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I'm in my first year of a linguistic PhD program. I have courses to take, which is nice because I always think these would equip me with deeper knowledge about this field and prepare me to be a decent linguist.

One of the courses, which is held by my advisor, causes me anxiety because of two things. The first thing is that I cannot understand the academic articles assigned by my supervisor. If the first few pages of the articles are hard to understand, my mind wanders, and I tend to pass those pages, which makes things even worse since I still cannot follow the passage. The other thing that bothers me much is the mid-term project. I would like to link my mid-term project to my PhD thesis, and I have a clue about what will be doing for the thesis. The only thing I have to do is narrowing the topic down, but I just cannot do it. I cannot calm my self down while reading related articles (the articles are easy to understand), and my mind keeps telling me the deadline is approaching, and you'll be doomed if you fail to find the topic for this project.

I feel panicked and inadequate at the same time. I don't know what my advisor would think about me if I cannot even decide a topic for the term project. I really want to solve these problems, but don't know what to do....

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    " would like to link my mid-term project to my PhD thesis" don't do that. It is the proverbial cart ahead the horses. Do your mid-term project as good as you can, having in mind it is limited to be a mid-term project. Some lesson you will learn will be part of your PhD, although not directly.
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 26 '21 at 13:51
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My suggestion is that you first work on developing some skills for managing your anxiety while recognizing that feeling anxious is a very normal experience. The problem you seem to be experiencing is that the anxiety is becoming somewhat debilitating. As silly as this may sound, you might want to devote a small amount of time to learning and practicing mindfulness, especially before you start reading or writing in the areas that give you the most anxiety.

If you aren't understanding the assigned articles, you might consider first trying to figure what background knowledge is required. If you don't understand the material, perhaps other students have the same experience. Can you engage with your peers before class to discuss the articles? Can you ask others for the major takeaway points they gleaned from the assigned readings? Try reading the articles, having some discussion with others, and then returning to the articles with an additional perspective.

Regarding your interest in linking your mid-term project to your final thesis -- be careful about putting such high expectations on yourself. If you are a first-year student, you probably don't have enough experience or knowledge in your substantive area to make this happen. That is certainly OK. In fact, as I look back at my first-year experience, I'm glad that I didn't use anything for my thesis. I didn't have the skills and knowledge to do this effectively.

Finally, keep in mind that your PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. I certainly understand the pressures to be productive and perform at the highest level possible. You are a first-year doctoral student. Be careful about setting expectations for yourself that may be unreasonable or unattainable. This last piece of advice is relevant for all stages of your training and career.

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  • +1 it can also be useful to talk to a mental health professional about other anxiety management techniques if it doesn't improve. Mindfulness can be frustratingly difficult to practice and feel the benefit of, at first!
    – astronat
    Oct 27 '21 at 12:06

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