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I am having a personal crisis and I thought maybe I should ask for some guidance in this forum.

I have been in grad school in 4 years, failed qualifiers once passed at second attempt. I am dedicated to my math-intensive research area, queueing theory, yet I still feel I am far away of being an expert in it. I have only almost finished a paper, that requires feedback from my advisor but I feel I am a big failure. My advisor thinks that I am ready to propose my thesis (thus make an early presentation to committee) next month and possibly graduate next summer. The trouble is, although I respect his opinion, even if I do get my PhD I think I will feel like I don't deserve it. It is as if I hit the magic 4 year landmark and being allowed to graduate.

Now, publication record may not be the only indicator as in my department people don't publish as much as in other fields. When I look at some good thesis's I feel that mine can be considered as masters (personal not confirmed opinion). In retrospect, all the proofs I stuggled seem so easy to me. Although I never considered acedemia as a career path and only consider industry, I more and more feel that I am a failure and will have achieved so little in the last years. I have been always aware of the challenges of grad school but I feel I messed up somewhere considering I work 10 hours each day, at most a day off weekends and having no time left to cultivate my interests, develop new friendships or develop other useful skills.

Maybe I should also mention that I am doing my studies in a top 20 US university, people mostly have the impression that I am smart, and I am aware that I have learnt so much during the last 4 years. I have read many books on productivity, learnt about Feynman's method, watched TED videos. I started going to gym to manage my stress and I think that smartness is a matter of knowledge and I have the capacity to be smart. I don't regret going for a PhD but on the other hand I can't stop feeling like I wasted my years in going grad school and maybe should have just gone to a mundane job where I'd have time to read about architecture, finance or philosopy and be a much more interesting person.

Does anyone share or shared the same feelings? Any advice to people in my situation? Any help appreciated

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    Check out the answers to this question on the Imposter Syndrome. – J. Zimmerman Sep 9 '14 at 2:23
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    You may also want to talk to the school's mental health folks since this sounds like you could also be dealing with some clinical depression. Exercise is a good start toward developing coping skills for that; there are others, and sometimes chemical assistance is worth considering. – keshlam Sep 9 '14 at 2:58
  • "In retrospect, all the proofs I stuggled seem so easy to me" all questions are easy once you know the answer. – Davidmh Sep 9 '14 at 8:31
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I had some similar experiences in the recent past.

I still feel I am far away of being an expert in it

No one can be an expert in a whole domain. Being expert/perfect is an ideal situation in my personal opinion. So in case you are not an expert, there is nothing bad in it. You admit that you are not an expert so this is a positive point, it means you are able and willing to improve yourself and your knowledge. It means that even if you get a PhD degree, you'll still try to get more knowledge.

even if I do get my PhD I think I will feel like I don't deserve it

You seem to be a perfectionist. But remember no one is actually perfect. Each one of us has some strengths as well as weaknesses. How can you measure perfection? This is not absolute in my personal opinion. Have you ever thought why relative grading system is mostly used for evaluation instead of absolute grading? Because we cannot live in isolation. We are living in a society,interacting with our fellow human beings. So we need to be evaluated relative to our fellows. If you don't deserve a PhD, what about your fellows? When your supervisor is sure that you have possess certain knowledge level at which you can present your work, it means it is relatively better than many others. If those others can get a PhD, you can also deserve it. (Even if you ACTUALLY don't deserve a PhD after some time when you'll get out of this phase of life, you'll start thinking this way).

In retrospect, all the proofs I stuggled seem so easy to me

Why don't you try to think yourself as an intelligent or genius person? The same proofs may be too difficult for someone else who is not actually interested in this domain. You may disagree but in my personal opinion, apart from the industry-academia discussion, you are interested in your research domain because without interest one can't achieve this level. However, you have been working too much on the same things for a long time that you have got bored from the same lifestyle and you need a break and a change.

Although I never considered acedemia as a career path and only consider industry

I consider industry-academia debate to be separate from the research-development debate. And i think you are getting confused between the two. Industry is incomplete without academia and vice versa. Similarly research and development support each other. Most of us consider one of them to be more important that the other and hence get confused. We can characterize them in two ways... 1. what we get, 2. what we give
Try to think seriously about choosing industry, academia or a combination of both and evaluate the pros-cons of each choice in terms of your time, energy, monetary benefits, work-life balance many other job motivational/demotivational factors. However, according to my personal experience and understanding, you are sick and tired of your routine in academia and you have been overloaded with work in the recent past which has disturbed your work-life balance. Considering industry as an alternative would only worsen the situation because job in industry can be more time and energy consuming.

I work 10 hours each day, at most a day off weekends and having no time left to cultivate my interests, develop new friendships or develop other useful skills.

Take out some time for yourself. If you are able to afford, take some leave from your current job (atleast a month or so) and spend some time at home with your family and friends. Make sure that you are completely disconnected with the official/research work/supervisor and any relevant person who can give you relevant news. After spending around 15 days of your holiday, start working part time with some other faculty member of almost the same domain but with relatively different research interests as your supervisor. You'll probably automatically start comparing that faculty member with your supervisor and will most probably start missing your supervisor. You'll realize that you were taking him/her for-granted. Its just that you have been working with your supervisor for some time now and you know much about him/her technically so you don't find something new in this experience. As a result, you start thinking that their is nothing special in what you are doing. Hopefully at the end of your holidays,you'll be back fully energetic and enthusiastic to pursue your work.

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  • +1 RoarkAr, I hope you manage to take a little time off, and talk to the school's mental health folks. But in any case, it sounds like you are not the best judge of your accomplishments right now. I suggest you rely on your advisor's judgement for now. Also, talk to your advisor about how you are feeling. – mhwombat Sep 9 '14 at 10:03
  • @arj I can't thank you enough. I am in a much better mood now and I think you are absolutely right. Whenever I feel same way again I'll look at your message and remind myself all these. Also, your point about research-development vs industry-academy makes a lot of sense to me according to my own experiences. Finally I'll try to take some time-off and relax as you suggested. Again I truly appreciate your insightful answer.. – RoarkAr Sep 10 '14 at 2:50
  • @mhwombat thanks a lot. Your suggestions seem to make a lot of sense too.. – RoarkAr Sep 10 '14 at 2:52
  • @RoarkAr you are always welcome. – arj Sep 10 '14 at 4:19

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