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I have one more year until finishing my PhD. I feel that I will have a mediocre PhD thesis, at best. I feel like quitting, and I had this feeling even from the start of the PhD. I felt even from the beginning that something is wrong and I should not continue but I continued anyway because I was very passionate about the subject that my thesis is supposed to be focused on. (Of course I did not get to do exactly what I thought I would do, but still... the things that I worked on belonged somehow to that area of study that I always interested in). I struggled a lot during these PhD years, and that's mainly because I did not get much help. Now I feel exhausted. I don't have any energy left to continue. I really feel that the reason I got into this situation is because people that were supposed to help me think very low of me... And they just left me to deal with my problems all by myself. Probably because they think I wasn't good enough to deserve much of their attention.

I have a few publications. In principle, I have all I need in order to finish. But somehow I feel like it is worthless. I am aware that it would be very stupid to quit right now. I don't know what to do. I don't know whether I will continue my work after the PhD graduation.

closed as off-topic by Solar Mike, Richard Erickson, Morgan Rodgers, D.W., Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Oct 2 at 20:19

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21

Your mental health is the most important factor in this equation. PhD's are hard, and demotivating, and exhausting. But the best PhD is a completed PhD! It sounds like you've got everything you need to finish, you just need to full together the threads that make up a thesis.

Often people get most of the way through a PhD and have not taken a holiday in years. When was the last time you took a holiday or just some time off?

Make a plan of exactly what is needed to finish. What are your publication requirements? Structure out what the thesis will look like and define any loose ends that need to be finished. Make a list of these things and plan out - week-by-week when you want these completed by. If the end is in sight, you'll find that motivation will return - like a marathon running who has hit the wall but can see light at the end of a tunnel. These feelings are so natural - almost everyone I know who did a PhD experienced it!

And with regards to you thinking your thesis is mediocre at best. EVERYONE thinks that! I'm not going to tell you that it's better (because I don't know). But statistically, half of PhD graduates wrote a thesis that is average or worse than average. I know mine certainly was! Who cares? If you do enough to pass, then it really doesn't matter. And the saving grace is that very few people will ever read and understand the thesis enough to work that out!

You've got this! Remember to prioritise a good work-life balance as in the long run, it will serve you far more effectively than if you crammed for the next year!

5

I am very sorry that you are going through this.

It is a very disheartening and difficult time for you. I am not trying to minimize your agony, but I think you should take the time and celebrate how much and how far you have done. You have a few publications, that is brilliant work. You are only a year away from completion and it sounds like you just need to start writing, that is a fantastic platform from which to be sorting out your future. On the basis of your publications alone, you can do many things even if you do not finish your PhD...

Having said that, burnout is quite common and distressing. Unfortunately, burnout is quite poorly understood and there is no accepted "treatment" or strategy. There are plenty of stories of taking time out, doing the yoga/meditation/health diet thing and being able to bounce back. Burnout is serious and many academic journals even Nature has taken time to educate and discuss how serious it is. Self-care is important but taking time out and having a break away from the work is also an important way forward, only something you can decide (Rutgers article).

Your feeling that your work is "worthless" is also very common. It is important that you realise that change will not occur after a 3 to 5 years of intense study, the worth that you give over the rest of your 80 to 90 year life will far outstrip this artificially stressful but short period of time.

Compounding the pressures is the sense, at least according to the economics Ph.D. candidates surveyed by the Harvard researchers, that their work isn’t useful or beneficial to society. Only a quarter of the study’s respondents reported feeling as if their work was useful always or most of the time, compared with 63 percent of the entire working-age population. Only a fifth of the respondents thought that they had opportunities to make a positive impact on their community - Atlantic 2018 article

You may also be clinically depressed. Depression among PhD students and graduate students is common. A 2015 Berkeley study found that nearly 47% of their graduate students were depressed. The highest rate of depression on screening was in arts and humanities fields (64%), higher than in STEM (43-46%), the social sciences (34%) and business (28%).

Unfortunately, few graduate students will seek help and most will likely blame themselves, consistent with impostor syndrome or perfectionism, qualities selected for in graduate school. So yes, it is very important that you seek help, your university would have student support services. It is important that you support and care for yourself in this very tough time. Seek professional and expert help, you have so much more to give after this unfortunate spell...

5

The other answers already provide you with excellent advice, I'll just add a couple points along the same lines:

  • You're not alone: it's very common to feel depressed towards the end of the PhD. Talk to fellow PhD students if you can, you'll be surprised to discover that even among the ones who seem to be doing very well many go through this. This can help you realize that you're not being fair with yourself: your PhD work might not be as perfect as you hoped it would be, that doesn't mean it's bad or even "mediocre".
  • Try not to entertain these self-loathing feelings: seek professional help, take a holiday break, contact some old friends or spend some time with your family... Whatever way works for you to change your mind, go for it.

I really feel that the reason I got into this situation is because people that were supposed to help me think very low of me... And they just left me to deal with my problems all by myself. Probably because they think I wasn't good enough to deserve much of their attention.

I don't know your supervisor(s) but I can confidently say that your interpretation about why they didn't help you as much as you expected is completely wrong. There are plenty of reasons why some supervisors turn out to be moderately helpful, the most common ones being: they are too busy, are not as knowledgeable as you imagine in your topic, started other lines of research and lost interest in yours... or just have a very loose approach to supervision. Supervisors are not perfect either, it doesn't mean that they judge you badly. This interpretation is the result of your low self-esteem.

  • 1
    I think you should emphasize the suggestion to seek help. The university almost certainly has mental health services, and they know the kinds of problems that graduate and PhD students go through. – Barmar Oct 2 at 18:23
3

I haven’t completed a PhD, but every single person I’ve spoken to who has, reports feeling the exact same way you do, and it is often the case that you will continue to feel like your thesis is subpar until the moment you are completely done with it. This is the nature of large projects; they suck until they don’t, and most times you just have to stick it out until this becomes the case for you.

You also don’t know if your thesis or degree will be worthless right now. It’s impossible to know. You can make an educated guess, I suppose, as you have done, but you will only know when you have the degree and know what your professional life is like with it. I say that to say, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Especially since you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into it so far and you are almost finished.

Having said that... You know your mental state better than anyone else, and with the statistics for mental health issues and PhD students being what they are, you should really consider your next move seriously.

Good luck! And I’m confident that it will work out for you.

1

Beware of the "Sunk Cost Fallacy."

Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources.

My Story

I was pursuing a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology and had completed the coursework, but still had my internships and research project ahead of me. I was miserable and quitting was one of the hardest but best decisions I've ever made. I now work in an unrelated field that I love.

I felt shame and fear quitting a program I had invested so much time and money into (including tremendous student debt).

What became clear to me, however, was that the career path I was working toward was not going to make me happy. I made it so far because I kept thinking that I just had to survive the program and I'd enjoy the work, but my externship work made it clear that quite a bit of what I disliked about the program would still apply afterward.

My Advice

Consider the additional paths that open up to you when you complete your PhD. Are those worth the work that remains?

In general, educational degrees open up additional paths and are thus worth short-term suffering for long-term gain.

If the additional paths that open up, however, aren't worth the sacrifice to you, then cut your losses and stop investing more.

0

As good as the current answers are, they miss something, which is natural.

Are you able to pivot your thesis into an area you are interested in? It doesn't have to be a large move, just enough for it to be more interesting. My mom got a Masters in Art History (not the same as a PhD, I know), and she wrote a paper not on the "classics", but rather historical and current Native American Indian art. In her case, she spent time camping on various American Indian reservations and interacting directly with the cultures she was writing about for days or weeks at a time.

No only did she get some great information, but it also helped her relax and avoid burnout. I'm not saying this will work for your topic, but it goes to show that some topics aren't relegated to just a lab or a library. Yes, she could have spent those same weeks in a library, getting her research material from books, but instead she went out and did the research in person. It cost a fair amount of money and I don't remember if she had a job to take time off from, but she absolutely loved it.

So what do you want? This is about you, not someone else's expectations of you. FYI, my mom did this degree for her own interests, not because it would necessarily help her career. I'm sure that was part of it, but she was in her 50's (maybe 60's, I don't remember) when she finished her degree, after decades of starts and stops along the way.

Once you get your mental health addressed, prove to your "haters" they are wrong about you. One of the best ego boosts is to see those same negative people come around to your side. That doesn't mean you should accept their pandering, but enjoy the fact that you were right after all.

BTW, PhDs are supposed to be hard. It's to weed out people who think they can't do it. When you prove that you think you can do it by overcoming the difficulties of a PhD, you get the rewards of that hard work. One of those things is that what used to be hard may no longer be difficult for you. Another is self doubt about your abilities goes away. All of that might not happen just because you get the diploma, but it will eventually, as long as you don't compare yourself to others. The key detail is that you have to think you can do it before you can actually do it.

Too often, even after they get a degree, people will compare themselves to those who are leaders in their field and think they are nothing compared to them. Well, likely that's true, but only because they have vast amounts of experience you don't yet have, which is only because you are newer to the field and haven't the time to gain the experience they do. How are people with brand new degrees supposed to compete with those with 20+ years of experience? By patience and gaining those 20+ of experience themselves. Those leaders didn't become leaders overnight.

Also, those leaders were likely once in your shoes, comparing themselves to people who had vast amounts of experience. They were also likely where you are right now, thinking they can't make it to the end of the PhD, being stressed, and thinking of quitting. But they didn't quit, they kept on until they finished. If you must compare yourself to these people, use them as positive influence. "If they can do it, so can I."

Just like you need to, they took care of themselves and finished their PhD. They gathered themselves up and thought, "I got this." Not because they knew they'd become leaders, but because it's what they wanted to do.

So I ask again: what do you want? What is it that you really want, with the core of your soul/heart/being/(whatever you want to call it)? Do you want to quit or do you want to finish? Either answer is OK, but are you going to regret it later in life?

You don't even have to answer this right away. Take a couple days, a week, or a month to get your head straight and your body recovered. Just don't take more time than you need. Waiting too long will help you make the easy answer of quitting. The sooner you answer, the more likely it's going to be your right answer, the one you can live with for the rest of your life.

Even if you quit, rest assured that the time you spent working was not wasted. You found your limit, stretched it, found new limits, and decided to stop before you broke. There is no shame in admitting that you set a goal you aren't ready to reach. Maybe you pick things back up later. Maybe you don't.

Yes, I wrote most of this Answer as if you need to finish your degree. I did it to show support for you in your goal of completing this degree, but if you can't finish it, know that I support that decision, too. This is your life, your goals, your decision. What I think about it shouldn't matter to you. I can only give suggestions. I can't do it for you. You do what you need to do and if people don't agree, accept their criticism with the same amount of respect it deserves, but keep doing what you need to do to feel good about yourself. That's all anyone really can do.

This is an academic site, so the "of course" answer is going to be to finish the PhD, but the real answer is: what do you really want to do?

Good luck and I hope you enjoy the journey ahead of you!

  • prove to your "haters" they are wrong about you. OP makes no indication of anyone other than themself thinking they aren't good enough. – Captain Man Oct 2 at 19:29
  • @CaptainMan, "I really feel that the reason I got into this situation is because people that were supposed to help me think very low of me... And they just left me to deal with my problems all by myself." If that's not a softened description of haters, then I guess I'm wrong. Also, IME, there will always be people around that tell you you can't do something, but generally only because they couldn't manage it. Just because the OP doesn't mention it, it doesn't mean they aren't there. – computercarguy Oct 2 at 19:32
  • @computercarguy It's hard to tell from the OP if the OP's colleagues actually think low of them and didn't help, or if the OP is suffering from distorted thinking patterns/"warpy thoughts" due to, for example, anxiety or depression which are both very common near the end of a PhD. Some of the phrases the OP used point towards the latter, for example the level of exhaustion and feeling like their work is worthless. – user3067860 Oct 2 at 21:27
  • @user3067860, from what I quoted in my last comment, to me, it seems as if this has been a trend for more than just recent times. It may just be that they haven't gotten help recently sure, but it may be longer term than that. I haven't tried a PhD, so I don't know from experience there, but I've had plenty of experience with people who should be helping me thinking I'm too far below them to matter and liking to watch me struggle so don't help. I haven't succeeded all the time to overcome that, but when I do, it's a pretty good feeling. I consider even these type of people as "haters". – computercarguy Oct 2 at 21:38
  • @computercarguy It may be that people genuinely have not been very helpful, but the "warpy" thoughts would be thinking that they were not helpful because they think the OP is not worthy. There could be many other explanations, I think Erwan's answer does a good job covering them. For most people, re-framing into a neutral position (my advisor didn't help me because he/she is just not a great advisor) leads to a happier mindset compared to re-framing into an aggressive position (my advisor is a hater so I hate him/her back). – user3067860 Oct 3 at 14:28

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