I am wondering if anyone has experienced conflicting feelings of failure associated with their work? Essentially, I am struggling to continue my students and maintain a proactive attitude while continually facing an ever growing list of tasks.

I find myself struggling to even start the list in the morning, and when I do I either fixate on one particular task or rush it (which I later chastise myself for). Throughout my undergraduate degree I worked hard and made great progress, however upon reflection I find that unless I am sure my work is ‘perfect’ I am very reluctant to submit it, and will later feel guilty about it.

I guess most of these behaviors are associated with the fear of failure and/or self belief, or something such like. But I wonder if anyone else has experienced them in their work and if you have discovered any strategies/advice you think would be beneficial.

When I write a paper, I have strong feelings of shame about the work done or to be done. These feelings can get in the way of finishing or revising the paper, or sending it to colleagues. They often lead to me feeling, quite strongly, suicidal. Shame is the first thing I think of when I wake up. Not getting work done leads me to further feelings of inadequacy and panic over the future. Hence, these feelings make writing difficult, but overcoming these feelings requires finishing the work to a good standard.

As per the title:

How can a researcher write and research when they feel ashamed?

The shame is about the style of writing and the depth of the content/research. It is not about there being something wrong with the research. For example, I might read what I have written and feel too bad to fix it. Or, I might feel that the content (the research) is simply not deep enough, which makes going deeper difficult. Through perseverance, I finish writing papers. But, it takes a long time in an environment where both quantity and quality are important.

I have in the past seen and asked a university psychologist, but they didn’t have any specific advice. The psychologist was also supporting too many other members of staff and students to really give enough time to this problem, so I am not sure that this is an option to take again.

I am looking for techniques, founded in psychology, and ideally with some supporting evidence. But more general advice is also welcome.

As a PhD student in a multidisciplinary subject, I am grouped with a postdoc by my supervisor. In our lab, the usual rule is student do the theory and coding, and postdoc do the experiment.

My collaborator postdoc is highly unmotivated: he badly performed the experimental tasks that I told him to do (most of the time, the experiments was unqualified), and delayed our project progress.

I am much younger than him, and he refused to follow my instructions, and instead fed me with unreliable “ideas” and asked me to do his job… My supervisor knows the situation, but does nothing and just watches. Each weekly meeting I am the only guy having progress.

At end I had to do the experimental part myself. It was tough but finally the project was accepted to a top journal. I have done 95%+ works, but have to add the postdoc as a coauthor (he didn’t even take part in writing the paper)

I anticipate similar course of action in future projects. I can’t change the group.

How can I properly motivate my postdoc to get him work for me?

I have an undergraduate degree and I’m working as a medical researcher in a research lab, affiliated with a University. I’ve done very little since being employed, due to problems such as:

  1. lack of usable samples for projects
  2. equipment being broken down for long periods of time
  3. issues getting trained on equipment & techniques
  4. waiting on reagents with an otherwise unspecified delivery date

Sadly, roughly the first 6 months or so into work I was given very little to do so had to try and self direct as much work as possible, which I filled by teaching myself software programming and data analysis automation. There were several attempts to get me trained on things that would support my project but due to people being too busy or not wanting to give up time for their own work, every attempt failed and the training would get forgotten about. This was a difficult situation as the people training me were not actually a part of my group (I don’t actually do any work with my team), but collaborators/colleagues/students from other labs in the institute.

Programming worked very well for a good 4-5 months but now I’m back into another rut with all of my equipment being out of order with an unspecified ETA on repair as well still waiting on reagents. Whilst I know this happens in science all the time, when it comes on the back of nearly half a years worth of not a whole lot it’s hard to keep spirits high.

This has caused a severe reduction in morale and ‘excitedness’ about work and I often come in day to day feeling depressed and unhappy because all I can do at the moment is busywork (lab stocklists, cleaning, etc). How do people go about dealing with a slow moving or otherwise stagnant project for long periods of time?

I should mention that I love the environment I work in, including my boss and the people I work with. I got the opportunity to move to an entirely new state and experience a different way of living, which has been very nice. My boss is happy with my work (I was re-contracted) and says I have very good ideas and is sympathetic to my current situation but has little to offer in terms of solution, granted he’s not able to speed up repairs or make my reagents come in faster!

I am a 2nd year PhD student.

I regret my choice of grad school severely. The program here has a good reputation and I have no idea how or why it has a good reputation. The program here is absolutely terrible. The location is terrible and depressing, classes are completely useless, the qual system is really terrible (I passed them, I still think the way they’re done is awful), most of my cohort are petty and childish (although I’ve found a few very good people here who I’m super grateful for), I have no support basically. I have met many people in the department that feel the same way: ranging from other grad students to professors.

This program is awful and coming here was one of the worst decisions of my life. I had other good programs I could have gone to.

I’ve found it much harder to read/do problems/etc. I barely do enough work just to pass classes. I try to focus on the stuff I want to do, but it seems like just by being here the subject is tainted.

Last night I found a problem online I tried working out but couldn’t. I spent all day today – I barely ate, I didn’t do anything else, I just worked all day long on this stupid problem that had nothing to do with anything. It was a blast! It reminded me of why I love my subject. I failed to find a solution…but it was still very productive and I learned a lot. I let myself get obsessed and I didn’t worry about all the issues here.

How do I keep this feeling? How do I stay motivated? The department here feels like it saps all of my will to do any work out. In undergrad I was so determined. I took some time off between undergrad and grad and it only made me more determined. I want to feel like I did today.

I looked into transferring into other programs but it seemed like it would be a huge pain and I’ve been able to make it through the worst part of the program pretty quickly.

I am a few months away from completing my PhD (nanotech/chemistry), I’m “just” writing my thesis. But I somehow feel like I have lost my motivation and I am confused about my future. I began the PhD with great enthusiasm, as I was going to do organic synthesis again after a short break.
As the project (together with a company) progressed, I felt the pressure from the company to just deliver something. So, I felt like being pushed to cut some corners in the academic work, just to present something for my boss and the company, eager to get some products launched.
Later the project changed focus in a direction a little far from my skill set and I got a new supervisor in the company. But my frustrations increased during the last year, not only because I had little progress, but also because I never felt my boss appreciated my work. Actually, they didn’t really bother listening to what I have learned and continued doing things their way (why was I hired in the first place?). My supervisor at the university is a really nice person and really skilled in organic chemistry, but he has little experience in my project and is always way too busy to give proper advice.
Sometimes, I just feel like a useful idiot, working many hours (sacrificing time with my kids) without much appreciation in the other end.

Alright, that was the background. Basically, I love developing new stuff and doing research, but I don’t feel at home in the industry. At the university I am at right now, they can’t really use a guy like me with my broad but vague skill set. Another university (actually my alma mater) would really like me to work there, but they lack the funding. Adding to this, I cannot readily identify what I am passionate about – other than working in the lab.

So, I guess I am stuck in a dilemma. I feel like I’m not skilled enough (despite I made my first publication just after getting the BSc) to be interesting for the universities. But going to the industry, the little hope left for an academic position will vanish after short time. Maybe things will work out just fine if I just work with the things I love doing – whatever they are.

Any suggestions? I had a passion for organic chemistry once, particularly medicinal chemistry, but I’m not sure if I’ve been working for too long away from hardcore organic chemistry to be considered at i.e. drug companies.

I would like to ask this community for help in finding good strategies for avoiding an aspect of my mindset that I don’t much like, which I get when I’ve been working on a given project for a while – I begin to lose track of how novel and nontrivial the work is, sometimes leading to full-on crises of confidence in my work and, in bad cases, in my capabilities.

This happens to me once I’m rather deep into the project, around the stages of writing it up, defending it in correspondence with referees, and preparing presentations on the subject. (To anchor things a bit, I am a theoretical physicist working on analytical approaches in quantum mechanics.) In the initial stages of the project, and particularly at the times I have significant breakthroughs of either a technical or a conceptual nature, the elation and thrill of discovery will carry me a long way, and I end up building quite elaborate conceptual and mathematical structures that I am quite pleased with.

However, as a result of the familiarity that comes with using those initial breakthroughs over and over again, after some time they begin to ‘flatten’ in my mind as just regular features of my work, and the nontriviality of the tools I’ve built begins to wash out as the pains I felt when building them begin to fade into the distance. This is a version of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, though maybe contempt is a bit too strong – it’s just the over-familiarity that’s the problem.

Now, this isn’t really burnout, as this doesn’t impact my day-to-day motivation to work or the energy I have to do it, and I continue to have interesting questions to work on and interesting answers for them. However, when I’m building a case for my work, particularly in writing, I find it hard to muster enthusiasm about the initial building blocks (usually the key advances in the work, particularly as perceived by an outsider) and to see them as anything other than well-trodden ground and everyday sort of fare. I know that it’s because that’s the ground I tread on every day, and that no one else does thus far, but it still impacts how I write about those tools and it makes it harder for me to present them with their full impact on the field.

I know that to some extent this sense of ‘flattening’ comes from the fact that as time goes on, I often find simpler routes to the results and tools of interest, and I know at an intellectual level that the existence of those simpler routes does not negate the effort it took to find the first one. That is, a result X that took months to understand can also be seen by spending a modest amount of effort building Y and then you “just add Z”, but that still doesn’t mean that the result is obvious to outsiders, and I know that the wholesale replacement of complex machinery for simpler tooling is also an achievement by itself. However, at a gut level, I still struggle seeing the result X in its full nontriviality, and it keeps flattening into just a trivial consequence of Z.

Moreover, I also have a good deal of objective evidence that the results are new and nontrivial, particularly in the fact that if I meet someone and walk them through the work, then the sheer amount of time it takes to go from baseline through the problem and tooling and up to the main results tells me that the material is indeed nontrivial, even after the simplifications. Similarly, the positive feedback I get in those situations tells me the work is worth its salt. However, that often lodges at an intellectual level but fails to register too much at a gut level of emotional handling.

I hope I’ve been able to describe this mindset sufficiently well. If nothing else, I would like the reassurance of knowing that I’m not the only one that faces this, but more importantly, I would like to know how folks with more punches under their belt handle this kind of situation, and what strategies I can try to regain an outsider’s view of how novel and nontrivial my results are.

This question is aimed almost entirely at “higher” education faculty, regardless of the branch(es) of knowledge that they represent.

My intention is not to be rude and/or to insult people here, jut to give some of my thoughts about an assignment of homeworks and/or similar tasks.

I did some research in the field of “assigning homeworks and/or similar tasks”, mostly by talking via my facebook chat with students and people who finished their college and who are from Croatia, and, when they had some courses in which there was an assignment of homeworks or similar tasks, some instructors(professors) insisted that the homework must be solved and given to them, while some were not so strict and for them the student had either the possibility of giving her/his (or his/her) homeworks so to obtain extra points which could affect their final grade in that course.

If you ask me, both of these methods of work are not good enough, the first one is extremely destructive, and the second one is destructive (but not extremely), and what is being destroyed is relationship professor-students and, also, the motivation and inspiration for the course itself.

Because, the professor should do precisely this:

1) She/He should do all that he can to motivate and inspire as much as possible as many students as possible in such a way that they do see that the course that they are attending is interesting and worthy of research, and is probably needed later in such a way that other courses will be built by some (or all) knowledge that comes from the course she/he is giving to the students.

2) She/He should explain to students that it should be good for them to try to solve some exercises in the books they encounter, and she/he could give to them some exercises that could help them to gain better understanding of what is going on in the subject-matter of the course, because even if some youngsters are determined to do very good research work and/or to teach, or to do one of those two things, they will probably do it better if they actually were solving some exercises and problems and saw from that how generalizations are and can be obtained, and how an attitude toward doing some exercises can raise questions that can clarify a lot what exactly is going on.

3) She/He should explain to students that the test(s) they will have to write (or, more generally, attend to) will include in itself the obvious requirement that they were not lazy during the duration of that course, and that they will have a better chance of passing the exam if they decided to practice (during the course) various approaches and methods in their adventure of solving some exercises and, more generally, tasks, and the more they exercise in a right way the more they will master the subject-matter of the course.

The approach where students must do a homework, or where they need not to do it, but if they do not do it then their grade can be lowered down, or be not as high as it could be if they did the homeworks are non-inspirational and contain in itself an elements of force (I could also say violence, but will not), because, some gratitude should be shown to those youngsters, because they actually came to listen to you, and want to learn something new, and want that you inspire them, and want that you be good to them, and want that they have as much freedom as they can during the attendance of your course and during an activites that are related to your course.

And what do you do? You put on their shoulders a burden of “necessary” homework or of “not needed but I could reward you if you do it” homework.

But, they can work in groups and/or with themselves only, even if they are not forced or “almost-forced” to do something. They will surely do exercises if they are interesting to them and if they are presented to them in an interesting and clever way.

Yes, there will be some that will not do them them even with almost the nicest and cleverest approach presented to them, or they will do them but will not feel the need to present them to someone, be it professors or colleagues attending the same course. And there will be some that will gladly do them and ask professors for better approach and/or advices. But neither group will not feel less worthy because some did the homework and succeeded in attaining the higher grade, and some did not and because of that their grade is lower than of some colleague who did all or almost all of the homework assignments.

So, I am just thinking of an approach where everything will be at least as good as it is, but where there is no tendency to reward in this or that way students who wanna do their homework and exercises in the course, and not to reward those who do not wanna.

I should tell that English is not my native and I am not good at it, so it could be that I did not reflect my thoughts crystally clear the way I wanted.

So, it would be nice to know what do you think about the concept of studying where there are no homeworks and/or similar tasks that must be done, and of the same concept where are also no homeworks and/or similar tasks where doing them could award some students, and not doing them could not-reward some other students?

Also, as I am not a professor anywhere, it could be that I am not competent for even asking something like this, or to go into discussion about approaches of this kind, and also, all of this was researched only with students or those who finished the college in Croatia, so that I do not know generally what is the situation in the whole world.

I’m 22, and I’m one year into my PhD in History. I immediately started my PhD after finishing my master’s, working with the same supervisor. Throughout the years, I’ve started to become more and more anxious when it came to writing essays and doing research. I hated working on my master’s thesis, but I nonetheless grabbed the opportunity to start a PhD, because I convinced myself that it was something that I would be good at, I wanted to overcome my anxiety and challenge myself mentally, and the stipend is very decent. Now I’m one year into my PhD, and I’m constantly anxious and depressed. I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing, I have huge problems concentrating. My head feels so scrambled right now, that I can barely figure out my research questions and key thesis. Whenever I read articles on my topic, I feel like I can barely manage the information. I feel stupid and totally inadequate. Communicating with my supervisor is horrible, since I go mute from anxiety mid-conversation.

I feel trapped in my PhD. I feel horrible, but I also feel like I can’t quit, because I would disappoint so many people and regret it for the rest of my life.

Any advice on coping with these issues, and getting back on track? Any particular advice on how to start delineating a research project? Am I already in a hopeless situation, or can I still ‘save’ my PhD?

Edit : My university doesn’t offer counseling for PhD students, but I have been seeing a shrink for the past year. I don’t know if I’m improving or not.

I’m starting to prepare my application for scholarships to do MSc in Europe. One of the requirements, of course, is the motivational letter. I was interested: how personal should the essay be? How many hints about your passion in the chosen MSc programme are ideal? I don’t want to sound pathetic and unrealistic in my application and will try to convey as realistic motivational goals as possible in the letter. But are there boundaries where being too personal in your statements will be considered a negative thing?