I just passed my comprehensive oral exam. I took a week off and have spent the better part of another week trying to build motivation to get back to work.

Now I have about a dozen things I could do for my project: delve into the observational or modeling literature, hunt down a tricky bug in my prototype model (several approaches!), derive the more general governing equations for my dissertation model, learn somebody else's code which I plan on basing my model on, restructure my prototype code (needed, but it'll take hours), and the list goes on.

I acknowledge that this is a broad and opinion-based question, but here goes:

What are some good ways to beat the post-orals slump?

  • 9
    Beer and barbeque.
    – Compass
    May 29 '15 at 19:32
  • 1
    Done that, went hiking several times, and I've played way too many video games! :-)
    – jvriesem
    May 29 '15 at 20:25
  • 7
    I find "code gardening" can be a useful thing to do when you're in the mood for procrastinating. It's productive (research code can always be made nicer!), but isn't as brain-intensive as thinking of new stuff.
    – Moriarty
    May 29 '15 at 20:57
  • 3
    @Moriarty: I'm in this situation, and because I work on a large established codebase with numerous external users, there's enough code gardening work that I could keep busy for years (and kind of have). This can be good in moderation, but quite dangerous in excess. May 30 '15 at 4:49

Patricia's answer works for the short term, but in the longer term you'll want to set a list of priorities. You should definitely start with a conversation with your advisor to determine what he thinks your priorities are, as you're probably going to want to work on those. That should be the start of your list.

After that, work through other tasks/commitments. Any collaborations you're participating in, any papers you're waiting to complete, any bugs you have to work through. Much of grad school can be treated just like any large project, so long as you list and prioritize your tasks you won't get too bogged down and lost in details.


The most urgent thing to do is to take a short vacation and celebrate. Go do something fun, unrelated to your research. If you live near a beach and the weather is nice, sit on the beach with a non-technical book. Go to any local tourist attraction. Eat a nice dinner with friends. Watch a movie.

A few days delay will not cost much, but could bring enormous benefits in your readiness to get on with the next steps.

  • 1
    Totally! I've been doing lots of R&R. The trick is stopping that and getting back to work! ;-)
    – jvriesem
    May 29 '15 at 20:26

Getting back into work after a break can be difficult because tasks are stacking up and taken together seem overwhelming. As you said,

I have about a dozen things I could do.

What helps in this situation is just to get started with something. Begin with whatever seems least daunting / most easy. Once you are a back in the "flow", you can start thinking about priorities, milestones etc.

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