PhD woes

About three years ago, before I started the PhD venture and I was still “just” doing my masters I thought to myself, regarding the PhD, what’s everyone complaining about? It’s not that bad, right? You get paid to do research, most of which is in front of a computer. You get paid to go to conferences in interesting places. You don’t have to grow up yet. You get student benefits even though you are gettin’ up there in age 😉 … and to me a lot of people are saying (myself included in the early stages) … you get to study clarinet acoustics, what you’ve wanted all along, you get to be in FRANCE! 


Let me just tell you the real truth, one you’ve heard your whole life … a PhD (including one with the opportunity to be abroad like I am) is a whole heck of a lotta “The grass looks greener on the other side”.

When I was finishing up my masters and getting kinda antsy about the whole research thing, I wasn’t sure if it was research I wasn’t into (the academic type), if it was school, the specific subject or if I was just plain lazy (likely!). Then I got the chance to do a PhD in what I thought was my dream field … clarinet acoustics. I found a lab to work with in France and of course, all stary-eyed and naive, thought it was going to be perfect and thrilling and fulfilling EVERY day during this 3-year PhD adventure. Well, let’s just say that recently I have been left unfulfilled by my work. I am bored and tired of what I am doing. I am stuck on something in particular that is keeping a paper from getting submitted for publication. I am constantly searching for job offers, even though I know I won’t quit the PhD


I think that after 20+ years of education I should be able to find a career that I enjoy and look forward to every day. I know that’s a lot to ask perhaps in today’s economy. But I think it’s important. If we are going to spend, as I said, 20+ years in school to get a PhD in a very specific subject shouldn’t I have some sort of choice and a time to figure these things out?

I am getting WAY ahead of myself. I know I know I know there are still over 2 years until I have that lovely piece of paper that gives me the right to, completely in secret, call myself Dr. Whitney 😉 but I am getting antsy again. I don’t feel excited about my work and I don’t think I would look forward to a future in this specific field. That’s scary…right? I mean, I picked up and moved all the way to France to do this and it’s still not all peachy keen? What is wrong with me. It must be the lazys.

I guess it scares me to think that no matter what I choose. No matter how awesome it seems on paper … I could get bored. I could hate it. I am 27, still a student…I haven’t even entered the workforce and I am already a pessimist. I have a few people around me who have recently started working and love it but there are an overwhelming number who go to their job everyday and aren’t happy, excited, motivated nor interested in the work that they do.

So once again, from the outside, what I am doing is cushy … and I agree, it is. I am not doing manual labor. I can afford my rent, my groceries and travel. I have a great support system of people (researchers, colleagues, parents, friends, etc.) who are rooting for me to succeed. So where can I find the motivation to rock this dissertation research out? Where can I find a little more certitude that some day, perhaps not right away, but some day, I will find my niche and succeed in finding a career that I can enjoy and flourish? 


enough whining (for now). I should get back to work 🙂

Feel free to leave comments telling me about your own PhD (or other) woes in career search and whatnot … I like to know when I am not alone!

4 thoughts on “PhD woes

  1. I don’t say this to diminish what you’re going through, but every single PhD student has the same struggles you’re facing, so you’re in great company! In fact, you definitely have a more unique situation than everyone else by being in a foreign country and away from the familiar, so you’re doing better than the rest of us. 😉 Therefore, you need not be hard on yourself!

    I spent 8 years in my graduate program. I felt like such a loser that I didn’t get out faster in the “average” time of 5-6 years (that includes Masters-level work and PhD). Please…that’s not average, it’s inhumanely fast. In reality most of the students in my class were not leaps and bounds ahead of me (and I even graduated ahead of two of my closest friends). On the other hand, academia is safe and comfortable; being a student is something I knew how to do very well, as I spent my whole life there, so in a way I was hanging onto it like a lifeline as long as I could. Going out into the real world was terrifying, and I honestly really struggled after I graduated, but all’s well that ends well, as they say.

    The person who isn’t absolutely sick of their PhD research is the outlier indeed. Like you, I thought I was an awful scientist, that as much as I felt inadequate at my work I would suck at being a researcher in the lab for the rest of my life. When I finally graduated, I thought I should go be a teacher or something (which I do enjoy), especially since I’m in a pretty small field and the odds of finding a job even vaguely related to my specialty was slim. However, a job opportunity came my way that was almost tailor-made for my skill set, but it also allowed me the opportunity to learn a lot of new stuff, too, which is about the best situation you can dream up for a job. I decided to give lab-life one more go, knowing that I wouldn’t be stuck doing it the rest of my life if I hated it. The beautiful thing about “real life” is not having that dreaded milestone “PhD” hanging over your head and the weight of guilt even thinking about quitting before you get it. So far it’s been good, although every job has its ups and downs. I don’t regret giving professional research a try. I may not be here forever but I hope to stay a good while at least.

    While support from family and friends was critical for going the distance in my PhD program, two things really got me through it. First, I knew God had put me there for a reason; He didn’t see it as a waste of time or something selfish on my part; He provided the opportunity, and it developed me as a person and has given me a unique position for interacting with people and making a difference that not everyone can do. Secondly, I took one day at a time, especially toward the end when faced with writing the actual dissertation. I likened it to “eating an elephant” (kind of like the boa constrictor in “Le Petit Prince” ;), which is absolutely absurd and impossible…unless you eat the thing one little bite at a time. Eventually it will get done, you just have to keep nibbling for a while.

    So, after all my words of wisdom and elucidation on the subject of higher education, my best advice to you is a very silly idea, but one that does work: “just keep nibbling.” 🙂

  2. What a wonderful and thoughtful comment ! Thank you ! I often search through wordpress blogs for fellow PhD hopefuls and I definitely read though your stories.

    I agree that I shouldn’t take such a serious look at things, especially now. I am putting undue pressure on myself and my work and my future ability (or un-ability) to be successful in my career, whatever it turns out to be.

    I have been trying to look at my productivity on a monthly scale instead of a daily basis (since obviously, there are days, perhaps like today, where my productivity lies solely in my blog post 😉 )

    Anyway, I will try to often remember your words of wisdom, to take it bit-by-bit and see where it takes me.

    Thanks again !!!

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