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I am in my 2nd year of a neurosceince PhD in europe. The project had a very clear vision even before I had applied. This meant that I came into a project which was well defined and planned with many intersting findings ahead of itself. My previous experience during my master's project was quite challenging as I had a supervisor who was often harsh and critical. So, it was very refreshing to have my current supervisor and post-doc advisors. They are extremetly nice people, and I could not be happier with them.

My first year was very productive where I did many experiments (as planned), and one point my supervisors even joked about me being a "super PhD student". In the begining of my 2nd year however, I hit a big snag. I fell into a deep depression, during which I found no joy in any aspect of my work, not even in basic activities like eating and sleeping. My primary task was to perform computational analysis on certain experiments, but I struggled immensely with it. I genuenly belived that I was incapable of figuring out the coding part of the analysis, or come up with anything new. This went on for 8 months. Eventhough my supervisors were very helful, I did not go to them soon enough becouse I was afraid of being kicked out. I continued doing experiments, but did not come up with any data or results to show people.

Right now, I am in the last 3 months of my 2nd year. I seem to have suddenly gotten my mojo back, and started to read and write again. I have mental strength and energy to bounce back, but my post doc supervisor has mentioned that she is loosing faith in me. The kind of work I do takes time, but because I am not doing statestics correctly, it is making my post-doc worried that she will have to go through the stats after me.

I have done original work on my own before, and that felt different. In those instances, I was able to handle most tasks on my own, although I acknowledge that the difficulty level was very low. But here, I am just following orders to complete a very intereting project. I only introduced one experiment on my own, rest everything is their idea. I feel like my job can be done by a technician. This is again effecting my good spirits, which was very hard to get back. Eventhough I have thought of quitting and ending things so many timmes this year, I have decided not to do so.

Realistically speaking, I cannot do anything "new" in an years time in this feild working with animals. But also dont want to feel like I am getting a degree that is not my own. What should I do here to stay motivated? I am planning to talk to my supervisor, but I dont know what to say so that I don't sound ungrateful. Because, I am very grateful for this oppertunity. Pursuing this line of work has been a lifelong dream, and I'm concerned that I may not be meeting their expectations as a PhD student, which worries me even more about the situation.

PS: One important observation I made - in both good and tough times, I've been consistent in my teaching efforts. I've mentored students and organized science events successfully (from the feedback I got). This makes me wonder if I might be more suited for teaching than research. Even though I enjoy research a lot, the stress associated with it ( especially during challenging times) has me questioning if it's the right path for me. And if its worth it.

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Can you clarify the question? We're a Q&A site, so while you may really want "mentoring" or general advice, we tend to be most helpful if you can identify a particular decision you need to make or an unknown you need to understand.
    – cag51
    Oct 13, 2023 at 21:23

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This is a long post, but one part jumped out at me:

The kind of work I do takes time, but because I am not doing statistics correctly, it is making my post-doc worried that she will have to go through the stats after me.

Your post is framed in terms of personal shortcomings and abilities and feelings, but this criticism is not about any of these. It's a very important professional criticism of your work. You need to learn how to respond to professional criticism, which often involves learning new skills and understanding new areas of research. These are the essence of the learning process during the PhD, you will not be successful if you feel okay with not doing statistics correctly.

I'd work with your advisor(s) to better understand your shortcomings and then learn what you need to learn for your research. This is not about what you can and can't do, it's about what you haven't learned yet and now is the time to do it.

I think the more you feel confident in all the different steps involved in your project the more proud you will feel about your overall contribution. It's common in biology that a student's contributions to designing new projects come later on: you may help write and collect preliminary data for a grant that will fund the next student, just like a project was handed to you. You'll get to participate in all the pieces of the adventure even if it's not all the same adventure.

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It is normal to feel the way you are feeling during a PhD. But it's important to remember that a PhD journey is not just about the destination but also about the journey itself. It's about learning, growing, and becoming a better version of yourself. It's about overcoming obstacles and coming out stronger on the other side.

Remember, it's okay to struggle and it's okay to ask for help. Your supervisors are there to guide you, not judge you. Don't be afraid to reach out to them when you're struggling. They want you to succeed just as much as you do.

Regarding your concerns about not doing anything "new", remember that every contribution, no matter how small it may seem, is valuable. Even if you're following orders or doing work that could be done by a technician, you're still contributing to the larger goal of the project. And who knows? You might stumble upon something unexpected along the way.

As for your worries about not meeting expectations, remember that everyone progresses at their own pace. Don't compare your journey to anyone else's. Focus on your own growth and development. And most importantly, don't forget to celebrate your victories, no matter how small they may seem.

Also, regarding your interest in teaching, it's great that you've found something you're passionate about! Teaching is a noble profession and if it brings you joy, why not pursue it? You could consider becoming a professor or a lecturer after completing your PhD. That way, you can continue doing research while also teaching and mentoring students.

Remember, this is your journey. You get to decide what path you want to take. Don't let fear or doubt hold you back. You've got this!

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