Existential Ph.D. Crisis

When I started this blog, I thought I would be writing about my thesis as much as my experience in Israel. Turned out I didn’t talk about it so much. I can’t say it’s because it’s not interesting, but cultural shocks, politics and war are much more entertaining than the daily struggle of a researcher. Plus, soooo many things have been written about grad school, and I can not top PhD Comics (http://phdcomics.com/comics.php).

But I am feeling a bit lost those days. Not that I am not making any progress (although you should know of never asking a PhD student how her research is going), it’s actually going relatively smoothly lately.

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I just feel like there is no purpose in what I am doing. I have few projects in parallel, some of them I really believed in at the beginning but now it all looks like I am crossing the Valley of Shit. Which sucks because my supervisor is finally happy with my progresses and said we have to start writing (it will be my first paper…). And suddenly I am feeling paralyzed. I know my current research won’t be ground-breaking, and I will be lucky if it even leads to remotely interesting results. I mean, I know how to sell my research, I can make it sounds very cool, but the truth is that the output will certainly be minor. And although I am aware that it’s fine, that it’s ‘just’ a thesis, I am being scared for the future as well. I always try to live in the present, as I learnt many times that nothing ever goes according to the plan anyway; but it’s a little bit harder those days.

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I will turn 30 this year and I still don’t know what I wanna do when I will be a grown up. Research is fun, I love the intellectual stimulation, the interesting people I get to meet regularly, the discoveries etc… but it is also a very peculiar world. Just like in the industry, if not more, there is a lot of ego going on, an exhausting race for fundings, and success depending more on how you sell your work than the actual product of it. All the things I hated in the companies where I worked before.

In my previous job, I was really invested at the beginning, I wanted to have an impact, and when I realized that some people tried to put me down and didn’t take me seriously, I started complaining a lot about it. At that time I was living at my parents, and one evening, after he heard my litany a little bit too much, my father told me the wisest thing ever. He said “Remember, that’s just a job, you are not gonna save the world. So relax.”. It was brilliant! I realized how much that was true, how much my work was meaningless in the great scheme of things, that it mainly consisted in absurd previsions and attending meeting where we would discuss the organization of another meeting to brainstorm on ideas that would never be implemented. So I stopped caring. Overnight I was done with worrying about work-related matters and felt totally disconnected from my fellow colleagues who were so involved, working countless hours in the hope of being noticed and offered some kind of recognition. The problem with not carrying is that it is really not helping going through the day. You end up spending most of your time thinking about how to have a more meaningful occupation.

And that’s when the idea of PhD arose. I thought that maybe, there, there was a chance to have an impact. But now that I am realizing that my research is probably not more meaningful than my projections for the industry of aquaculture in Norway, how do I continue? They say that you don’t get the perfect job when getting out of school, you build it through experience and skills that you acquire on less-perfect jobs. But I am worrying that the skills I am mastering now are not the most relevant for the future. Someone said one day that research is not so much about being smart when you realize that a trained monkey could be able to do 90% of your daily tasks. I mean I am getting really good at photoshop, but I am not sure I want to work for a fashion magazine… Unless I could find a way to get paid for curating the web and creating memes. Until then I will keep on teaching fish how to count and make rational economics decision, because that sounds much more down-to-earth.

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2 thoughts on “Existential Ph.D. Crisis

  1. “So I stopped carrying.” carrying what? your bag? filled with humus snack? oh no that was in Switzerland. Your bag, full of chocolate? 😛 –> caring.

    I loooove the post.

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