I made it to a rather high level in Academia (I'm a senior postdoc at the moment) but now I am stuck at this level (doing my 6th postdoc in 7 years). I was performing quite well when I had more or less clear goals set by my PIs but at this stage I have either individual funding or very hands-off PIs and I have to plan things myself. I think I have a pretty decent intuition and lots of interesting ideas, but the implementation stage is very tough for me. There are three problems.

  • First, like in most (every?) STEM fields, in mine one has to fail many times in the process of getting an approximate solution to the problem one tries to solve. Normally, (as far as I understand) one is not discouraged or uses a couple of productivity tips/tricks and goes on to try another approach, until it works. I found out that, despite trying hard, these productivity tricks do not really work for me.
  • Second, due to this uncertain time to solve the problem, it is also not really possible to plan the task by splitting it into small bits, like is often suggested.
  • Third, even when I have the research done and I have to publish (or when I am writing a grant application), it is very difficult to polish the plots and fix wording of the paper. Again none of the standard tips really help me.

So, due to all this and me living alone and working 99% remote these days (my field is computational) I wallow in procrastination way too much of the time.

I understand that this affects everyone in science to some extent, but at some point I started to feel that it is not just me being more lazy than others or being unfit for the task, but that there is something deeper. So I went to a psychiatrist and got my ADHD diagnosis. Of course, my ADHD is not super severe (otherwise I would not make it to were I am), but it is bad enough to halt my career now, and I don't want it to happen.

So my question is: is there a good way to "gamify" scientific research somehow? Or maybe there are some other ways to deal with the problems I mentioned, specifically in the ADHD setting?

I know that there are some special cognitive tricks designed for ADHD people to help them achieve their goals, but none of them (as far as I know) works for scientific research due to these three reasons I mentioned above.

  • How is your productivity? You don't say anything about your output.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2, 2021 at 19:32
  • @Buffy when I worked as a "normal" postdoc instructed by someone, I published 3 first author papers in 2 years despite radically changing field. Since I got an individual funding 2.5 years ago I have published nothing. I am doing something, it is approaching a publishable state, but the closer it gets, the slower I go, because the tasks become more "routine". My project is objectively not a simple one (I am using a non-conventional method that I had to learn from zero to study one of the central problems in the field, all of this 95% alone). However, most of my issues are not because of that.
    – demitau
    Nov 2, 2021 at 20:39
  • 2
    I started a discussion on meta about whether ADHD issues are on topic here, since we can't give medical advice. You might want to comment there. academia.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5047/75368.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2, 2021 at 20:43
  • So, it might be closed. But for the third issue, which is really shared by everyone, finding someone to work with who can give you feedback on your writing is a big help.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2, 2021 at 20:44
  • 2
    Gamification per se is a gimmick, but feeling rewarded for completing tasks, including tedious ones, is much needed. Going through your points: how does "very difficult to polish the plots and fix wording" bit manifest itself? Because this has to do with splitting the problem in the small, concrete, measurable bits directly. I find myself returning to the drawing board all the time, but keeping those plots to produce in sights helps immensely: now you don't just endlessly improve on results, but have a somewhat specific goal of producing really good plots. This is a PI kind of perspective.
    – Lodinn
    Nov 3, 2021 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


I think that there is something bigger than the ADHD issue. You do not survive postdoc as you "survived" the Bachelor/Master/PhD level. A Postdoc is a non compulsory transient between the PhD and something more defined (professor, technical scientist, researcher, lottery winner ...).

Pick a goal, work towards the path that leads to that goal. As a Postdoc, you have almost infinite freedom (in comparison to the previous step as a PhD and with the next academic step as a whatever professor).

From what you discuss here, I feel that your goal was/is to be a succesful academic professor. Then you apply for grants, where the aim is not to get money for you (only), but for you and another person that without your help would not get a salary and science (i.e. your research) would not benefit from the skills of that person. Then you will get publications because you are supervising the work, not because you publish (disclaimer: supervising is not an easy job, these publications are not for free, but it is easier than publish on your own). Supervising excellent researcher doing a good job, providing him all the tools and money to perform that research, while you have free time to pursue a deep understanding of the same topic is a powerful motivation, offloading some work. If it is not enough to put the efforts into polishing a proposal, then try to think as "I can focus less on that subtopic because then a minion of mine will work on that".

If it was not clear enough before, now that you reached the 6th stage of the Postdoc life, you should have realized that you are not indispendable, there are plenty of persons with your skills that can do the job you did until now.

Your added values are the supervision and the experience. Without these, there is no quality difference between a 3rd year Phd and you (you may have more quantity, i.e. more aspects of the same topic, but it is not such a winner thing, unless you have gained some interdisciplinarity that is hot&popular at the moment).

  • I am not quite sure how it is supposed to answer my question. Also I quite disagree with your prelast statement. The more years I spend in science, the stronger is my understanding that any scientist is very much unique and there are many problems that I can solve (provided I handle my productivity issues) and nobody else can, without repeating the same path I had. Of course the converse is also true. I know how to write grants. The main reason I don't get them is mostly because of my modest publication record (that's what reviewers repeatedly said) which is due to ADHD as I described.
    – demitau
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:10
  • side comment: infinite freedom for a postdoc is a characteristic of only some STEM areas (like pure math) but certainly not all. In fields that involve real-life experiments, postdocs are often much more like slaves.
    – demitau
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:13
  • @demitau "the stronger is my understanding that any scientist is very much unique and there are many problems that I can solve " Sorry to tell you, but you are very wrong on this, this is not the foundation of your uniqueness, exactly because any other can do the same by repeating the same path, so it means that you can provide guidance to make that path quicker to the next other, otherwise the path was a complete loss of time. Regaridng PostDoc being slaves: it is exactly their freedom that allows them to be a slave. For so long time!
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:28
  • I think that my path was radically inefficient and asking another student/postdoc to follow the same would be unethical.
    – demitau
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:49
  • @demitau I repeat myself: "it means that you can provide guidance to make that path quicker to the next other, otherwise the path was a complete loss of time." Please realize that as a PostDoc writing proposals and aiming at a professorship you are there "simply" to prevent the unethical occurence of another student/postdoc to follow the same path. You do not need to survive Postdoc, because you already did for 6 years. Now it's up to you to decide which path to go.
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 4, 2021 at 8:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .