How I beat the second year blues

I’m not sure why, but I thought I would never suffer from the second year PhD blues. Despite it taking me about two years of work (including part of my MRes) to get decent results, I remained positive. Last November, I started to get particularly exciting results and it laid out a clear path to the end of my doctorate.

But a few months ago, my reactions stopped working. Endless repeat reactions and tweaks were unsuccessful; I wanted to quit. The second year blues had found me and hit me hard.

In the last few weeks I’ve managed to get everything back on track. In fact the failed reactions might have shed some light on why the reaction works so well in the first place.

For anyone else in a similar position, I think it’s most important to stay motivated. I adopted a strategy of working on my main project and easier side projects on alternate days.

I think this has several benefits. By breaking up the disappointing results with easier work, I feel happier. Dealing with negative results for weeks on end was too much for me to handle.

I maintain momentum with side projects—something I struggled with before. I see side projects as backup publications, in case my main project goes down the drain. The time I spend not thinking about the main project helps me approach it with a fresh perspective too.

I find it helpful to tell people, like my supervisor and friends, whether I’m having a “main project day” or “side project day”. This stops me taking a risk of two consecutive days on the same project.

I recommend this strategy to any struggling students. There’s no point in slogging along, miserable. At least until I submit my thesis, it’s how I will work.

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