I have posted here before about the issues with my PhD, but now I get the feeling that I am suffering from burnout and I need to know what to do next. My degree is costing a lot of money and I feel like I have no interest in it any longer. I am currently five years in to a seven-year part time PhD.

I am supposed to be collecting field data for a write-up but I have not done any work for a year. The last serious work I did was around October 2020, but over the last 12/13 months I have handed in hardly anything to my supervisor. She has been very understanding [though sometimes growing impatient, understandably]. The thought of doing any fieldwork or collecting any field data seems crushingly dull. I schedule appointments with people then make excuses not to turn up. People write to me and I don't reply. I don't want to read any academic texts. I have grown terribly cynical about academia in general and see it as self-servient, incestuous nepotism.

I would like to finish the degree, but I have two years left and nothing about the degree makes me want to continue with the data collection process. Should I quit? Should I carry on? Should I explain my feelings to my supervisors [probably a bad idea]? I don't really know what the right thing to do is. Maybe I should soldier through and just hope for the best. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • 4
    It doesn't seem like you soldier through if you don't do anything. Is there something you would enjoy doing (e.g., data analysis, modeling, ...)? You should discuss with your advisor ASAP. The longer you wait, the worse that discussion will be because there won't be sufficient time to explore options.
    – Roland
    Nov 10, 2021 at 13:52
  • 1
    Seven years is a long time. People get burned out during 3 or 4 year PhDs. Your supervisor shouldn't be surprised that you had a change of heart, and I'm sure is already aware of it given that you are basically ghosting everyone.
    – juod
    Nov 10, 2021 at 21:56
  • 1
    (1) Why are you paying for your PhD? (2) Why are you collecting data? Is it for you, or is it for your RAship? Nov 11, 2021 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


I am really not that interested and the whole thing seems so daunting.

This is what you wrote two and a half years ago. I am sorry to hear that things have not improved. I can guess that there are many factors that led to this, some of them external - but still, after stagnating for 2.5 years, it may be time to make some changes.

Should I quit?

It kind of seems like you already have. You haven't done any work in over a year, and even before that, it seems like there were some periods of inactivity.

My degree is costing a lot of money

Eek! I guess this explains why your supervisor is putting up with this -- so long as she is not paying you, it really doesn't matter to her whether you make progress or not. If you are in a place where you can easily afford this, fine, I guess. But if you are going into debt, as many grad students are, I would urge you to consider all your options.

Should I quit? Should I carry on?

Only you can decide this. But, I certainly do urge you to make changes one way or the other. I recommend two things.

First, decide whether you still want the degree. Discount the time already spent, and calculate whether the remaining time, effort, and money is a reasonable cost for the degree.

  • You've made some comments about hating academia. Further, it sounds like you might be in a field where non-academic jobs are not really a thing. From that perspective, finishing the degree seems like an expensive exercise in futility.
  • But perhaps there are other days when you like academia and/or you think you have a realistic path to a job that will use your PhD. In this case, finishing the degree could make more sense.

But it is time to decide one way or the other; clearly, your strategy of moving forward and hoping things become clear on their own has not worked out.

Second, if you decide that you want the degree, come up with a realistic plan for getting your degree, and map this plan to a schedule so you know what you need to accomplish in each quarter between now and graduation. Meet with your supervisor and get her buy-in on this plan.

  • Hopefully, getting this plan written down will let you break your logjam.
  • But it's also possible that trying to make this plan will reveal that there's no realistic path to graduation. Or, it could be that you commit to a plan but the deadlines come and go without progress.

Either way, the right option should become clearer.

Should I explain my feelings to my supervisors [probably a bad idea]?

"Explaining your feelings" might not be necessary / advisable, but I do advise trying to reset this relationship. Frankly, she has probably already assumed that you are going to leave the program. It might not be necessary to formally broach this at all; if you show up for a meeting with a ton of progress and sharp questions (and the "plan" I mentioned above, for her review), she will figure out that you have recommitted yourself. Or, if you want to get her opinion on your prospects and options, you could do that too. But I would try to keep things fairly technical and fact-based (e.g., words like "options" or "opportunities" or "alternative directions") and avoid being overly emotional (e.g., words like "boring" or "overwhelmed" or "cynical").


There is an alternate explanation than burnout. Burnout mostly happens when you work too intensely for too long. Let me suggest that the work you hate doing is indeed boring. And you may be a person, like myself, who really hates being bored.

Let me also suggest that you find a way to get on with it so that you can get past the boring stuff. One way to do it is to intersperse it with things that are more interesting. Spend a few hours (or days, if necessary, depending on the work) with the fieldwork and then a few hours (or whatever) on something that is more interesting.

If you work too intensely on the boring stuff you may actually get burned out.

"Something more interesting" might be planning and background work on the next project you like to undertake. Your advisor might be able to suggest a few possibilities, but you may also have a cache of ideas that you haven't been able to follow up on that you might start thinking about. It might be a side project that helps your career, even if it doesn't contribute directly to your dissertation.

Maybe it's just physical exercise. I used serious but non-competitive biking (fast club rides) during my doctorate to help keep my head clear.


Far more than most people realize, mental health, which includes the will to live and to pursue one's goals, is related to physical, social, and spiritual well-being. As the latter two of these are more personal matters, which I invite you to consider as a part of the whole, I will focus my suggestions more on the first of them.


Depression, boredom, and malaise all have some similarities, and the following tips can help to overcome them. The relative importance of each one will differ among individuals, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

Rest: Get on an "early-to-bed, early-to-rise" schedule. One hour of sleep before midnight is worth two afterward. This is because hormones that regulate metabolism are principally produced between the hours of about 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., and only when one is asleep and the lights are off.

It may take some time to adjust to a new sleeping schedule. Do not be quick to give up trying. You may find it easier to sleep at the correct time if you have not taken naps during the day. Naturally, it helps greatly to switch off your internet-connected devices at sleep time, lest they keep you awake.

Exercise: Regular exercise is hugely important. It regulates one's metabolism, moderates the appetite, helps to cleanse toxins from the body, releases and consumes the "stress" hormones (norepinephrine/adrenaline), and improves one's ability to rest well at night. There is no substitute for taking a long walk in the cool of the day and having some time for reflection along with it.

Nutrition: Certain vitamins and minerals are especially important for the health of the nervous system. When one is "burned out," it is often that the brain and nerves are weakened by strain and need some rejuvenation. B-vitamins are near the top of the list, with vitamin B12 being especially valuable. If you choose to find B12 supplements, look for methylcobalamin (the most common form is cyanocobalamin, but this is virtually useless, studies having shown 98% of it is eliminated from the body within 24 hours). It is not possible to overdose on B12.

Healthful fats, including linolenic acid and linoleic acid, are important for good nerve function. The myelin cells that form a sheath surrounding nerve axons are fatty cells. Olive oil, being less processed and more natural, is one of the best sources of oil.

Detoxification: Toxins in the body can hinder normal function and bring on depression or malaise. Avoid them as much as possible, including cigarette smoke, alcohol, mercury (Hg) or its vapors or amalgams (dental fillings), lead (Pb), etc. If you feel this may be a significant source of trouble in your case, a certified toxicologist should be able to assess your body's toxic burden and help develop a plan of therapy to remove the toxins.

Avoid caffeine. Caffeine increases the stress in one's system. It increases blood pressure and heart rate and opens the lungs, making one feel more alert and awake--but at the same time causing the body to function in a sort of "emergency mode" in which energy is borrowed from the future to meet present needs. When the addictive drug is gone, one's energy levels drop below normal. Caffeine is a common ingredient of beverages, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, and many sodas (e.g. Coke and Pepsi).

Sunshine: Sunlight helps the body form vitamin D which is an important hormone with respect to emotional and metabolic health. It is especially important in combating depression. Along with exercise, getting some sun serves to relax the body and induce sleepiness, making one's sleep at night more refreshing.

Water: Everyone knows the importance of water, but few realize how important it is to the brain. At night, when brain cells are less active, they shrink slightly in size, which opens a larger channel between them for the flow of fluids which removes the waste byproducts from their day's activity. Drinking plenty of water helps to cleanse these toxins from the brain, especially at night during sleep. Personally, I have found that a good glass of water before going to bed is worth an hour's sleep, even if it causes me to get up during the night.

Socio-emotional Health: It is important to one's own well-being to feel like a useful, valued part of society. This need cannot be met through self-centric activities; it can only be filled through focusing away from oneself to the needs of others. Find someone to help, someone whom you are able to assist. Whether or not you are thanked, you know that you have done something good and it will boost your own sense of self-worth--but hearing the appreciation for your efforts will really improve your morale.


Unless you know that this time of year is critical to some particular data-collection process in which you are engaged, I would suggest you take anywhere from a week to three weeks as a mini sabbatical during which you focus on your own well-being, in agreement with some or all of the suggestions made above. Give your mind a rest; it will be able to accomplish much, much more when it is refreshed. During this break period, make sure you have some time to reflect--away from the internet, social media, or other distractions.

Once you have had opportunity to put your mind back on track and to reflect on your goals for the future, I think you will be in a better frame of mind to tackle the final steps for finishing your degree. You already sense the wastefulness of all your past efforts if you end up short of your goal. The very fact that you presently seem to have lost your focus is indicative of just how strenuous those past efforts were. Don't let them be for nothing!

You can do it! After a bit of rest, buckle down and finish your work. You will be very glad that you did. Make it a goal to finish early. Once it's behind you, then you can go on to more pleasant things.

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