I am about to defend my thesis. My PhD journey was not a pleasant experience. I worked in an area not within the field of expertise of my advisor. Though she was present to discuss; the conception, implementation and problem solving of the projects were a lonely enterprise. This was disheartening at times, leading to poor productivity during the first two years of my PhD. In addition, my advisor was not prompt in correcting my manuscripts and thesis resulting in poor publication record till date.

As I am about to defend my Phd thesis, I feel resentful about the poor decisions I made by choosing the advisor or by not being more productive or vocal about the need of the manuscripts getting promptly corrected.

I have a postdoc position that I will be beginning from the end of the year. Thanks to lack of connections in my field of research and my poor publication record, I managed to land an okayish postdoc position. I hope to do well and get a better position after.

I don't want to be resentful and feel self loathing. Can I get some advice about how to make the best out of my position forward?

  • 21
    Don't worry. We all went trough your experience.
    – SSimon
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 9:07
  • 30
    As you have BOTH succeeded AND can see your mistakes in retrospect, I only can assume you HAVE grown substantially during your PhD journey. Congrats!
    – jvb
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 9:33
  • 7
    No need any resentment if you managed to get a postdoc. Many try and fail this hurdle
    – lux
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 16:15
  • Please consider the selection bias in the answers you will get from this sites audience.
    – MPIchael
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 13:50
  • My experience talking to other PhD students is that 'most' have problems and struggle at certain points, so you are certainly not alone.
    – Tom
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 15:40

8 Answers 8


These "mistakes" are perfectly normal learning experiences for a PhD student. Feeling resent and self-loathing are not normal. I suggest you discuss that with a professional counselor.

It's not your job to tell your supervisor to work faster.

  • 14
    I'm not sure if they are not normal. From what I've seen here (and in person), it is not unusal to feel some resentment and self-loathing in the context of your PhD. Which is not to say that one should not seek counseling if seems like these feelings (might) become overwhelming.
    – tomasz
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 14:49

Congratulations on getting a postdoc in what is nowadays a highly competitive career choice!

I would encourage you to seek professional help as soon as you can afford it, since that's probably the best way to address this internal conflict of yours. This is particularly hard during a PhD given the 1) low salaries, 2) academic culture (e.g. romanticising the hardships of the PhD life) and 3) the high costs of therapy, but I'd like to believe that this is not a problem with a postdoc salary ;)

If somehow money is still an issue you should see what kind of support network does the university you work for has. Sometimes they have some sort of counselling service which might be useful.

  • In some cases counseling is free for students but not for postdocs. Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 1:25
  • @AnonymousPhysicist: And in some cases, the other way around.
    – user111955
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 8:03

A great PhD student is the one who can be a very hard worker and "autonomous". I think the advantage is that you learned how to be very autonomous in your work.

  • 2
    I see the point of this argument, but there are two perspectives to this. From the POV of an institution it is the perfect excuse for whatever is going wrong in your department: " Bad councelling/guidance? No expert knowledge from your superviser? No institute communication and work processes?! ...oh, well well, we expect our phd's to work autonomous!". As I have said, I perfectly see your point but I have also encountered this argument as a crutch in the wild.
    – MPIchael
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 13:48

Honestly, the PhD experience is highly inconsistent. A rare few sail through with no major hardships, a larger proportion join an established research group and at least have peers to help them through the challenges in their research. However, even that basic level isn't a given for the modern PhD experience.

First is that within 12 months if you don't know more about your area of research than your supervisor then that is a very bad sign. In theory your supervisor should be at least dedicating enough time to understand your research to just enough detail to offer useful guidance. But the modern academic environment usually has supervisors under such pressure that if they would be lucky to be able to dedicate more time to your research than the time they spend meeting face to face with you.

I feel it is a very valid complaint if your supervisor didn't engage with you and try to help you through your PhD. But the PhD is a test of individual endurance. While doing a PhD you are technically a student, the process is actually more like the transition from student to employee and sadly is typically handled by a sink or swim process. The PhD is often an almost traumatic experience and most people never want to touch the area they did their research in ever again because of it.

After sounding very negative so far I'd like to encourage you. What you have experienced is a good trial by fire for your chosen career. You have learned the lessons the hard way but you have learned them early. Your decisions were likely reasonable given the context at the time. While the path was hard, you have actually managed to finish, that is an amazing achievement. The next time you face this process it will be much easier for you. While you say you are behind on the publication track, until someone has published the same work you have done, you can always go back and publish past work even 10 years after you did it. On that point, for your future career, remember that there isn't anything more important than publishing papers, so always bring your focus back onto that. Also you should be better at spotting the more toxic environments in academic now, definitely follow your gut feel on that as academia can be a meat grinder.

I think the last point I would say, as well as supporting the idea of seeking some professional help, is to remember that most people in the academic world are trying to do their best but often can't because of the pressures of the environment. Get angry at them, be disappointed, but try to retain some forgiveness because they are human too and soon you will be one of them as well.

  • “there isn't anything more important than publishing papers” I’m pretty sure that there’d be people who would disagree with you on that.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 7:21
  • @nick012000 that is fair criticism, though when it comes to changing jobs or applying for funding the bulk of what "counts" is your paper trail of which the publication record is a critical component. I personally liked some advice my supervisor passed on to me from his supervisor, "If it isn't published, you might as well have never done it"
    – arkore
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 7:32
  • 1
    Sure, but there’s other factors that matter as well. It doesn’t matter if you churn out a dozen papers a year if you do so through academic dishonesty, for instance. There’s also other metrics for evaluating the quality of your research like your h-index.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 7:41

A PhD is an individual project, so it's not surprising if you feel you that you have been bearing the weight of it. It's not unusual to have an advisor whose area of expertise does not align 100% with your topic. In my experience, my advisors were helpful because they listened to my ramblings each week and were able to provide advice about general academic topics (i.e. how to prepare and submit papers to journals/conferences, responding to criticism, dealing with administrative issues, etc.) Although they sometimes shared their domain-specific knowledge, I was expected to be reading and understanding the papers relevant to my topic. In the end, I knew more than them about my topic, which is how it should be.

I'd also say that 99.99% of PhD students experience challenges. (I state without any references. Please excuse me.) You could have changed your advisor earlier, but as they say, there's no use crying over spilt milk.

Well done for obtaining a postdoc, because the majority of PhD graduates don't continue in academia.


As user347 said, get some therapy and more formal support. Could it be that your experience was traumatic and you are still quite affected by it? On the severe end of the scale, your negative experience will cloud impact your post doc and your future. It is inappropriate to speculate too much but many people are severely traumatised by their PhD. This article below describes an extreme end of the scale. Landing a post-doc and graduating from your PhD should be a moment of joy and celebration. Try to connect with that somehow in a meaningful and fulfilling way.


Focus on improving and networking with people who publish extensively. Getting mentored or joining a supportive writing group that enjoy and that you get along with may help develop your confidence and skill in publishing more independently. Yes your publication experience was negative, but hopefully you feel freer to adapt reach out more rather than feeling trapped like you were before.


TL;DR: Shit happens.

Supporting other answers, but from a different perspective:

The task "Complete a PhD" is not just "Make some scientific progress" plus "Write it down". It is also "Get the whole thing done".

The organisational part of the whole thing is important - even very important!
That part is exactly about the problems you are worrying about - and you have solved!

  • You did not give up even when it was disheartening.
  • You managed to continue the work even when you found yourself in a dead end.
  • You could stay motivated to finish even when you found the work you spend much time on turned out to be worthless.
  • You somehow overcame frustration.

When a company wants to hire somebody for an non-academic position, the requirements often contain having a PhD in the relevant topic.

That is not because of the scientific results. Also, it is not about knowing how to write them down in the form required for getting a PhD accepted.

That you finished a PhD means you are able to get large, complex tasks done - on your own.

The only thing about a PhD that is really important may be that it was finished, proving your organisational skills, and the field of knowledge of the PhD topic, proving you can work in that field. That the topic was not in your field of expertise means you completed a harder task. And that you now have a wider field of expertise.

Not the scientific result.
Not how to write it down.

There is one final task: Accepting how you got it done - and moving on.

Your question is about how to accept all the things that could have been better.
That you recognize what went wrong proves that you already learned from it.
How it was done no longer matters.


the conception, implementation and problem solving of the projects were a lonely enterprise. But you made it through. If this is the sort of loneliness you have come to enjoy or thrive on, then academia is for you. There will always be people more senior than you who will abandon you, only to suddenly reappear when you have produced something that can be published in a top journal.

my advisor was not prompt in correcting my manuscripts This problem should become less of a concern as you advance through the ranks. As a postdoc, you may again run into this problem of a "supervisor" who is not available until credit is to be shared. This is a matter of luck and (trust me please on this) avoid prospective collaborators like the plague as soon as your gut tells you that they are bad news (the upshot of decades of heartbreak in academia: your gut is always right about this; you don't have time to waste on the bad 'uns). When you finally get tenure, you can go ahead and publish by yourself, although it is always better to work together.

Some PhD students and postdocs solve this problem by pressing right ahead and submitting without the "supervisor's blessing". This gets them into trouble. Supervisor Mad! ... Right until the paper is accepted, and the "supervisor" has gained a co-author credit without having done any of the work. That tends to put them in a forgiving mood.

(I remember one horrible academic who had a lot of nasty things to say about his -then former- postdoc... until that PNAS acceptance email came through.)

So: you learned a lot from this. In all likelihood, there is more of the same s*** ahead, but at least you know you will be able to deal with this.

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