I am a finishing PhD student in the field of cognitive neuroscience. During my PhD program I was underperforming than anyone else in my department (in my belief at least). Although I liked research, or at least some aspects of it, I had become so emotionally exhausted in the absence of support in many respects, and recently just wanted to leave academia as soon as I finish the degree. So, when I had started applying for postdoctoral positions in the last winter, thinking that I should at least give it a shot, I never ever expected that any reasonably-minded PI would show an interest in hiring me after looking at my CV. But surprisingly, several PIs wanted to interview me and I even got a few offers. (BTW I hope this can encourage some people who are depressed and discouraged just like I have been. I was in terrible shape in past years and needed medication at some point).

So, right now, I am considering the job offers thinking whether I really want to take up this opportunity. At the back of my mind I want to become successful again as an academic researcher although I am still feeling tired. I guess I like research in general, but I also have a serious math/stat anxiety, which is terrible. I did not have a solid training on math or stat in college (wasn't a STEM major) nor did I have experience as an RA or so like other people. I know that these are all lame excuses after all the years in the doctoral program. I am a very slow learner when it comes to quantitative aspects, and my advisor was not being really helpful in many aspects.

I think my strength as a researcher is that I can generate interesting and creative ideas. According to my advisor my works are creative. Also, I like to read others' papers and think about them in my head. I also like to write. Those things come naturally to me, although other people might also feel that way, and having a great skill set in coding and analyzing might be a lot more precious these days. Anyways, with all the job offers that I have to decide soon, I find myself worrying about whether I would be able to quickly pick things up in the new place, which is not a good sign. I will do my absolute best to strengthen my math and programming skills if I decide to give it another shot, but I am not sure if these things can be overcome. Also at this point, I might as well be happy outside academia.

I would like to hear what other people think about this situation. Thank you!

I am adding this after reading some comments below. Sorry if this was not general enough and considered off-topic. I am new to this StackExchange site and still figuring how to use it. My question, at a more general level, would be whether postdoctoral training can improve one's poor quantitative skills, especially given the fast pace of research that is required of a postdoc. Thank you for all the great comments so far.

closed as off-topic by Anonymous Physicist, Richard Erickson, Morgan Rodgers, corey979, Dmitry Savostyanov Apr 18 at 19:12

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  • If you don't enjoy the work, a postdoc is a pretty bad job considering how qualified you have to be to get one. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 18 at 13:27
  • Can you re-write you question to me more clear and also more broad. Right now, you're asking about your specific situation, which is off topic for this site. – Richard Erickson Apr 18 at 13:51

In my limited experience, learning basic numerical and programming skills is much easier than learning how to write well (a skill that is sorely lacking in many parts of academia), so you are already doing better than many people.

I have terrible maths anxiety too (and I'm a theoretical physicist!) and my main tip is don't be embarrassed about it. Be honest with yourself (which you seem to be) and practice improving your skills, little and often. Don't be ashamed to go to the library and find a basic undergraduate maths textbook. The one that lives permanently on my desk is "Mathematical Methods for Scientists and Engineers" by McQuarrie. Then pick a topic, read through that chapter, do the exercises: I'm sure you know the studying drill by now. If you really want to improve, I am certain you can do it.

You also mention feeling tired a lot, and being sick of academia. It sounds to me like you could be experiencing symptoms of burn out. I would advise taking a short break -- a week or more if you can -- to do something entirely unrelated to the PhD. Give yourself some time to decompress and work out how you really feel when it's not just the exhaustion talking, and don't rush into a decision. Good luck.


First of all, happy to hear you're doing better. Many people go through times in their academic career where they feel like utter frauds, it's unfortunately common.

To your question - I think the key point here is to be absolutely honest with any potential employer. Tell them your strengths and weaknesses and they will make the call on whether you will be a valuable addition to their group. If you tell someone that you would not be comfortable running quantitative analysis and rather focus on something else, and they take you, it would be unreasonable of them to later demand that you run quantitative analysis.

Similarly, if someone is willing to take you under the requirement that you learn these skills on the fly, you need to make a very honest assessment of your own capability to do so. If you can - go for it; if you feel like it'll be too much, politely decline and let them know that you're probably not the best fit for the position.

Good luck!


Don't worry - your doubts are normal and you are going to be fine. See Impostor syndrome:

"Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts his accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be."

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