I am facing extreme anxiety and not enough sleep. My group always wants results. Every two weeks, you must have new results. Being sick is not accepted. I feel so drained and tired. There are constant messages, many ideas, and lots of collaboration. I know it may sound a good thing, but as an introverted person, I feel so drained. I am distracted by the many ideas. Also, it seems my work is not recognized or understood. I am trying to elaborate each meeting but it seems not clear even with data although I am passionate.

I feel physical and spiritual pain. I have migraines and back pain all the time. I cannot sleep. The director doesn't understand any excuses. They need everything fast, even when there are problems with the machines.

They encourage comparisons, and there are rivalries between each other sometimes. I know they want publications, but I am feel pain because there are many things to juggle: writing, experiments, communication. I tried to bring this to a discussion but their tone is always dismissive. I don't know what I can do. I cannot sleep or eat properly

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    Your health should be the priority despite what the research group says, expects or wants. I suggest you talk to a doctor or health professional as soon as possible. Adding the country may be helpful so that others can point your towards resources at university that can help you.
    – ojfew owmx
    Oct 14, 2021 at 16:15
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    What did you try, and specifically how did you communicate your boundaries? Have you seriously considered quitting/switching labs? What are your alternatives? Oct 14, 2021 at 16:17
  • Similar question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2257/… Oct 14, 2021 at 16:21
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    Can you give us some context on your position and where you are? Are you an undergraduate, PhD student, postdoc, etc.? What country is your university in? Roughly speaking, what is "my group"?
    – Ben
    Oct 14, 2021 at 22:01
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    "Every two weeks, you must have new results" I think this question would be helped by elaboration on the word "results". If you come to a meeting without having done anything in the past two weeks, of course you can expect reasonable frustration from your boss. If they are expecting a paper every two weeks, of course this is unreasonable. It's impossible to tell if the op's group is being reasonable without elaboration. Oct 16, 2021 at 20:22

4 Answers 4


First, talk to a medical professional about pain and migraines.

Second, find a way to schedule breaks in your day. Working more isn't the same as working better. In fact you can actually inhibit clear thinking if you try to push on a problem too hard. Your brain has a way of putting things together during periods of "rest".

Third, make some of those breaks exercise - especially aerobic exercise. The brain needs oxygen.

Fourth, if your lab is dysfunctional either find a way to leave it or work with your lab-mates to set a more reasonable pace. At least try to find out whether you are alone in your analysis. I suspect that you are not.

Fifth, many of us are introverts. You can still be effective in public/social situations. It is a skill to be learned. Introversion is not a disability. For many scholars it is a superpower.

  • 2
    Some decent advice, but you could've probably phrased the introversion part a lot more empathetically by at least acknowledging learning takes time and one can only go so far in terms of reducing how draining social interaction is. Also, I'm not actually seeing in the question how introversion is the direct cause of them being "ineffective in public/social situations" (feeling drained could mean introversion is an indirect cause, feeling distracted could come from feeling drained, or it might be unrelated, and being unable to communicate ideas well is related, but not a part of introversion).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 17, 2021 at 11:33
  • You have a one character typo; "you*r lab" in 4th paragraph.
    – Yakk
    Oct 17, 2021 at 14:35

I was like this at one point and then I just stopped meeting their standards. I slept at 10 every night, did not work until noon, basically prioritized my own health over work. Nothing really changed as far as my research went.

My supervisor did raise their voice at one point over progress, then I was just like, in my head "its either me committing suicide and tarnishing your reputation forever or me working and suffering over the holidays while you are on your vacation, so why are you getting mad at me?"

You are the boss of the research publications that they put their names on.

What is the worst thing that can happen to you?

The worst thing that can happen is you getting kicked out.

But just note that most people who are working only has Bachelor's degree and they apparently have higher employability than master and make more over a lifetime than PhD and have higher life satisfaction.

  • 4
    I would like to add a note to your excellent albeit personal answer. "suffering over the holidays while you are on your vacation" It is quite likely that the supervisor was stressing himself out on holidays (I mention that not to justify the supervisor, just to mention how pain&suffering is ingrained in many academia's people life)
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 14, 2021 at 17:13
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    Giving up ones goal of getting a doctorate and having an academic career is not a solution. People can have different goals, but don't just give up. Your path to success can be convoluted (mine was) but you can get there.
    – Buffy
    Oct 14, 2021 at 17:16
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    "most people who are working only has Bachelor's degree and they apparently have higher employability than master and make more over a lifetime than PhD" -- where's the evidence of this? Generally PhD is found to make more (about $1M more over lifetime). That is not to diminish your other points of encouragement for OP, but to check one dubious statement.
    – nanoman
    Oct 15, 2021 at 0:28
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    @nanoman your source is from 2011, and way more people have a PhD now than before ... on top of that, have a look at table 7 vs table 8. I have the discomforting feeling that most of the people earning a PhD outside STEM subjects are from rich families, relying less on the academic titles and more on the familiar ties (directly or indirectly) to achieve their income status. Unfotunately the report spends some words on racial differences, not so many on economic inequality.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 15, 2021 at 7:28
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    Overworking to the point of irrecoverable physical of psychological damage is also not a solution. Not being able to eat or sleep properly like the OP sounds more immediately worrying than future goals or success. This answer also isn't necessarily calling for giving up, but just giving up on the idea of graduating at all costs.
    – The Hagen
    Oct 15, 2021 at 16:24

An abusive situation does not stop being abusive just because it has nice academia/workplace words like "schedule" or "group" or "manager".

You are in an abusive workplace. I've been there too.

Your workplace culture means it will stay abusive, and you probably don't have any realistic ways to change that. That means, in my book, it failed. Not you. You didn't fail. You just don't like being abused. Nor should you. That's good.

It can be hard to move in a niche field, but try to.

Otherwise, assume that they will carry on this way. Why wouldn't they? From their perspective, it works. You might break and be seriously ill, some time in future, or cry every night, but they get results because they insist and make you feel bad if you don't, and in the end they can always get a new living cadaver to fill the slot if you die or go.

Treat this situation as if you are a married woman living with a guy who every two weeks punches her and tells her what trash she is if the house isn't perfect, meals aren't perfect, and it's never good enough, so it's always punches. Would you say to put up with it forever? I wouldn't. And neither should you.

  • I agree that the workspace is not "normal". People do still publish in Nature having much nicer (on human relationships) that this extreme pressure, which is nothing but counter productive. Oct 16, 2021 at 20:04

Talk to a medical professional. Then talk to the disability office.

It sounds like your work is causing you physical and psychological harm, and this is manifesting in physical harm. The migraine headaches, inability to sleep, and such that you're feeling? In basically every developed country, that legally counts as a disability, and they're legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for you.

As such, I would recommend that you talk to a medical professional, and get a diagnosis of whatever's wrong with you, and get them to write it up along with any suggestions they might have regarding treatment in a letter that you can take to your employer.

After that, I'd say to take the letter to your manager (if an employee) followed by the disability and/or human resources office, or straight to the disability office if you're a student. They should work with you to provide you with accomodations that will assist you with resolving this issue.

  • "migraine headaches, inability to sleep, and such that you're feeling" could just be symptoms of stress, which would not be a disability any more than a cold would be one. Of course diagnosed chronic migraines or diagnosed chronic insomnia could classify as disabilities, but it seems very premature to jump to that conclusion given only the information in the question. Although different jurisdictions and institutions may have different rules about what classifies as a disability.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 17, 2021 at 11:53
  • @NotThatGuy A cold is a disability; that's why your employer is required to give you sick days. It's a transitory disability, since it typically goes away on its own, but temporary incapacity is still a disability.
    – nick012000
    Oct 18, 2021 at 6:01
  • "A cold is a disability; that's why your employer is required to give you sick days" - the fact that they're called "sick days" and not "disability days" suggests differently. In the UK, for example, someone is only defined as being disabled if they have a long-term impairment (I found some indication that the US ADA specifically excludes colds as disabilities, but I couldn't find a reference for that). Also note that I'm not arguing about what "disability" should mean, but rather just pointing out the legal classification.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 18, 2021 at 12:21

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