I am currently writing a research proposal for a PhD in a very interesting field. While working on the proposal I noticed that I run through the following (emotional) stages:
- Enthusiasm: I think about the topic and am excited to work on it. I start thinking about what I want to do and how I am going to do it.
- Optimism: I do the necessary initial research on the topic and am still excited. My interest in the topic grows and I am very optimistic.
- Self-doubt: I start writing and suddenly I am confronted with questions I can’t answer. I start doubting myself and think about all the things I don’t know. I start thinking that I am incapable of finishing this and that I really have no idea about the topic and what is expected of me. I try pushing through but am really hitting a brick-wall.
- Desperation: I can’t get any work done because I don’t think I can do the work. I get depressed and angry and make no progress.
- Mild optimism: I somehow get myself to work on the project again. I start with the easy parts and just push through until it is all done. I start thinking that it wasn’t all that bad and that the desperation really wasn’t necessary. While I am mostly satisfied with the outcome I still doubt that the result is the best I could do.
Looking back at my time as a student1 I realized that I run through those stages every time I have to do scientific writing. While I am never quite satisfied with the result, I have always received great feedback and excellent grades from my professors.
Now that I am thinking about doing a PhD I am starting to doubt if I am the right candidate for this because of my difficult writing process. While I know a few people who run trough similar stages I also know people that are enthusiastic throughout the entire process and love writing scientific papers. Maybe those people are more suited for PhD programmes than I am.
So my question is: Are self-doubt and desperation a normal part of scientific writing?
Related questions: Can I still be a good researcher if I constantly doubt the quality of my work? Is there something that I can do to mitigate this part of the process?
1Not sure if this is relevant but I have written several smaller papers in class, two bachelor’s theses and two master’s theses (in different academic fields).