that you had this time off! Seriously, I think you probably just improved your dissertation and saved yourself from burnout. Be proud :-)

I've seen your posts on here and like a lot of grad students, you're clearly very bright, very capable, and extremely hard working. I don't for one minute think that you've slacked/been lazy/lost a shred of your abilities, I think you're just so unaccustomed to giving yourself a break that you've got a case of the guilts at what most people consider a normal rest!

You need relationships, you need perspective, and you definitely need that spark ;-) whoever it was you lost, it sounds like he knew you well and had some wise advice, go easy on yourself. And try to trust yourself a little more (easy to say, I know), there's a middle ground between slavery and slacking, and it's well-worth finding if you want to get through your phd intact.

User: jushiliu - 31 July 2010 04:38

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User: Ogriv - 31 July 2010 09:55

Not sure what the twaddle above me is, but anyway, avanti! to Natassia...

I'm going through similar, Natassia. Gonna start a 1+3 in October, but still have to finish my current MSc dissertation before then, and I'm working full-time as the studentship obviously doesn't kick in till the autumn. And I'm working bloody shifts!

It's been quite a while since I've been in a relationship and I do really want to be in one but I've no idea how I can finish my dissertation, work full-time shift work and do that over the summer, so my love life's on hold (yet again) till the autumn. I've been working and studying for 4.5 years just to be in this position to get actual funding for what I want to do and that's basically why I've put my love life on hold.

But I absolutely know now that the moment the 1+3 starts I am going to treat it like a job. Office hours only. I want a love life. One of the most thriving PhD students I know does it that way. Someone on PGF also once wisely said that if you look at a lot of successful academics they actually do have quite balanced lives with family and hobbies and such. I know that in my own field there is a very accomplished guy who is also an actor in his spare time, and a very accomplished woman who is well known for not only being a dancer, but teaching dance also. Oh, and they are also in committed relationships. So it's possible.

I do think that those among us who are worriers would do well to remember that worry time is wasted time. It could be used to work or have fun instead. But we have got into the habit of using it to worry, which is ironic since we are worried about wasting our time. We must stop!

Here's to balanced lives for one and all!(up)

User: Natassia - 31 July 2010 14:17

Thank you Teek and Ogriv, I know it isn't a good feeling but in a way it is reassuring that others feel guilty and worry sometimes as well, I guess it shows how much we care about our work. I think feeling guilty and worrying sometimes may be part of the process.

Ogriv - I put my love life on hold for a long time, like over a year as I just didn't think I had the 'emotional space' for a relationship. I started dating again I guess in April/May this year, have seen a few different guys but I'm starting to feel more settled with someone now and although this is at a very early stage, I think it could go somewhere. He just came along when I wasn't really expecting it, I'm sure the same will happen for you! I'm a very independant person as well so I hope I don't ruin it for myself. He works very hard as well so it's not like we have loads of time to spend with each other anyway.

Nxx

User: pjlu - 31 July 2010 23:55

Hi Natassia,
there is no way you should feel guilty about having a personal life and balance or believe that this means it makes you less capable in your dissertation. And good for you about the lovely things happening in your life at present. Having said that, I would caution that it is not an easy balance to strike. Of the many academics I have known it seems to be common to have a pretty intense focus on their work. They do have families sometimes and play sports or whatever but, for example both my sister and my supervisor really really work hard as academics. When I questioned my supervisor about her work-she was an academic for a while as while she got her Phd, having just been experienced and very competent so at the University employed on her Masters; she worked very long days at uni and then went home and did hours at night as well on the phd and still published papers.

My sister's work is likewise very very intense although she has brief spaces in the year when she has a break-she has to do some summer courses as well as she is employed in the US. My expartner was different in someways, he used to work extremely hard but clocked in regular days when he wasn't teaching. However, he told me the first years when he was publishing, writing all of his courses and getting used to the work were incredibly busy.

So it is very hard and focused work. And I think it is probably very usual to feel guilt, when you pull yourself back into that intensity of mind and thinking after having a very necessary and helpful break. But it is a bit like the work and study combination as well. In the last couple of weeks while working on these edits, work has been as intense as always, one of my grown children became really ill for three days and needed considerable support and my gorgeous cat went missing , plus my beautiful daughter had a birthday. And actually my guilt lay, not in that I was spending time on editing, but that I was as 'there' perhaps as I could have been for my family, if I had not had so many things to sort out.

Turns out that we all got through it, cat turned up, son is much better and daughter was fine with her birthday even though ants got into her beautiful cake and we had to ditch it. But the guilt was there nevertheless.

I think to be honest, no one has their cake (we are continuing the cake image here(mince)) and eats it as well. To say that a thesis can be cruised through is inaccurate, to say that working and juggling study is an easy thing to do, or juggling anything else for that matter like family, friends, a variety of hobbies, whatever, is likewise inaccurate, I believe. But we should never feel guilty for our choices about how we choose to make this balance. If gettiing a phd meant meaning no form of relationship, that would be dire, but we have to acknowledge that we are going to actively have to make time for the relationships and we need to work out for ourselves and with partners and family, how we are going to manage all of our commitments.

For example, I have decided after chats to my friends that I am having a bit of space in my life after submission to think, to really involve myself in new work role (which has heaps of projects I need to work on) and I want to leave a bit of space in my life for the possibility of a new relationship. My previous one ended halfway through the masters and to be honest, I don't know how I would have managed this year, if it had continued. But that is me and where I am.

I don't think guilt is helpful is it...but it is one of those things that we all seem cursed with. Good luck with your dissertation Natassia and it is lovely to hear that things are working out well elsewhere as well.

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