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Struggling with masters - is a PhD even feasible?


User: oddoctober - 14 June 2021 16:03

Hi,
I’m currently a masters student in the humanities with a literature focus, but I’m finding it mentally and emotionally draining.

It’s only in recent years I’ve decided I want to pursue a PhD. I don’t come from a very academic background so it’s not an environment I’m familiar with. Even so, I ADORED working on my undergrad dissertation and felt so motivated to continue with my research. I got a first and an award for the dissertation and received a lot of praise and encouragement from my supervisor to continue to postgrad study. They even said they’d be happy to supervise me for a PhD.

I’m not saying any of this to boast, just to contextualise my concerns, because I can’t understand how I could go from doing so well to feeling so utterly lost and demotivated now. I’m currently writing my masters dissertation (on a topic similar to my undergrad) and it’s not going nearly as well and I’m not enjoying it as much. I’ve been struggling to concentrate and organise my time a lot this year, and I feel like my writing and enthusiasm for my work are suffering as a result. This distresses me because I become convinced I’m incompetent or that I peaked during undergrad and am not capable of doing a PhD.

It comes at a time when I’m dealing with a lot of personal issues as well. I went through something very traumatic a few years ago. I’ve realised that it continues to impact my life in a myriad of ways, and recognising that has felt pretty devastating. I’m at a stage where I need to do a lot of work on my mental health and have access to good support. I do this almost begrudgingly, because I don’t want anything to take away from my work. I’m also potentially neurodivergent. I have been suspected of having ASD or ADHD - I haven’t been diagnosed though, and I don’t know if it’s something I should pursue.

I also haven’t adapted well to lockdown and everything being online - I’ve missed the social aspect and I also don’t work well from home, so having no library access has been challenging. I also had to change supervisor due to them going on research leave, and I’ve found this to be a really big adjustment because I got on really well with them. They’re still interested in how I’m getting on and said to get in touch whenever I need to, but I also don’t want to bother them too much.

I’m so overwhelmed with it all and I don’t know what to do. I guess I’m wondering, how do I know if my difficulties with my work are temporary due to life stresses or whether they’re indicative I’m not suited to academia? Should I give up the PhD dream or do you think circumstances may be different after I’ve had a break? (I’m away to do teacher training and then my probationary year, so I’ll be out the academic environment for at least two years) Also, do I speak to my supervisor or my former supervisor about my concerns or is that just bothering them with my personal problems?

Sorry for rambling - I’m really lost with it all.
Thank you!