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I have a masters degree in electronics engineering. When I was pursuing my B.Tech (Electronics and Communication) I had a nervous breakdown (to be specific BPAD) which was treated. After successful treatment I was able to succeed satisfactorily in my career. I have had to follow strict medications from then and sleep of 8 hours was must and the doctor warned me not to be in tense situations. I qualified the entrance exam for M.Tech with a 97 percentile and I have a severe love towards research now. I have started to fall in love with subjects like signal processing, linear algebra, statistics and probability, machine learning etc, but one professor from a premier institute of engineering and science warned me not to do a PhD, because competition is so heavy nowadays and people like me may have a second nervous breakdown.

I am currently working as an lecturer at a private engineering college. The management people are bothering me which is creating great tensions. I will give you an example: The vice principal was asking for an explanation letter and apology along with lot of scolding for a malpractice done by a student in an exam where I invigilated. They are also compelling us to do a lot of office works and not allowing us to focus teaching itself. What my argument is that since I can tolerate these humiliations and tensions, couldn't I join for a Phd programme and advance my career?

I have tried comparing myself with my teachers in engineering college and to my colleagues (who are certainly healthier than me). One instant I can explain: I had a teacher who when I asked a doubt on optical communication answered me that a teacher hadn't taught that....meaning they were not willing to take a look to the reference text. I am far better than my colleagues here. I regularly clear most doubts in the department.

As a human being who has the right to exist in this world and to support my poor family, and to do justice to myself, let me ask that couldn't I do a PhD in this present world?


Update: I submitted my Ph.D. thesis in January 2020. Of course, there were tough times. But I survived. I got a postdoc position too. :)

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    We cannot give you medical advice. Aug 22 '13 at 9:32
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    @JackAidley but we can explain what being a PhD student is like.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 22 '13 at 9:35
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    @DanielE.Shub I think the question needs to be rephrased to ask about the stresses of a PhD then. Aug 22 '13 at 9:41
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    "Doctor warned me not to be in tensed situations" There is no way to complete a PhD without being in tense situations at least some of the time. I am not aware of any students who completed their PhD without nearly breaking into tears from the stress at least once.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 22 '13 at 9:58
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    Thanks for the update, and congratulations for the achievements! :-)
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Mar 5 '20 at 5:55
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I'll start with the basics: doing a PhD usually implies a lot of stress, and the process is both very competitive and tense. However, it depends a lot on the environment around the student. Therefore, without knowing your specific medical situation (and not being a medical expert, even if I knew all about you), you may not get a more useful answer than: yes, it is possible, but you have to be very careful about ensuring that this is done in an environment compatible with your condition, and be prepared to quit if you have to choose between your health and your job (recognize early on that failure is always an option). It will be hard, but I don't think it's impossible.

If you are to enroll in a PhD (or graduate program, I don't know the details of India’s graduate-level education system), it has to meet certain conditions:

  • Make sure that the people taking you on as advisor and department head know of your condition, and wholeheartedly embrace the idea of you having special needs
  • Discuss it with the doctor that follows you regularly. Also bring into the discussion your future institution's resident doctor, because he is (in most countries, by law) the person who will mediate between you and your institution if problems arise.
  • Realize that if you love research, it's not only a PhD, but already think of your career ahead.

A last note of hope: in many countries, people with disabilities are allowed by law to obtain work adjustments from their employers. This is more commonly done for people with physical disabilities, but I know at least one person who successfully obtained very specific (and very large) adjustments to his PhD program because of his mental health (this is in France, if it makes any difference).

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    As you mentioned me too only know about adjustments to persons with physical disabilities...Not mental...especially in India
    – dexterdev
    Aug 22 '13 at 10:28
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    I'm no expert on this topic, but this seems like an excellent answer. Especially the point about being prepared to quit if the PhD is being harmful to your health and the first bullet point.
    – Tara B
    Aug 23 '13 at 8:36
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    I have an update: I submitted my thesis recently and got a postdoc position too. :)
    – dexterdev
    Mar 5 '20 at 5:36
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The bad news

Your doctor has warned you not to be in tense situations.

Listen to your doctor.

Like somewhere around 10-25% of the population, you have challenges to your mental health. Those are challenges you have to live with and work with. For that, you will benefit from medical support.

So listen to your doctor.

Doing a PhD is a lot of stress. A lot of stress.

From what you've written, according to your doctor, you are not in a position to take on that stress. So don't.


The good news

There are lots of ways forward from here. There's lots of good evidence-based psychology going on, in India (for example at the CARE Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Chennai) and elsewhere, that may be able to help you develop your own early intervention toolkit to help prevent any recurrence of your former ill health. Such a toolkit might conceivably give you the tools you need to take on a PhD in the future, and to deal with the other challenges that life offers.


Final caveat

And life will throw enough stress-inducing events at you anyway: there's no need to go seeking out additional ones, until you've got the tools you need to handle them, so don't.

Just listen to your doctor.

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    Ok I will consider this advice. I will move forward more intelligently any way.
    – dexterdev
    Aug 22 '13 at 14:59
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I'd love to tell you to pursue your dream, but it's not as easy. As Daniel said, a PhD (almost?) always leads to some tense situations. However, I wouldn't be as pessimistic (or at least as definite) as he was.

First, Jack's comment is right on spot: we cannot give medical advices. IMO, you should discuss this with your doctor. How much stress can you take? For how long would it be O.K. for you to lose sleep? As your PhD draws nearer to the end, the stress will rise, whether you want it or not, and you will get at least few sleepless nights. Is there some medication that can help you with that? A doctor should now that, as well as the risks.

Second, you should look for a potential advisor and talk to him/her. Explain your situation, see if there is something to be done (i.e., give you much looser deadlines), maybe even arrange to meet with both your doctor and your potential advisor together to discuss this. An advisor can point out the potential problems, and a doctor can address them.

Third, what would you do after getting a PhD? In many countries, a PhD is the first real step towards the research career. Such career, while relaxing in some aspects (flexible working hours, for example), is quite stressful in others (paper/conference deadlines, looking for grants, fighting for university positions, your own PhD students, problems in getting results and/or being unable to solve some problem,...). At that phase, you will not be able to have the world adapt to your needs. A journal will not postpone its next issue to wait for your paper, a conference will not be postponed for you, grants will not be just handed to you,... Is this the life you can handle? This is also to be discussed with your doctor (if possible, have someone with such experience along). If not, what does PhD give you and is it worth going for it?

Not to end in such grim tones, there might be alternatives. You can go for a "normal" (i.e., non-research) career, but talk to some researcher(s) and see if you can cooperate (see it as a hobby at first), so that you do some research, but without all the pressure. And, if that works out well, you can always discuss doing those additional steps.

But, do remember: communication is everything. Without consulting your doctor and at least one academic, I don't think you should go for a PhD.

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  • In India usually PhD holders (95%) enjoy risk less life, to be true. Even R&D is less here. What happens here is truly brain drain. Quality people reach US or Europe.
    – dexterdev
    Aug 22 '13 at 10:09
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    You said you are interested in research, not just PhD title. And research is, at least occasionally, stressful. Aug 22 '13 at 22:39
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Is it possible to do a PhD at part time status? It usually seems like PhD's in the US work on campus and these usually require being enrolled in a certain amount of hours. I'm not sure what India is like.

I really wish you luck with your condition. Hopefully, over the years, you've learned different ways to stay balanced and handle stress. Exercise and meditation are essential to keep me in balance.

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