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As a fifth year PhD student, I am currently finalizing my manuscripts for submission having worked on them for over the past two years. However, everytime I am editing my manuscripts based on the feedback from my advisor, I feel disgusted with the quality of work done. I feel that I have done a really poor non-rigorous job and I should have worked harder or in a different topic to make the work more worthy of getting published. I also feel that the work presented in the manuscript won't get accepted anywhere and I have just wasted my time.

Is it something everyone experiences or am I suffering from self-esteem and confidence issues? How to overcome this feeling?

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  • It feels like "imposter syndrome" also, the other-end of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome -- you know HOW MUCH MORE there is to know, so you feel the little bit you have isn't worth much, but it's much more than most people have, so you're just conscious of your areas of competence and the limits. Those limits can be expanded, and it's ok. I definitely recommend talking to on-campus counselors if they exist, or a cross-program mentor. – April Salutes Monica C. Sep 16 '19 at 13:07
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Having a strict deadline looming over you is really effective in overcoming those feelings and replacing them with total panic instead. But to be more serious, it is best to realize that most, if not all of us felt something like this at some point. It is just another part of the usual impostor-syndrome. Talk to your colleagues as a form of group therapy. Also there are two things are good to keep in mind here:

  1. Personal growth: Why do you know now that you could have done better? Congratulations, it's because you improved so much that what was hard to get right back then now seems terribly obvious to you.

  2. Don't waste time on things you cannot change. Worrying about what you did not do does not change your previous work, it only takes away time from other things you could do now, so focus those.

Finally remember all the published work you read while working on your PhD. How much of it was truly perfect? And how much of it was badly written, full of incomprehensible sentences and small mistakes? If the underlying ideas are good enough it will still get published (and worrying about that is your adviser's job). You might not get it accepted on the first try, in your favorite top journal, but again that happens to everyone.

So in short, just try to "get on with it". (But as a footnote of course don't be afraid to look for professional help if those feelings start to impair your work.)

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Your feelings might also be connected to a lack of experience in writing/publishing papers. You as a true expert in your field (I assume you are one after 5 years working on it) of course know what still could be added to your research. But a single paper does not have to save the world. If your results are good enough to answer your hypotheses, it will be a valuable contribution to the community even if progress is rather incremental.

One thing that often happens during a PhD is that results are somewhat different than expected. Then I often see that it is difficult for the students to re-formulate their hypotheses, they rather cling to the original ones. This inevitably results in a hard-to-read manuscript. But as soon as they start to rethink open-minded what their results really tell them, and forget what they expected their results should tell them, the texts become readable and their feelings towards their work improve a lot.

Maybe you can find a peer who is not involved in your work who can discuss your results with you to add another perspective? This can be done in addition to your advisor's advice which you could/should also seek.

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