Hello PhD

Hello PhD

127. Listener Mailbag: How Do You Stay Motivated in Grad School?

February 10, 2020

It’s a well worn analogy, but an apt one: grad school is a mental and emotional marathon, not a sprint.

This week, we answer listener mail from ‘runners’ at different stages of the race!

This episode is Part 2 of our conversation with Susanna Harris of PhDBalance.com. You can listen to the first episode here:

126: Listener Mailbag – Ghost PIs, Dress Codes, and Mental Health with Susanna Harris

Finishing Strong

We begin near the end with Katie, who is really feeling the pain with the finish line in sight. It’s that time when you start to wonder why you got into this race in the first place!

Katie asks:

How do you let go of your proposed PhD plan, and breath life/love into wherever it’s going now, which feels like you’re scraping up the dirt on the floor and mushing it into the vague resemblance of a thesis?

We cheer her on, and let her know that EVERYONE feels that way near the end of grad school. The key is to keep pushing over the finish line and be done with it.

You’ll have time to analyze your impact once you have those three little letters at the end of your email signature…

Gear Guides

Next up, we take a brief detour to talk about the tools of the trade. Runners love gear, right?

Xin Fei asks:

What is your opinion on electronic lab notebooks? I find paper lab notes tedious and hard to keep track with. Any recommendations on E-lab books? Pros and Cons? I was thinking of using note taking apps (Notion, Evernote, etc) but wasn’t sure if that’s the best way to do it.

Electronic lab notebooks are a complex topic (one to which we could devote an entire episode!) but the bottom line here is to talk to your ‘trainer.’

Your PI and lab mates need to approve of whatever technology you choose for keeping notes. In most cases, they’re the ones who will want to access your records after you move on from the lab.

Second Wind

Rounding the last leg of the race is Josh, who wants to know about keeping up his motivation as the miles tick by.

Have any of you gone through a “motivational slump” during your PhD training, and if so, do you have any tricks to help pull yourself out of it? It’d also be great to hear any related advice from a mental health perspective (eg. If the slump is wrapped in some longer-term mental health issues).

After having a good laugh/cry about the vast quantity of motivational slumps we’ve ALL been through, we get down to the layers in Josh’s question.

First, Susanna illustrates the difference between a temporary ‘motivational slump’ and the more serious implications of declining mental health.

For a science-slump, we recommend getting out to talk or write about your work to an audience that will be truly fascinated by the problems you’re trying to solve. That might mean presenting at a high school or chatting with your friend at the coffee shop.

Sometimes simply ‘zooming out’ from the project will help you realize what inspired you about it in the fi...