Nov 23 2020

Overcome stress when doing PhD

Tony Man

Case Studies

Holding a PhD degree is a dream of many people, however, it is not easy at all. If you ask any PhD holder, I am sure that 99% of people will say that they suffered serious stress during their PhD period, only 1% of people enjoy their Phd because they are geniuses. Thus, if you are doing a PhD and being stressed, let go through this article, you may find the way to overcome it.

1- Stuck and can not find the research direction

After starting your PhD journey, you can not find the research direction to publish research papers. You feel that too much knowledge to understand and how to apply them to solve a specific problem and you may think that “oh I am so stupid, how can I overcome the PhD defend, should I quit ????!!!
No worries, most PhD students are like you. Indeed, doing a PhD is a long marathon, you have to take at least four years to complete this journey. There are some stages that PhD should know.

1.5 year, the most stressful time for PhD students, you have to read a ton of documents, and often work overnight at the lab to find research direction and initial results. Thus, if you can write the first research paper in this period, it means that you are in the right direction. However, after two years, you still feel stuck, I would like to advise that you must discuss with your professor or colleague to find the reason and re-route the PhD journey. Otherwise, you will suffer more stress as the time flies.
    • Note that you should not hide your feelings as you are stressful, this only makes your situation worse.
    • Always find someone to talk or to discuss, you can overcome this period easier.
    • Doing exercise, going to the gym, and joining outside activities are alway good methods to get rid of stress.
    • In my opinion, meditation or yoga is the best method to improve your concentration and make you have positive thinking. 

2- 3 year, you will feel happy as you find the solution for open problems, and can publish more papers to satisfy the PhD requirements. This may be the most beautiful time of PhD students. Otherwise, if you cannot find the research direction in this period, I recommend that you should think carefully about your current topic to not waste more time, even if you can quit your PhD if you think that it is not suitable for you. No complete PhD does not mean that you are a stupid person, it only means that you are not suitable for the academic career. I have many friends who quitted their PhD but are very successful in other jobs. 

4-5 year (may be more), you start writing your thesis and prepare for your defence. This is a stressful period also. You have to collect all documents to write your thesis, the introduction part of your thesis always consumes a lot of time. You need to survey all publications that other researchers do. Further, you have illustrated what are your novel contributions in your thesis. You always ask questions, can I pass my PhD? What happens if I fail? 

Please do not overthink about the defence, just focus on writing your thesis and prepare your presentation. Always remember that opponent and committee come to celebrate your defence. Thus, they never want to fail the PhD student on this day. If your thesis has any problems, the opponent and committee often announce it to you or your supervisor before the defence day, and you may have more time to fix it. Of course, you may fail in the defence day,only if you have problems as follows:

    • Violate plagiarism in your thesis and have problems about ethics in your PhD period
    • Fake results
    • Seriously fails in investigating your problem 

2- Feeling very bad at writing

The writing skill is one of the most important skills in doing a PhD. Indeed, this skill is very difficult because the PhD student must read a lot of documents, understand them, generate new knowledge, and write them down such that people can understand. This is a long process and requires high effort from a PhD student. Almost all PhD students feel very stressed with writing for the first paper, however it will become better for next ones. 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

In order to overcome this situation, you should prepare and train yourself as soon as possible. You can do in the following steps:

1- Read research articles as much as possible and take note of good sentences to use in the future. Of course, you must rephrase to fit with your contexts and not violate the copyright rules. 
2- It is perfect if your supervisors can help you to improve the writing.
3- Ask your college to give comments on your writing but be careful with novel ideas.
4- Using grammar checker tools or even Google doc is the perfect tool to get rid of grammars.
5- Use editor proofreading services, you have to pay money for renting these services. In my experience, this is the last solution. It is much better if you can do it by yourself. 

(to be continued...)