I am in the fourth year of my PhD and I am due to complete in four years. My advisor wants 5 journal papers. I have:

  • One published article.
  • Two articles under review with two different journals, one of the articles has previously been rejected 3 times.
  • One manuscript being checked by my advisor.
  • Two more works-in-progress, but I seem to have reached a limbo with these works.

Can someone tell me if my progress is bad, average or good?

When I started my PhD, I would give a lot of effort to the work. I would keep track of how many hours I am giving to my work, would try to make up if the amount of hours dedicated to my work is less.

Recently, for the past 3-4 months, I am unable to feel that dedication that I felt earlier. I can see I am working way less, but I can't find a way to make myself motivated to work faster and work more.

I am feeling helpless. I am feeling very guilty that I am wasting my time. But when I sit with my work, things go blunt, my brain seems to stop working. I really don't know how should I get out of this phase.

I am failing to get myself motivated to work harder. The interest is dwindling. I wish I worked more hours but I am failing to do so. I want to work harder which I am not able to do now.

Please help me out here if possible.

Advisor info: I do all the work, he just checks the grammar. I do not get any technical input from him. If I talk about how low I feel he would just say, " PhD is like this, don't lose hope". The repetition of these lines does not do any good to me.

  • 3
    Your "advisor wants 5 journal papers" (presumably published), you have 1, need 4 more. You've one paper rejected three times; perhaps aim for a less prestigious journal if rejected again, otherwise consider abandoning it. You have another paper being reviewed. Assuming both works are accepted, then you need just 2 more. That seems like good progress for your half-way point. Especially as you have one manuscript with your advisor and a further two in progress.
    – user2768
    Nov 28, 2017 at 14:27
  • 10
    In which subject is it normal to have at least 5 journal publications for a Phd?
    – Mare
    Nov 28, 2017 at 15:16
  • @Mare the requirement might be a country norm, rather than a discipline norm. (Note that the quality of those journals isn't specified.)
    – user2768
    Nov 28, 2017 at 15:28
  • @Mare Maybe it´s a cumulative dissertation instead of a monography.
    – asquared
    Nov 28, 2017 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


Scientific work is always a high stakes gamble. You are never guaranteed to succeed and several failures in a row usually result in a quite depressing state when you lose the willingness to try anymore completely. It is nothing unusual. Here are the techniques that I usually employ when getting nowhere for a long time.

1) Step back and relax. Forget about it all for a month at least. Live your life (I hope there are some things you enjoy besides solving problems, working in the lab, and writing papers).

2) Talk to people in your field or go online (to MathOverflow, say) to see what they are working on and have trouble with. If you are not at the very bottom, there will always be a lot of people whom you can help. Boosts your self-confidence quite a bit.

3) Remember that you are under no obligation ("obligation" is not the same as "pressure") to produce anything or to prove to anyone that you are any good. You came to the parallel universe to wonder, explore, and play. So, just do exactly that. Read something funny in your field, ask yourself some "stupid" questions, etc. Just get the feeling that you belong to the scenery around you and can enjoy small streams and hills before trying to cross a big river or to climb a mountain.

4) Look at Hubble telescope images and try to imagine all the distances, times, and energies involved. That puts you with all your worries, ambitions, and desires in the right perspective. Don't care too much about the problems of something as insignificant as one unit in over 7 billion on some God's forgotten planet in the far corner of some minor galaxy, totally dispensable and replaceable any time. Concentrate on the outside world. You can figure out something about it before your time is over, that is the only game really worth playing in serious, and you are totally qualified to participate in it despite the fact that there always will be much stronger players around.

There are more, but these four work well enough. And, of course, complain about your situation to your friends any time you want. No need to handle everything alone :-)


What you are feeling is totally normal and very common. You are so close, yet feel so far, burnt out from years of struggle, and still told to produce more and more.

1) Don't give up - you've come very far and are in line to earn the highest degree one can aspire to. If it was easy, everyone would have one.

2) Its time to become very familiar with the actual requirements for PhD at your institution. I'd be surprised if your school stated '5 published papers' as a requirement. This is your advisor's attempt to impose arbitrary rules and perhaps get more out of you. If its time to get this done, find out what the stated process is, and start it. Your professor will have some clout, for sure, but if you take the bureaucratic route, things will start moving. And don't worry about what he/she will think - this is about you and your work and your sacrifice.

To me, your progress seems fine, though I haven't seen the content of your work. I have seen PhDs awarded with 0 published papers, and some of those projects were great ideas that just didn't pan out. I've also seen PhDs awarded to candidates with 5 crappy published papers.

Chin up, get it done. Once you have it, no one can ever take it away.

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