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I am an undergraduate in the U.S. and have worked part time (~15-20 hrs/week) for a research group at my institution for about 5 months now. Since beginning the research I have enjoyed every aspect of it. I have gotten to read literature, submit an abstract to a conference and even work on an open source software project. I love what we have been doing so far, and can not imagine not doing research in my future. Therefore, I am considering applying for a Phd in the next application cycle.

However, it worries me that I am in a honeymoon phase of research, using the definition from here:

The short amount of time at the beginning of a new relationship, activity, or pursuit when everything goes well and seems to be free of problems.

I am a very passionate person and, as a computer scientist, know all too well the love of starting a new project only to become deflated and uninterested after the preliminary work.

There are numerous posts on this site similar to "Is a Phd/research right for me?" ([1], [2]) and "How to deal with burnout/loss of interest in research?" ([3], [4]). The existence of the latter questions seems to suggest that a honeymoon phase exists in research.

So my questions are:

Is this sort of phase common in research? Should I be worried about it?

How can I assure myself that this is not a fleeting pursuit? That I will still enjoy research in 5 years?

I understand the latter question might be difficult to answer, but are there any objective tasks I can carry to further explore if research is right for me (i.e. more breadth in research-based tasks)? Also personal anecdotes of how you decided your love of research was permanent would help.

  • 1
    From my perspective (what some people would call "pure" mathematics, though that militantly regards applicability, and also betrays a certain severely limited worldview, etc)... this issue really is comparable to personal relationships: yes, things change, people/perceptions evolve, ... – paul garrett Jan 3 at 0:23
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Is this sort of phase common in research? Should I be worried about it?

It is common. Whether you should be worried about it depends on you. For example, can you imagine enjoying this even if you aren't "in love" with this. Getting a PhD, even in something you love, will be hard. There will be petty, stupid things that still require time (formatting one's thesis...). Does that strike you as a cost you're willing to bear, or do you only really see enjoying things if they're going well, there's a clear trajectory, etc.

How can I assure myself that this is not a fleeting pursuit? That I will still enjoy research in 5 years?

There's no real way to be sure this is true if for no other reason than people change in 5 years. But one way I dealt with it was to switch labs for a semester, to disambiguate if I liked all research or just the particular research I was doing. In my case, I discovered that no, I really enjoyed this thing and was not actually just enamored with the idea of research.

  • Thank you! The advice to try a different lab is great. I'll try to diversify my research experience. – Dando18 Jan 3 at 3:33
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For what I have read you are the initial states of making research because you mention that you have done

I have gotten to read literature, submit an abstract to a conference and even work on an open source software project.

That is a very good start, but here it could happen some issues that could bring the first disputes in your newly weeding with research; these are:

  • It could happen that your abstract can be rejected or even if it passes nobody assures you that your final paper would be accepted. You should get used to that, and consider that are a lot of external factors that should not discourage you; for example: personal thoughts or bias of a reviewer, low-acceptance rate of some conferences, and even maybe your work is great, but you failed to express it adequately in a research paper.
  • It could happen also that you find yourself in a labyrinth without a way out when you are doing your PhD, that could bring discouragement, but also you should not let this to put you down and continue until you see a light at the end of the tunnel. In this last part your adviser has a huge role, if your communication with him or her is poor, then you can end up in a no way-out street.

Regarding your questions, even though I have pointed some important facts above that you should think about them:

Is this sort of phase common in research? Should I be worried about it?

Yes, it is common. At the beginning, you start thinking that with your research tasks your will be earning a Nobel Prize (it can be the case), but when you continue you find some obstacles that deviate you from the path you initially marked. You should not be worried about it, just enjoy the tasks that you are currently doing.

How can I assure myself that this is not a fleeting pursuit? That I will still enjoy research in 5 years?

This is a difficult one, it can happen that you will enjoy making research all your life or just it could happen that you could suffer from a burn-out and say "(f) word research" and pursue other activities. For example, I knew a very smart guy that was doing his PhD research (fully research oriented European style not the American course oriented) in a very breakthrough topic about evolution. It reached a point that his advisers and him did not manage to agree in how to end up the research; so he just drop it, published some papers as an independent researcher and not he has a business company related to construction.

Bottom line, just enjoy the research tasks in which you are now immerse, and try not to worry too much about what will happen in the future. Who knows? Maybe we have a new Turing award winner in sight!

Cheers

  • Just to add to this: PhDs have a very high dropout rate. But "dropping out" does not have to be a bad thing. If you go into it in good faith, but then find after a couple of years that it is not for you, there should be no shame attached to taking a different path. – Flyto Jan 3 at 13:18

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