1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
Re: 2016 Ask a Current Ph.D. Student Thread
I'm only a second year, but everything that I've heard from everyone is in agreeance with what the others have said here i.e. that the last 3 (or 4) years are significantly more difficult. The biggest reason for this is self-motivation. You really have to be good at scheduling and actually getting work done. Add to the fact that during your first two years you have a bit of a respite from research. Sure you might have a project or two going on, but no one expects that much from you. On the other hand, during your last 3 years, a lot is expected from you, if not from your faculty, from yourself. You'll need to get some work out so that you can find a job at the end. This can definitely lead to demotivation, particularly if your adviser is kind of hands off. From what I hear, the third year is the most demotivating. You're right in the middle, you no longer have classes (at least not as high of a load), but you also aren't prepping for the market or your dissertation. It's all about what your motivation level is.
Originally Posted by hattrick
That being said, every year is hard. There is always too much work and not enough time. There are pressures to pass comps, then there are pressures to pass your proposal, then there are pressures to get a job. There is always pressure to publish and there is the constant nagging feeling that you just aren't enough, just aren't smart enough or good enough or creative enough. It's always there. It's hard because the idea that you aren't smart enough has probably never crossed your mind. All of us, all of us, have been some of the smartest students in all of our classes throughout school. There is nothing more humbling than a PhD program.
One final thought, of all the people I know who have scrubbed out, they all did it before their third year. I'm not trying to argue that the first two years are harder, but merely noting that you know pretty quickly if the program is for you or not. Generally once you pass your comps, while the program gets much harder, you also see an end in sight.
One more final thought, I've seen a lot of people get demotivated throughout the program. While there will be bad days, days where you just don't think you can make it, it's only really a problem when these feelings become chronic and won't go away. My advice on one way to deal with the stress is to celebrate every win. Absolutely every win. Did you take a midterm? Have a beer! Did you get an OK from the IRB? Watch a movie with some friends. Is it Friday and you made it through another week? Order a pizza. In life, it's really easy to lose sight of the good things because bad things are more salient (thanks Tversky). Counterbalance that by celebrating the wins. Sometimes just taking a night off counts as a win, sometimes doing it up on the town is what you need. No matter how you celebrate, make sure to celebrate, or you'll get crushed.