Lately I have some issues with my academic life and my life. I am not doing anything. literally anything. This week, I was home all day, doing nothing. Just sleeping. I am seeing a therapist, but it is not that helpful. I am going to give you some background. I hope somebody could help me out here.

I am a 4th year PhD student. My major is electrical engineering and I am 24 years old. I started my PhD when I was 21 and everybody was telling me that "you're smart ", "you have a lot of time ahead of you", " Just chill", etc. I came to the states, leaving all my family behind to achieve my goals. And look at me now, I literally achieved nothing. (I finished bachelor when I was 21).

All my life, I used to do the minimum to get the work done. So instead of going to MIT or Stanford, I ended up in a university with ranking of around 40, which is good for me. With that being said, I gradually started to decrease the amount of effort I put in my work. Getting to my 4th year of PhD, I only have two conference publications.

My therapist is telling me that I value the work I do. But I am not organized at all. I don't have a schedule. When I wake up in the morning I don't know what I want to do. When I go to the lab, I stare at the monitor and I don't know where to start. I procrastinate. So I open youtube, Instagram, Twitter, ... . Anything that help me ignore the reality. I am using my phone at least 10 hours per day. I want to change, but something big inside me is preventing me to do that. It hurts me when I see myself, achieving nothing. Sometimes I try to start. I go to a new place. I do some scheduling for what to do the next day. But it remains on the paper. I feel like I don't have the power to continue. But there is a flame inside me, which I know is still alive and I can do it. I am lost.

My advisor is kind. He's telling me I need to publish. He told me that I need to graduate next spring (2020). But he doesn't push me or anything. He tells me to go to him if I had any questions, so he could lead me through my work.

I really don't appreciate the things I have now. When I look at my situation, I pity myself.

I don't know what to do now. I really appreciate your help and answers.

  • 6
    What exactly is the question you have for strangers on the internet with diverse motives and backgrounds in academia ?
    – virmaior
    Feb 2, 2019 at 5:59
  • 1
    Paradoxically, one thing that can help is to set times where you are not allowed to work on your thesis. Take a vacation, even a 6-month break without ever touching your thesis (you probably will need a suspension). If you cannot do this, block times of the day where you are not allowed to work on the thesis (anything else is fine). Say, you are only permitting yourself to work from eleven to one (whatever is feasible). No work on thesis done outside. Or even reduce it to one hour a day. What is not done in this hour, will not be done on that day. Try whether this works. Feb 2, 2019 at 14:04
  • What did help me not to procrastinate was giving all the passwords of social networks to a friend of mine and I told him to change all the passwords and keep them away from me until I finish the exams
    – Mihail
    Feb 2, 2019 at 19:34

3 Answers 3


It's a common opportunity/risk of a grad program that you have the cover to spin your wheels. I blew a quarter once.

A small piece of advice that worked for me. I enjoyed the childish pleasure of seeing my byline on published articles. Maybe you can use publishing to motivate you?

My advice is to write up and publish any work that you have/can. Just literally start a computer file, name it, add the various sections as headers (abstract, intro, etc.). Then hit save. You're started now. Then work on WHATEVER PART IS EASIEST. Not in order, not in logical progression. But whatever moves (could be conclusion first). After all, the darned thing is in a computer...you can always edit it! This is so much better than the typewriter era.

If you don't have any data, I suggest to write up an outline publication of what you will publish when you get data. You probably know at least enough to do a decent intro section, citing the literature. I have found that having the paper started can actually motivate the experimentation.

  • This is my strategy! I don't usually have an exact plan; however, it's easy to identify small tasks that can add to progress. Not sure what paragraph to write? No problem. Add some references. Still not sure? Turn the references into sentences. Still not sure? Write a topic sentence... Nov 24, 2020 at 23:38

Your situation clearly requires professional intervention (some of it sounds like burnout). If you don't find your therapist helpful, try looking for others. Psychotherapy is not an exact science and things may only "click" with the right person. Another thing that would be useful to seek support from your family and friends; some external perspectives can be sometimes very helpful.

That being said, here are some of my thoughts that you might find useful. First, I think a major problem is your expectation of what a PhD entails. Being smart is sometimes a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success in graduate school. Partly this is because everyone who's made it are already smart, so it is no longer a differentiating factor, but also because grad school requires a lot of hard work and is in equal part accompanied by a lot of frustrations (some may thus say that grit is more important than intelligence). Doing the minimum amount of work to get by may work for you in college, but what is the point of doing a minimal PhD? Just to sacrifice future earning potentials but with no realistic prospect in the academia (at least in the US)? It's fine if you are not striving to be the #1, but you need to examine (or in this case, re-examine) your values, motivations, and personal preferences, and then commit to doing a PhD only if it aligns with your goals. It may also be useful for you to take some time off to clear your mind, set your perspective straight, or explore alternative career opportunities.

If none of this is working for you, here is another perspective. Sometimes we like to think that our behavioral problems all have some mysterious psychological sources, and we'd all be better off only if there is a way to analyze our way to the root of the problem. I think the isolating nature of graduate school can sometimes exasperate this tendency towards narcissistic self-regard. What one has to keep in mind is that ultimately there are issues and callings that transcend individuals and our (arguably trivial) immediate experience. In the end there may be no clear explanations to such psychological problems, or knowing them may not be as helpful as one might think. But so what? In the grand scheme of things what you feel may not matter at all. All of this is to say that you need to start taking responsibilities for, and control of, the direction of your life, and that especially include your emotional/psychological conditions.


IMO: Notwithstanding that I think you should continue to see your therapist, it sounds like you've finished your PhD, I think write up and finish it now and also look for work in the meantime. Looking for work will help you focus on what you want out of life and anything you still need to get out of your PhD and studies. Congratulations, you've done it. Now write up for no-one else except you and move on to your next step.

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