I used to be a PhD student in one of the top research institutes in Germany. Then I realized I have a mental illness and my mother insisted that I go to a psychologist. He told me that I have a moderate level mental illness and prescribed me some medications.

I started taking them and felt very happy but I also lost my ability to focus and was not able to work anymore. I lost my position and went to another doctor and realized the initial prescribed medication was too much. I changed my medication but I still could not focus and was very slow to work. It took me two years to find another PhD position in a not very good university. During the PhD, I tried to replace the medications with sports and I was mostly successful.

Now I am at the end of my PhD and have become more sober. I have realized that my peers have become assistant professors or senior researchers and this makes me very disappointed. I also have realized that my supervisor is not very good and does not have many connections for postdoc positions.

I still wish I had not listened to my mother and had tried to treat myself without medication. I feel like all my dreams to have an academic career are destroyed. Do you think these feeling are rational?

  • 6
    You should follow advice from licensed professionals. Do not rely on internet strangers to take care of your health. Sep 27, 2020 at 7:05
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    @AnonymousPhysicist to my experience the professionals want to sell me their pills and do not care about the future of my career
    – Didami
    Sep 27, 2020 at 7:15
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    Then you should try to find better professionals.
    – user111388
    Sep 27, 2020 at 9:27
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    How about contacting your supervisor in your previous PhD (at one of the top German research institutes) for a postdoc? You can explain your situation to him, and he could take you, since he knew what you were capable of
    – Jihadi
    Sep 28, 2020 at 8:54
  • 2
    It's dangerous to look at this as "if I hadn't taken medication everything would have been fine". I know a handful of people who tried / try to combat mild or medium depression by pushing themselves harder (mainly to distract themselves). This works for a while until it doesn't, and then things have a tendency to crash down real badly.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 27, 2020 at 11:11

2 Answers 2


(this answer is based not on my personal experience, but I know a number of people struggling with depression, some of them also in academia, and some quite close to me)

I don't think it's rational to decide that your academic career is hopeless. You are on a PhD track after all. You are still in a position where you can do good work, make people notice you, and ultimately get a good career going. Especially in Germany my feeling is that where you do your PhD is not very indicative of how well your career will be going afterwards - I know professors graduating from the smallest universities that I have never heard about in other contexts, and I know plenty of graduates from TU Munich that went nowhere after graduation.

What you need to do - and I am aware that this every difficult - is to let go of what happened in the past and focus on the future. How can you bring yourself into the best position? If your advisor does not have too many contacts you will need to work on these contacts yourself (honestly, this is nothing particularly unusual - this is the situation that at least 2/3 of PhD candidates find themselves in, not every advisor is an international superstar). If you can't get a postdoc via reference, keep your eyes open for posted positions. Go to conferences, meet people, make people be aware that you are or will be on the job market. And even if your academic career plans indeed do not work out, there will still be plenty of other opportunities for a PhD holder to pursue. Don't get married to one specific career path, and don't tie your self-worth to whether you make one specific thing work or not.

That said, the elephant in the room is that you also need to take care of yourself. Self-treating a depression with "sports" is dangerous - maybe what you are actually doing is distracting yourself without actually working on the underlying problems, and this has a tendency to only work for so long. I strongly recommend you to give therapy another shot. You don't necessarily have to agree to take medication (although, as I said in a comment above, not all anti-depressants make you tired, but it is true that pretty much all of them potentially come with some problematic side-effects), but some therapy or treatment is long-term really the only way forward. That said, you are perfectly in the right to be picky when choosing what psychologist / psychiatrist(s) to work with - many are frankly very bad at their job, and even the better ones may be a bad fit for you personally.

Again, your focus needs to be looking forward how to improve your life, not looking backwards at what went wrong before. This isn't easy for anybody, and I know that depression only makes it harder to focus on a positive outlook rather than things that went badly in the past. A lot of this has to do with acceptance - accepting that you have in fact a medical condition, and that you will need to do and deal with some things that people without that condition don't have to bother with (and some of them may indeed be impacting your ability to perform in a workplace). We accept this to be the case with non-mental medical conditions, and it's also true for depression.

Ultimately, you need to remember that long-term your health is more important than your career. You can certainly still have both, but if you decide to ignore your health because of your career there is a good chance that 10 years from now you have neither.


Everyone experience a different life. Some experience life as a beautiful journey free of any hassles. Some experience it like a nightmare (As is the case for the majority of people in underdeveloped countries). Some begin with pathetic conditions, but end up achieving glory.

There was a person, who struggled a lot to reach to University. He chiefly found it difficult to graduate from high school and his teachers used to remain upset about his performance. Particularly, he and his questions seemed childish. He anyway pursued university education, but after graduation, could not find any means of earning. He started to give tuition to school kids but the parents were worried that he did not teach things that could bring academic glory in their child's marksheet. If you see, he was basically a failure compared to his peers. His peers were very successful in their goals. He was Albert Einstein, if you did not realize by now.

It doesn't matter whether you got a bad start in life. It doesn't matter whether you got a bad break in life. What matters is what you do after that bad part of life is over. Do not lose hope.

The truth is you are on an unequal footing compared to your peers. Your peers did not experience mental illness. You did. There is no basis of comparison. You have to take one big step in life, which is also known as "hope". You do not know perhaps how valuable you are, how talented you are than your peers. It is the effect of the incidences in your life that SEEM TO SUGGEST APPARENTLY that you are far behind.

Why not make a one time life goal to get your life back on track? I am 100% sure you will smile at your past and you will reach far ahead than your peers no matter which university you attend or what supervisor you have.

  • 3
    Reference for your Einstein stories?
    – user111388
    Sep 27, 2020 at 9:17
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    I learnt about his life from a documentary called "Genius". All descriptions are derived from that documentary. Sep 27, 2020 at 9:37
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    Einstein also wrote like 5 big impact papers by 25.
    – dusa
    Sep 27, 2020 at 17:17
  • I see the positive attitude in your answer, but unfortunately, OP isn't Einstein. Oct 27, 2020 at 11:17
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    "Some experience it like a nightmare (As is the case for the majority of people in underdeveloped countries)" That's a bold claim that research generally does not at all support. Developing nations score quite high on some happiness indices, and low on others. That definitely doesn't support the claim that the majority of people that live there see life as a nightmare.
    – Well...
    Oct 27, 2020 at 16:54

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