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I am a PhD student who works in theory of abstract mathematics. I have been patient but nowadays I am losing my temper, patience, etc. Many publications have been rejected as well as my proposals for grants. I have submitted one research paper which was also recently rejected.

I am working very hard but also feeling disheartened about the way academia works. As a student it is very hard to be patient. I worry each time my proposals get rejected or even if I have a failure in my research. I am trying my best to be patient but I don't know how to keep it.

Question: How much patience is needed while working on a PhD? (in terms of number of years for a publication) Is there any way to not worry about the failures we have in academia?

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    This will continue after your PhD as well if you stay in academia. Everything we do is subject to critical evaluation. It has to be. But that also means we get a lot of criticism and rejections. We should do that constructively, but not everybody is equally good at that. So what you describe is pretty much a permanent state in academia. Best thing you can do is not identify too much with your work, so you can treat it as criticism of your work and not as criticism of you (even when it was incorrectly formulated in such a way). – Maarten Buis May 1 '18 at 11:09
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    Question: How much patience is needed in PhD? Answer: Yes. – Oleg Lobachev May 1 '18 at 11:54
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    How much patience is needed in PhD? -- Unless there is a way to quantify patience, I don't think this question is answerable in its current form. – Mad Jack May 1 '18 at 12:33
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    28.7 kiloGhandis. – Daniel R. Collins May 1 '18 at 18:04
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    infinitely much – gefei May 1 '18 at 18:25
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+200

The PhD is a test of your stubbornness, patience and grit more than it is a test of any sort of intelligence or ability.

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Benjamin Franklin is said to have said "I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 things that don't work." It is all in the question of how you frame things. Abstract mathematics is not one of those publish-30-papers-a-year fields. It can take a horribly long time until you finally see how to solve your problem, and then you can't un-see it anymore and you wonder why you were being so silly about this for the past x-years. Just keep at it, find one more thing every day that doesn't work, and make sure to do something that is NOT mathematics every day.

As noted by Ian Sudbery above, the PhD just means you were able to convince a committee of busy professors that the complete sentences/experiments/proofs you have bound between two covers is an original contribution to your field.

Also, http://phdcomics.com/ helps. Daily. Read all the back strips, too.

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    Benjamin Franklin? :O I thought that was Thomas Edison, in reference to lightbulb filaments... – Mehrdad May 8 '18 at 6:14
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    Theorem: Every quote found on the Internet and on calendars and at the beginning of book chapters is attributed to at least 5 different people because no one bothers to check the sources. – Debora Weber-Wulff May 9 '18 at 9:01
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As previously discussed we cannot answer your question, as we cannot quantify patience. But I really wanted to add another measure for you. Not saying you don't need patience (you need it, a lot, generally in life).

But what about resilience?

I would strongly advise you to think about fostering your resilience. It feels less hopeless and helpless than patience. But in the end, patience is probably a part of it. Further discussions of this would most likely be more in the scope of Philosophy.SE.

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As user Mad Jack already pointed out above in the comments section, it is very difficult to quantify patience. I can only speak from my own experience and will say that you do need inordinate amounts of patience and as much patience as you need to last you through the journey. Publication rejection is extremely common - in fact - (given the acceptance rates of journals) - is the norm rather than the exception.

You cannot 'don't worry about failure' - you will! You just have to get used to failure and celebrate your wins. Know that it comes with the job of being a Phd student and in academic generally.

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abaa:

  1. Personally, I think less patience is more often the guidance I would give rather than more. (Because people waste time.) That said, given your situation, I would say "hang in there". Once you are part way down the road, it is just better to finish it.

  2. My advice on publications is to

a. Aim for "decent" but not premier outlets. (Unless you have a momentous discovery.) I don't know math, but in chemistry, I would say pass on Science/Nature. Pass on JACS. Go for specialized ACS journals or the equivalent (Inorganic Chemistry, Chemistry of Materials, etc.). [There are several layers lower. But you are at a decent level in the subfield.]

b. Be very honest. And don't try to be fancier than what you are (leave that for grant proposals). I have several "no revisions" papers. My advisor, with 30+ students and a couple hundred papers (and 400 as an editor) had ZERO. But the reason, I got them was I was brutally honest. Drop a sample on the floor...no problem. Report it. AND my work wasn't even textbook. In some cases, I just needed to write up what I had and (as usually happened), the experiment design was not perfect. But I had something. And I wrote it up. and was brutally honest.

c. Follow all the requirements of the submitting journal (exact format for references, etc. etc.). Usually the January edition of the journal will have instructions for authors. Follow them with a NUCLEAR emphasis (checking every single detail.)

d. If you want some motivation/explanation, read the NASA pamphlet by Katzoff or the relevant chapters in E Bright Wilson "On Research" (look them up...will mean more when you do.)


Good luck and look out for yourself.

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    I think you just accidentally(?) claimed your adviser wasn't very honest on his papers... – Mehrdad May 8 '18 at 6:16
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The key is "Staying-Alive". Good research, getting published, getting degree, getting noticed.... all those things are great, but these things (at least for most of us) comes after failures, rejections, frustrations and all the bad things we don't want. However, you need to satay live for it to come. It will come, so stay alive until then. Don't loose it.

It is like going through a long tunnel with so many doors - working hard to reach a door thinking this is it, but it only opens to another distance with another door at the end. But, if you stay alive, you will reach the door with the sign "PhD" on it.

So, breath in and breath out, and stay alive.

But, I may warn you - you will have scars all over you. Until now, if I have a bad dream, it is about those days in research. It wakes me up in the middle of night with cold sweat all over me.

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What is at the core of what you described? From what you wrote, I'm imagining you getting irascible with friends and colleagues, and sometimes feeling desperate within yourself. Is that the case? What I wrote is based on observations about myself in a time of great stress, and also on my spouse's description of feelings and behavior during the last stretch of the PhD.

I wonder what percentage of the feeling of impatience you're having comes from anxiety. Anxiety that your hard work won't be recognized, anxiety that this period of your life will feel ever more endless, anxiety that the way you're feeling and behaving will cause irreparable damage to your relationships, or even to your way of relating to people in general.

Well, facing up to one's fears is never enough, is it? Why I'm asking: when one realizes that anxiety is making it extremely difficult to function effectively, then it is time to tell others about it. I don't know if that's the case for you, but if it is, then please do. Tell people.

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