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Help me with PhD fear / lack of self-confidence / demotivation please! (sorry - quite long)

(20 Posts)
demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 11:56:15

I'm really struggling sad. I am doing a prt time PhD while working full time (I work 5 days a week, have one study day and one free day) and I have two lovely dc in primary school. I know people cope with all sorts of huge workloads, but I am really struggling with mine. I don't want to give up though, for the following reasons:

1. I really enjoy my academic work. Really, really love it.
2. My PhD is funded by my organisations linked to my paid work.
3. If I complete it, it will help my paid work a lot.
4. My paid work is very male-dominated, and as a woman, I want to be able to make a contribution, make it easier for women in that line of work etc.
5. My paid-work industry really wants me to do this. They can see the benefits that I could bring.
5. Without boasting, I've done well academically so far. I know, on a rational level, that if I complete my PhD, I'll be one of the best qualified women working in this area in the UK, and one of a small handful internationally.
6. If I give up, I'll always regret it.

But, on the other hand:

1. I love my family and don't want to sacrifice their well-being.
2. I love my job, which pays for us to live. I can't give it up for financial reasons, and even if I did, my PhD would be pointless anyway as it relates to that field of work.
3. My employers are relatively generous at giving me bits of time here and there to attend seminars, conferences, etc, and to do bits of emergency academic work grin - but it is a very full-on job that I do, and it requires a lot from me intellectually.
4 I am always just so exhausted.
5. In the midst of all this, I've become very demotivated and fearful - I realised today that I'm terrified of my supervisor. Even with my background, academic achievements thus far etc, I really lack self-confidence and feel like I'm doomed to fail.
6. My PhD is being done via a very competitive and intense university, and that piles on the pressure. The supervisor (of whom I am terrified) is world-class. I feel so muc like a bumbling, barely literate fool.

I don't know what I need, really. I haven't talked to anyone in RL about this other than DH (who is encouraging me to carry on). As I said, the university is a hothouse so if I told anyone there how I feel, I'd be told, either implictly or explicitly, that I'm not cutting the mustard. My work is full-on, and has invested quite a lot of money in my doing this PhD, so if I drop out, it would be a loss for them; so I'm quite good at doing the 'yes, it's going fine, thanks' thing. Did I just bite off more than I can chew?

Where do I go to get my confidence and motivation back?

demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 11:57:13

I meant to add, thank you if you've read that lot! grin

megandraper Fri 14-Dec-12 12:05:50

hello demotivated! hopefully this is where you can get your confidence and motivation back!

i am also doing a PhD. I have 3 children, eldest has started school. I don't work fulltime though. I understand everything you've said, and totally sympathise.

Some suggestions, which you are free to ignore if they're unhelpful -

1. First of all, change your MN name! Call yourself want-to-be-more-motivated or getting-motivated if you like, but NOT demotivated! Postitive thinking!

2. Be realistic/ruthless about how much time you can give. Decide how much time you can work on your PhD, and when it is (which days/timeslots). And then accept you cannot give more, and refuse to give more.

3. Divide your PhD work into categories - 'Essential', 'Important', and 'NicetoHave'. 'Essential' is stuff that absolutely must be done, very soon. 'Important' is stuff that absolutely must be done, but not quite yet. 'Nicetohave' is EVERYTHING ELSE.

4. When you start one of your working sessions, begin with Essential and keep on going (you will never get to the end of this category!).

5. When Important stuff becomes Essential (because it's got to be done very soon, relabel it as such.

6. Accept right now that you will not ever do the NicetoHave stuff. it is for all those people doing PhDs when they don't have families (sensible people!) Lovely as it would be, you just don't have time for it.

Give yourself little rewards from time to time. Most of all, just accept that you're doing your best. Don't let PhD stuff spill into the time that's not allocated for it (family time). Yes, your PhD thesis would be better if it did, but you are focusing on getting it done in the allocated time. It will be the best it can be within that restriction.

That's my take on it, anyway.

megandraper Fri 14-Dec-12 12:06:20

Oh, I've done an answer even longer than your post! Probably because I should be working on my PhD right now. <goes to take own advice...>

demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 12:11:30

Thank you, Hopper! I like the idea of categorising into Essential, Important, and NiceToHave. I'm hoping that this will be published, so I do want to it to be good, but bth it is more important just to get the ruddy thing done.

The problem with time-allocation is that during my allocated study time I'm normally exhausted from work and family, so am nowhere near as effective as I need to be. If I were tip-top brimming over with energy, I'd probably have just about enough time to do everything.

It's nice to know that someone else is working on a PhD. How far through yours are you?

dotty2 Fri 14-Dec-12 12:41:04

Sorry to hear you're having a hard time. I'm doing a full-time PhD, with 2 DCs in primary school. And I also do some consultancy work and have quite a lot of voluntary/charity commitments, so I can empathise with the feeling of being over-committed. But - and it's a big but I think part-time PhDs must be harder. It's such a big commitment to do in your 'spare' time. So I think for starters, you shouldn't feel bad about struggling with the commitment - it's perfectly understandable.

Some random thoughts - how far through are you? I work in quite a big department and have observed the progress of lots of other PhDs, and quite a lot of people seem to feel pretty down and demotivated about a third or half way through - when the fun of being able to explore starts morphing into the reality of having to nail the topic. So maybe there's a bit of that going on for you?

(I have final year, haven't made enough progress panic, which is a whole different ball-game)

Beyond that, it seems to me that there are two things you need to address - your employer's attitude, and your relationship with your supervisor. Why are you scared of your supervisor? Is it just reputational, or because of how s/he treats you? If it's just reputational, you need to put that to one side. You are only a PhD student. That means learning how to be an academic. It's an apprenticeship. You don't expect apprentices to be able to perform at the level of their teachers. OTOH, if they are treating you in a way that is undermining of your confidence, you need to talk to someone about that - other students, another academic (is there a tutor with pastoral responsibility for the PhDs?). Maybe it's just this person's manner and you have to change your attitude to it - or maybe they are treating you in a way that is actually unacceptable?

And re. your employer - is there no way you can ask for more time off. Even one day off a month? It sounds as if it would reflect badly on them if you didn't finish - so if they're that invested in it, they could be a bit more supportive, surely?

Oh - and let the guilt about doing it for the sisterhood go! (Easy for me to say as I work in a v.female dominated field). But you can't shoulder that responsbility single-handedly.

Will stop now as I've gone on and on - but happy to chat more. I wish I had more RL friends to talk to about my PhD...

dotty2 Fri 14-Dec-12 12:44:03

Ha - interesting that bedhopper and I both did such mammoth x-posts! This tells you two things - that you're not alone, and that PhD students can write reams and reams, just not always in the right direction!

demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 12:52:51

Thank you Dotty! Really good to hear about your experience.

Regarding my supervisor; she is the 'suffer no fools gladly' type. I had a driving instructor who was similar and I was terrified of him too! blush She tests me quite hard in our supervisions, and I often feel like a bumbling idiot as I say 'Oooh, I'll have to have a think about that question...' She tells me when my writing is not up to scratch. She asks how the study/work balance is going, and tbh, I lie. She probably realises I'm lying, as she's not stupid. I know that she probably realises I'm lying, and feel stupid myself. Then she tells me how crap my writing is, just when I'm feeling stupid already...

Regarding the employer, I have broached the subject of more time off recently, and my boss was kind but non-committal, and gave me lots of tips on maximising my study time, some of which were quite good.

Regarding how through I am, well, acually, I'm only in the first term. So I'm figuring it all out, and am panicking that I've done nowhere near enough work to constitute a term's work. As the famous Spoonerism has it, I feel as if I've tasted a whole worm. grin

VenusRising Fri 14-Dec-12 12:53:26

I know when I was struggling to finish up I just had people scream at me to finish the blasted thing. As soon as I'd start moaning, they just snap and shout 'DO IT!'
It kick started me quite a bit. I think I was spending so much time worrying and moaning, I could have written up already.

Get some rest, and manage your time for some non thesis time - just allocate yourself 20 minutes a day where you ARE NOT to even think about it.

btw everyone feels a fraud IMVHE.

My advice: just do it. You'll feel sooooo much better when it's finished.
My post is short as I did a lot of stats and number crunching in mine!

demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 12:56:03

Thank you Venus! I actually have a 'bonus study afternoon' today, so I'm going to finish a piece of essential writing today. Next time I post, it'll be to tell all you wonderful people that I have emailed my scary supervisor with an attachment of my work! smile

TheWombat Fri 14-Dec-12 13:15:31

Hello demotivated. I am another one who thinks you sound very motivated, rather than the opposite. And I say that as a PhD supervisor.

I think that bedhopper gives great advice. To that, I would add 'do a tiny bit of writing every day' - even if it's just a couple of sentences.

My own supervisor used to say to me: Wombat, photocopying is not reading, - and it's so true. I used to spend a lot of time planning to read stuff and making myself stressed in the bargain with piles and piles of journal articles etc on my desk.

I would see if you can talk to your supervisor about this - it might mean she takes the pressure off in supervisions, although I think it's a really common thing for students to come out of supervisions feeling a bit battered. That doesn't mean it's necessary, however! It's fine to say 'hmm, I hadn't considered that, I'll have to give it some thought before my next draft'. If you had a perfect answer for everything you'd be already sailing through your viva!

Managing the supervisor relationship can be the toughest part of the whole process. But if it's tough, it doesn't mean you're stupid, it means you're being challenged, and your supervisor is trying to ensure that your contribution to knowledge is the best it can be. That said, there are plenty of crap supervisors.

One thing my uni does is have a PhD student mentoring setup (an academic in a related field who is not your supervisor and who you can chat to about your PhD experiences and from whom you can seek advice if you want to). Do you have a mentor and if not, perhaps you could approach someone in your department and ask if they'd consider acting as one for you?

Good luck with the writing this afternoon. If it's any help, I'm also struggling with my writing today hence the long MN post.

dotty2 Fri 14-Dec-12 14:37:09

It sounds to me, then, like your supervisor has a lot of respect for you and your work, takes it seriously, and is treating you like a grown up. Really, detailed criticism of your writing is a good thing. I only recently realised that my supervisor spent our meetings talking about the broader ideas and concepts around my topic, but had never really criticised my work in a detailed, line-by-line kind of way. So I asked him if he would for the next thing I wrote. I was in his office for 2.5 hours and came out feeling incredibly bruised and battered. So much so that I emailed him afterwards and suggested rewriting some of the bits that were especially bad, for practice. But he told me that this was all part of the learning experience - finding an authoritative voice. And I now realise the detailed criticism was just what I needed - and wish I'd had it sooner.

Don't lie about the balance thing when talking to your supervisor - it's OK to admit it's tough as long as you can demonstrate you're determined to cope. And press your employer - sounds like a bit of a 'don't ask, won't get' situation.

And I think it's absolutely true that everyone feels inadequate some or most of the time, but you have to not let it cripple you.

There are some good tips on managing your supervisor on the Vitae website, I think.

And good luck with this afternoon's writing - hope you get it done.

demotivatedstudentmum Fri 14-Dec-12 17:39:48

Hello again! I'm breaking my earlier resolve not to post until I've finished writing, but I am doing pretty well (I think, anyway!) grin I'm not far off emailing my supervisor with this work. A glass of wine tonight, I feel!

TheWombat, thank you! I suppose I wouldn't be doing this if I weren't motivated. I do come out of all some supervisions feeling a bit battered. I'm also, tbh, in mourning for my old university which I left this July, and my Master's supervisor who made me cups of tea and was just lovely. (I know, I know, there's nowhere as lovely as the place you've just left!) grin My new supervisor is a bit stern in comparison. I think that you're right though, Dotty, I think that she does believe in me and I'm sure that sees her role as getting the absolute best out of me, leaving no stone unturned, no thread hanging etc. in my work. Tough love!

Tbh, I just need to find it in myself to believe in myself. Everyone else believes in me. If you knew me in RL, you'd be amazed that I am feeling so lacking in self-belief; I come across as someone who is very 'sorted' and successful. (Sorry to boast!)

megandraper Sat 15-Dec-12 07:59:07

I've done about 2 years full-time (broken up with 3 maternity leaves!) and I've now switched to part-time for the remainder, so I'm due to submit in 2014 (which feels scarily close now).

Great advice about writing a bit - even a couple of sentences - every day.

You're still in the very early stage, so it's bound to feel scary - you're still feeling around your subject and looking for your main direction. My supervisor was pretty critical of my writing at the beginning (he is very supportive now) - I think they are trying to push you to find the right approach, so that you don't waste reams of time going off at a tangent.

Coming across as a 'sorted', 'successful' person often puts more pressure on you (I think I do this too) as you feel obliged to internalise any doubts, which makes them more scary.

Saying 'I'll have to think about it' is absolutely the right thing to do - your supervisor doesn't expect you to bounce back with a glib answer straight away. The important thing is that you do go away and think about it, and address the issue. Every time your supervisor seems to break down what you've done by criticising it, they're actually opening up an avenue for you to improve it, by thinking over what they've said and doing something about it. They don't mean your work is useless and you should chuck it away, they're getting you to dig deeper and re=form it.

It is such a difficult psychological thing to go through, I think. If and when I get my PhD I shall be dancing on the rooftops, with 'DR BEDHOPPER' tattooed across my face in jubilation. grin

dotty2 Tue 18-Dec-12 20:53:14

Hi bedhopper and newlymotivated (I hope). Why don't you come over and say hello on the PhD student support thread - it would be great if we could keep a conversation going over there.

megandraper Thu 20-Dec-12 08:03:47

Sounds good! Will look for it thanks

AnnIonicIsoTronic Thu 20-Dec-12 18:18:43

I have no answers but a lot of sympathy.

<marking place>

NewlyMotivated Sun 23-Dec-12 17:11:40

Hello all! smile Sorry I dropped off the thread a bit there - RL getting a bit busy. Thank you all so much for the advice and empathy, it does mean a lot. I've had a good meeting with my supervisor, and I know rationally that I have a great thesis / research question, and I have the ability t reseach it well. It's just convincing myself of that on a deeper level...I suffer terribly from 'imposter syndrome' professionally and academically [sigh]. Maybe hypnotherapy? (Only half-joking...)

Dotty, thanks, I shall come over to the PhD thread! smile

cumfy Tue 12-Feb-13 23:13:47

You must be pretty motivated to do this, it sounds very full-on.

If you imagine yourself doing just the day job or just the PhD, how do you feel ?

Margie44 Mon 29-Apr-13 22:04:55

Hi Newly Motivated!

I would really take on the advise of Dotty, my supervisor is the exact same way and she also has a good reputation academically (and she is so driven that even people in my department fear her). Hypnotherapy or NLP coaching are not bad ideas (although they are not the cheapest options), I have been to one NLP session and it has helped loads, helping me find that trust in myself that has been there all along but that decides to be hidden at times... I am also thinking if you have thought if your univeristy offers counseling sessions? You could ask for those and talk with a counselor, who should certainly listen to you and be empathetic (and it should be free!). PhD is stressing and we all have really been trhough that imposter stage, no matter at what phase of our phd... I also recommend going to to have a laugh smile it helps!
All the best and keep in touch!

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