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I started last November but I've been having this gut feeling that this project may not be the one for me

The big picture is that I'm not really happy with the theory- if I'm being totally honest with myself, I feel that the project is disconnected from what I truly enjoy.

It's not something I'm considering lightly but the last few months I've been working, I sometimes wake up dreading the day ahead. I can't even enjoy my weekends without feeling this way. A PhD is a big undertaking I know but surely I should be happy and enthusiastic about approaching it? Even with a supervisor as prominent as mine, I just feel like I'm not having a good time.

I'm going to leave it a few weeks but I may need to take some time to consolidate my plan.

To summarise:

  1. I feel that the field doesn't satisfy me, after extensive literature review and discussions, it feels as if the field has no practical uses and is purely academic. I wanted something that's engaging and hands on- so far my supervisor hasn't been able to answer about the applications of the research.
  2. I think that my mental health should also come into it, the thought of dealing with this project makes me feel utterly depressed, I wake up dreading every day I need to work on it.
  3. Something else which I didn't mention is the admin and HR department is very poor. For starters, I'm on a funded project and they tried to invoice me £8k. Moreover my supervisor put in a purchase order for some software and books I need and it still hasn't been approved after 3 weeks.

Thanks for reading.

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3 Answers 3

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I just read your question and I decided to sign up here so that I can answer your question. As you say PhD is a long "journey", you are going to spend several years working on that project, and I really think that you should "believe in" your project to keep motivated. If it helps, I'm in my 3rd year of PhD, I am studing microbial ecology, which is not exactly my field (I studied Biotechnology and little ecology), but I was interested in the field I could see why it was important. Although I don't see future applications in industry (at least right now), I am aware of the importance of doing "basic research" and builging a general knowledge that help to better understand the world... During my 2 and a half years I have had good and bad moments, and sometimes, talking with my supervisors helped (I must day that I'm very lucky because they are great persons), but most of the time, motivation depended on me, on seeing through the "bad days" and working on mental health, which includes not working on the week-ends, spending time out of the office, doing sport, talking about my work-related problems with other people in and outside academia, taking holidays...

This is my experience, if you have just started and you already have this feeling, I think you should look for other project or other type of job. Sometimes, deep inside, you know what you want but you are a bit scared/worried/embarrased to confront it (I don't want to make any assumptions). Problems with invoices, books, money etc are usual in all labs (in my experience), so you might encounter similar problems if you move to other lab. But mental health is so important!! If talking to your supervisor doesn't help, try other people around in the lab, with the experience of doing a PhD. You should be the most motivated person about your project, if you cannot see its usefulness, or you don't like it, it will get worse... In the next years, you will need to defend your project in papers and dissertations, you will have to read a lot of literature related to that to build a good knowledge, so at least you should enjoy reading and learning about that topic, if not, everyday will be a torture...

In any case, don't feel bad about your supervisor if you finally decide to leave, I know it can be embarrasing after the month he/she has spent teaching you etc, but if you think it is the right decision, you will be grateful in the future ;)

Hope this helps!

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  • Thank you for your kind words, I'm so glad to hear you are enjoying your work- as you should! The truth is, I knew I was taking a gamble on an applied mathematics project when I'm a phsicist at hand. I prefer cosmology, solar and quantum physics to applied maths. I need to be honest with myself and fully consider my options before I do anything Feb 3, 2021 at 11:59
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Let's separate the issues:

  1. You don't like the topic? This is not what you want? Reflect very thoroughly, give yourself a few days. Then decide. If necessary, make a hard cut. There is no point wasting 3-5 years of your life on something you do not enjoy at all. There is always potential for frustration during a PhD, but it should be just an episode, not the the underlying mood of the PhD.

  2. The depression is in such cases often coming directly from something that is wrong with your situation. Many people here are quick in recommending therapy, but I personally believe in first trying to get rid of the situation that causes you feeling badly (of course, this is not true if depression has always been an issue with you, I talk specifically about situational depression). Fix the situation, and you'll feel better. A clear decision (see point 1) may help.

  3. Administration is a notoriously fickle thing. Rarely you enjoy the luck of an efficient administration. Don't let that ruin your day. I do not understand the invoice for 8k. For what is this? Fees? You should make sure you get a studentship, I really do not recommend paying fees for a PhD. In any case, this should probably be the least of your worries - it should be the worry of your prof.

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Your question has several aspects:

I feel that the field doesn't satisfy me, after extensive literature review and discussions, it feels as if the field has no practical uses and is purely academic.

  • Isn't your field of study? I mean you did your bachelor and master in the same field. Right? If you want to do a PhD in another field, I am afraid you need to study the basics of this field: Bachelor and Master.
  • Of course, pursuing a PhD means doing academic work "mainly".
  • I don't know what is your field, but in many disciplines (e.g. argumentation), there is no direct applications.

I'm not really happy with the theory

In research, you have a problem and you need to solve it or approximate its solution. You don't have any power on the fundamentals and you cannot choose how the solution of the problem or the method that lead to that solution. You work as a researcher is to find that method after trying anything and reading a lot of papers, etc.

In summary, pursuing a PhD is not a necessity in life so if you are not happy about how academia works, I suggest you to quit especially if it is affecting your health and private life. Unfortunately, there are many things (e.g. relatively low salary, a lot of stress, etc.) that we need to accept when we decide to do research.

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  • Thank you for your comment. No, I did a physics BSc and went on to do an applied mahs PhD (I jumped the masters stage). I realsie now that I just don't like applied maths, that's all there is to it. I want to change specialities to something practical- I am speaking to a professor advertising a position in semiconductor spintronics- I specialised in this dduring undergrad. Feb 3, 2021 at 11:18

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