PhD Fraud #03: Space Oddity


Okay, so things feel like they’re getting right out of hand. It’s been on the slow burn for a month or two, but I’m totally starting to get backed-up into the same misery-hole that caused me a lot of grief around twelve months ago. It’s partly down to my less-than-stellar progress at work and partly down to massive feelings of low self-esteem; both of which encircle each other and spiral things right out of control. I recently tweeted a rather unsubtle cry for help, much of which was in an effort to understand who I really ‘am’, because somewhere along the line I think I’ve forgotten. I don’t know whether it’s the PhD that’s instigated these particular thoughts or not, but the documentation is being appended to the PhD Fraud series because I think it’s relevant.

Perhaps it’s the ever-approaching conclusion to the PhD journey that’s making me evaluate what sort of person I am, and what I want to be. Far from using this time to be reflective and figure out what I can do to make improvements to my life and where, it’s merely opened a whole can of self-doubt, self-criticism and self-loathing: it seems that whenever I’m face with difficulty or disappointments in my life, I turn that anger inward and blame myself rather than just getting on with fixing what’s wrong. Case in point: at the moment I feel like I’m some kind of repulsive, unattractive whale, but instead of doing something about either my looks or my weight, I turn the disgust inward and blame myself for not looking like Johnny Depp, or Davey Havok circa the video for ‘Beautiful Thieves’. What efforts I’ve made in the past to try and improve my appearance have invariably failed and left me in just the same situation of loathing my appearance, that I’ve kind of lost the energy to try any more. Self-confidence can have a massive impact on appearance, but when (almost) every day you look in the mirror and wish there was just some way of rearranging your face into anything else, you need a lot more of it than I have the capacity for.

I feel like I have zero motivation to  do anything right now, from pursuing my current work, to doing social things or even doing things I usually enjoy in my spare time. Right now, the only motivation for work is to just get it finished, but I sort of feel like I’m so far down the rabbit-hole that I currently have no idea where the end might actually be. I’m also finding it harder and harder to enjoy my hobbies and suchlike: I seem to have misplaced a lot of the passion that used to drive various aspects of my life, and I have zero energy to either try and track down where it’s gone missing or recoup some new passion from somewhere else. I can barely get myself fired up at all in the morning, and likewise when I get home: I’d just prefer to go to sleep (not that there’s been a lot of that recently) than to spend the free time socialising with friends or chilling out with a movie/video game and whatnot.

The outreach stuff I’m also doing is cool and taking my mind of the worries, but it only takes my mind off them but doesn’t eliminate them altogether. I’ve been putting off looking at a lot of my simulation results for a long time now, and recently came to the startling conclusion that it’s do-or-die time, and I desperately need to focus on that work because of the pressing need to publish results in journal papers and the final thesis. Over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to find other, equally-pressing things that I’ve needed to do and have focussed on those – however, that particular well has finally run dry and I don’t have anything legitimately important to otherwise do.  I need to hunker down to get intimate with the actual meat of my research, and it’s bloody terrifying because the time pressure alone is immense; let alone all of the other commitments that I’ve got going on with work this summer. I’ve also got a massive complex about the quality of my work and whether it’s to the standard that it should be at my stage of my career (hint: probably not), and feel almost perpetually on the edge of giving the whole thing up altogether and claiming defeat. That last comment may be exaggerated somewhat, but it’s perhaps not as far from the mark as you’d think.

I finally got round to submitting my first journal paper around a week or so ago, and was feeling relatively good about it (I’d just about got it into a state I was happy with), but heard this morning that it’s been rejected from the special issue I submitted. The editor did give pretty good feedback and suggested that the reason it was declined was not fault in the paper itself, but more that it didn’t quite fit with the aims of that particular issue: he indicated that if I fix a couple of things and submit to the regular journal, then it’d be in with a very strong shout of getting published, but it’s still a bit of a kick in the stomach for my mood levels. Current motivation for conducting research is rock-bottom as it is, without having further barriers being placed in the way such as journal rejections and whatnot. Even my leisure-time efforts seem to be met with just about as much success: musical proficiency doesn’t seem to be improving, friendships seem like they’re drifting away from me and maintaining a regular blog presence appears impossible.

So who am I? What makes ‘me’ me? At the moment, I’m having real trouble in pinning that down. I pretty much just feel like a huge, hulking ball of mass that’s actually no use to anyone and brings little joy to anyone else’s existence. Again, that might be a reactionary comment and slightly exaggerative, but ‘ball of mass’ is about as nondescript as I feel at the moment. Hopefully I can see out the rest of this week, struggle through the bits of work I need and then go on a week’s holiday to reset my circuits. Just feel epic low right now, and any assistance/encourage/feedback anyone can give is gratefully received. Dunno, maybe just a few kind words and a reminder of how awesome everyone is that’s around me might jolt my system into returning to a normal state; as it is, I’m floating in a most peculiar way.


3 thoughts on “PhD Fraud #03: Space Oddity

  1. Initially #tl;dr
    But then again I’m in the same boat.
    To the tune of…
    If I could offer you only one tip for the future, weekends would be it.
    The long term benefits of weekends have been proved by
    scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
    than my own meandering experience….I will dispense this advice now.

    Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth…For when it is gone, miss it you will.

    Anyway. that’s enough of that.

    Seriously though weekends are important. Or what counts for weekends in your weekly schedule.
    I found that during the conclusion of my degree Working 9-5 Monday-Friday meant I had zero motivation to do things outside of work. In this case, Uni work.
    The net result was that I spent my weekends and evenings pointedly NOT doing uni work. Which also meant I didn’t do much else as that was actively not doing uni work. Ie I did very little at all.

    Then I got all pissed off with it. Starting doing things with my weekends. Which resulted in feeling like I was actually doing something with my time other than avoiding uni work or actually working, so spending time doing uni things wasn’t that bad. It’s about contrast. As that largely resulted in an improvement in my general work “ethic” for want of a better word.

    Further to this. Party time in Hereford this weekend.

  2. I had The Fear today…mainly because I was tired, due to staying up to catch up on work until 2am (to be fair I had put it off until 10pm). It’s my own fault though because I had an awesome weekend. It’s a shame you couldn’t stay out longer on Fri! You suddenly disappeared. I also made it to the Dungeon on Saturday and hung out with some old friends on Monday…Although I got absolutely no work done it was really nice to have a chilled out evening with friends (drunk/chilled). Sometimes I forget how awesome everyone is!

    I’ve also given up on a few things that I usually do, mainly film watching (as you know). I think I’m scared of wasting time on things I won’t enjoy. So mainly I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad, which is quite addictive (hah). I also keep giving up on tidying any my room is constantly a state.

    I think I know what you mean about the identity crisis. I think about that myself on and off and might post about it at some point. Which reminds me, I’m very much looking forward to some gothing on the weekend in London 😀 It really makes me feel like myself again, and that I’m not just a PhD student (which is never something you can really be good at IMO, so feeling like it’s a key part of your identity is always a problem, for me at least).

    If you are actually going on holiday, then have a great time!

  3. Davidros says:

    FWIW, I’m getting a similar feeling about being completely unmotivated and caught in the doldrums lately. It’s easy to do when you’re trying to run away from boring and uninspiring work, and becomes a vicious cycle of doing fuck all all too easily. I think we both need an in force ourselves back in the habit of being Organised, Sociable, and doing Fun Stuff. I’ll let you know if I find it. 😛

    Oh, and though this is totally against the Rules Of Guy to say so, the bearded-and-short-hair-look you’ve had the last few years totally works, and makes you look awesome :D.

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