Procrastination and lack of motivation… now what?!

Fair warning, this will be a huge rant…

I’m finishing my 4th year of my PhD and I’m scared. The closer I get to the finishing (self-imposed) date, the more I panic and feel blocked. And I’m not motivated at all.

For the past week or so I’ve spent hours in front of my PC, knowing that I have to analyze data, make statistical analyses, plots and then discuss them. I need to finish my part of a paper, 2 work reports, my yearly report of my PhD and start writing my thesis, and I did a grand amount of nothing.

All August my brain kept telling me “it’s ok if you didn’t do it today, you have tomorrow”, but then August ended – how, I’m still not really sure, September is here, one week gone and I still have nothing. I know I work better under pressure, so I know that I’ll have to finish each of these topics I just mentioned until the end of next week, but this time this is scaring the hell out of me.

I started my PhD on January 2012. The first months were a joke! I spent them in Portugal collecting samples and doing 2 term papers… oh, how I totally wasted those months… so my real work began on September 2012, when I arrived in Barcelona (yeah, almost 3 years here…). I knew right away that my project would be hard – the funding was cut, Portugal and Spain were in a huge financial crises, and to top it off, the main techniques used in my field of research changed drastically within a few years, so I knew from the start that no matter how amazing my results were, they would have to be taken into the light that it was done with techniques that are not the “go to” thing anymore. That’s frustrating!

Still, for more than 2 years I labored, with my 3-7 days DNA extractions, and endless PCRs without results, endless lab contaminations, whole days, weeks and months that went to waste because all of that… but still, I had some kind of hope that I would make it work, that somehow I would obtain enough results from my old old samples that I would be able to finish without a hitch. See, my PhD was never supposed to be the big thing, it was only just a step, to get to something better. I never liked it here, and it never crossed my mind to be here any day longer than strictly necessary.

But as a new yearly report and defense of my progress looms on the horizon, I have to take a look at my results from my samples and finally start admitting (at least to myself) that they won’t be enough. And that I’ll be lucky if I manage to get any kind of usable information for 10 of my 100 samples… and this sucks! It breaks my heart and I don’t know what to do about it.

Objectively, and rationally, I know that this won’t have to be a problem. I can spin my dissertation theme. I can go for why I had such terrible results, or I can expand the temporal and geographic scope to include other samples I worked on these past years that had far more promising results.

But still, I feel like I failed, and this realization, of the failure and everything it entails, it has left me unmotivated and dispassionate about something that was so sure was my future. Because what if I can’t do it? What if I’m not good enough? What if, because of the circumstances, I never get a post-doc doing something I want, or somewhere I really like?

I know I don’t want to spend much more time doing this, but actually taking a step forward and working on finishing it, no matter what I have or don’t have, is scary as hell. See, this is a “safe” place. I’m doing my PhD, I have a goal, I have a purpose, and even when my scholarship ends and if I have to get a job until I finish it, it’s ok, because I have a finish like to look forward to.

But then what? The finish line comes and what’s next?

Not trying is tempting. Because if you don’t try you don’t fail, it’s as simple as that.

I understand why so many people lose years on end on grad school, I understand why my best friend is still doing her masters, 8 years after getting in, I understand why my colleague took around 12 years to finish his PhD. And I never wanted that for me, but I understand the appeal, and that scares the hell out of me.

I always wanted to work in science, even in times when I was lost and didn’t think I could do it, the only future I saw possible for myself included handling micropipettes and eppendorfs. But after so many years of being sure, I find myself envisioning a different kind of future for myself, with a steady job, ideally surrounded by books and/or coffee, and it’s not bad, and yet it’s the worst thing for me because It feels like giving up!

I have the upmost respect for all the people who go to grad school and after decide to do something else entirely. I know a lot of people who have given up on science. I never wanted to be one of them, I still don’t. I don’t want to think that I’ve spent all my adult life in pursuit of something that I’ll just abaddon. It’s been 13 years since I got into college! 5 years of undergrad, 3 years of Msc, (one miserable year trying to get a scholarship to do my PhD), and now 4 years of PhD, with at least one more in tow… I don’t want to have worked so hard for nothing. And at the same time, I’m scared, oh so scared, that no matter how hard I try, this might be it for me, and it might not even be my choice.

I’m 31 years old. Since I was in my second year of my Masters degree, getting this Phd has been THE GOAL. I’ve put everything on hold – not entirely by choice, but everything became secondary to this. I left my family, which was never a problem, because I never wanted to stay in Portugal, but I moved to a place I hated, and that destroys me a little bit every single day. Let me clarify, I don’t hate Barcelona. I hate my place of work. I don’t particularly like the people and the way that things are done here. I don’t like the language. I hate that I didn’t make a single friend in the 3 years I’ve been here – I mean, I know I’m not an easy person, but this is just ridiculous. I hate my everyday life, and I’m always comparing it to home and I miss home every single day – which is funny as hell, because at 17 I was ready to move to London and I saw no problem with that (still one of my biggest regrets).

So it’s a horrible feeling, to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve put everything else on hold to do this one thing,  that I might not even be successful at. And I have no idea what to do next…

I guess this is the end of this rant… I’m so sorry for the long (and pointless) post, I just needed to get it out of my chest. Now I need to finish all that stuff, on the 18th I’ll be back on a plane, so there’s that to look forward to.


33 thoughts on “Procrastination and lack of motivation… now what?!

  1. Bookmark Chronicles says:

    Awe Cristina, you’ve worked so hard it can’t all be for nothing. I don’t know much about science or getting a PhD but I’m sure you’ll be fine. Honestly, it’s not always a bad thing to not know the next step, You could stumble upon something that’s totally perfect for you that you didn’t even expect. Sorry I can’t be much help but it will all work out, I know it 🙂 ❤

  2. Nita Palhota says:

    Xana being yr mother it breaks my heart to read the above as I should have all the answers and advises in order to show you the right track….but I don’t, as a matter of fact nobody has. Besides you. All of us during our life have doubts and don’t know exactly what to do. You have worked so hard for this, and you are very enthusiastic about it. And you are good, inteligent, sensitive and a wonderful person. I’m sure you will find the strengh to finish yr PHD and move to the next level. In a country you like , with an investigation job that you deserve. In one of yr lab choices. You are good enough, just have to have a little more faith on you. Finish the taks you have now, and then come home for a week to be with yr father, brothers , sisters, grandmom and nephew and nieces. And remember in one month we will be together doing a wonderful trip for 2 weeks. Then after coming back from South Korea and Japan, you will be revigorated and ready for new challenges. Love you a lot.

  3. starkaddict says:

    Well, I am terrible at pep talks..and it seems like you really need a boost here. So what the hell, here it goes.

    You need to relax. Calm down, take a deep breath. Make sub goals..and trust me you are not alone. Like at all. Last minutes blue are common..banal even. I really don’t want to trivalize your panic, but there is a certain freedom knowing that you are not the only one a minute away from a freakout. Start small..complete your weekly reports. And trust me, I have a Phd in procastination. You can recover. So go out, have a coffee, listen to some music, and start working.

    Feel free to ignore me, I am just some girl at other side of the world, who frankly has no idea what she is going on about.

    • MyTinyObsessions says:

      thank you!

      yeah, I know, it is comforting to know that I’m not alone, and I’m perfectly conscious of that, lol. But sometimes it’s quite impossible not to panic, a bit

      You are right, I’ll try to take it one thing at at time. Honestly I need to get through the next couple of weeks, which I will because seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?

      thanks again 🙂

  4. Cátia says:

    You’re not a failure. You worked hard and that’s what matters. I know from my own experience that science is not always what we want. We might be doing everything right but for some random reason everything goes wrong. In my master thesis I only started to have really results in June and I had until October to finish. One of my best friend was there for 2 years and she tried a lot of different techniques mostly because it wasn’t her fault that she was having all these problmes. Basically science is unpredicable and you’re not a failure only because you don’t have the resuts you want. Like you said, you can write a dissertation on why it went wrong.
    I also thought that I would be working on science but right now I really thinking and looking for a steady job away from it. I know that I lost 6 years of my life in college (not lost, I still loved these 6 years) but if I have to work in other thing I will.

    • MyTinyObsessions says:

      Yeah, science sometimes sucks big time 😦 I’m obviously conscious of this, rationally speaking, this was always a possibility. lol. But somehow nearing the end of my 4th year, I thought I would be closer to actually having something real and definitive to present. I just don’t want to get caught in a never ending snowball that sometimes gad school can be, you know?

      We’ll see what happens after I finish it, I really don’t want to give up on science, but maybe it won’t be the worst thing ever… time will tell

      thanks Cátia 🙂

  5. impossiblegirl123 says:

    You are in no way a failure! Even if you don’t succeed the way you thought you would, you tried and that really counts for a lot. Also, I think you just expressed everyone’s feelings ever when it comes to the future. It’s super scary and it so difficult to figure out. I have no clue either if that helps!

  6. Josephine says:

    Cristina! This makes my heart ache! You’ve come so far… And I know the feeling so well, however in at a similar but slightly different experience at the moment. I know what it feels like to feel so close to accomplishing something but then suddenly your whole perspective changes. But you know what you’ve got? You’ve still got a goal. And even though you’re scared as hell about whether you will succeed or whether it will all go down the drain, YOU HAVE A GOAL. Let that push you. And you know what? Don’t give up because you never know what will happen until you try. It’s even harder to try when your mind switches to the point where you can’t even pinpoint a goal for your life anymore.
    I love you and your strength, thank you for sharing this with us, with ME! I will send you what strength I have! And I hope you keep striving towards that goal of yours. 💜💜💜

    • MyTinyObsessions says:

      Oh Josie, you brought tears to my eyes!!! I’m an easy crier, lol.

      You are so right, I do still have a goal, and that’s the thing that has to keep me going. But I do understand what you’re saying, between my 4th and 5th year of college I was in a real dark place and saw no goal ahead of him and the only reason I wasn’t so scared back then is maybe because I had more people in my life, and I relied on them for support…

      Thank you for all your strength, and you know that mine is with you as well. ❤

  7. transhaan says:

    Research does a lot of damage on a person. It eats you up and makes you wonder if you’re on the right path. Seeing that your PhD is in a science domain, I can’t imagine how heavy it must feel to carry around the load you have. I’d just tell you have you have to remember why you even started to study what you study. To remember that you’ve always challenged yourself and pushed yourself to be better. Here you are on the verge of completing one of the biggest achievements in life. You’re probably an amazing person and the answers to overcoming the fear is in you. Keep your head up and always plunge into your tasks, one at a time. Best of luck in the tasks to come !

    – Lashaan

  8. ravenblake99 says:

    I think having a PhD in a science department is a great thing to achieve. It really needs hard work and I can see how much you’re working hard for it. Being a science student I can understand how much stressful it is. I hope you get over this phase and bring back the passion you had before cause you’ve sacrificed so many years to do this girl and I can see some people got you motivated. Everything will work out just fine. Be cool and work Hard! 😀

  9. farahmbles says:

    You can do it! I know you can! 🙂 I was feeling like this a few weeks ago about my masters and I know you cannot compare the two because a PhD is harder. A LOT HARDER. but I believe in you, you’ll be so glad you didn’t give up. It’s not long left now until you finish.

    • MyTinyObsessions says:

      thank you 🙂 . A PhD is only harder in the sense that the time investment is a lot bigger, but I think much of the issues are the same. I had minor freak outs like this before, obviously, when I was ending my degree and then when about to finish my masters, so I’m positive everything will work out… and I’m not letting it go, after 4 years of research, I’ll present it for sure, even if it leads to nothing. It’s always better than the alternative, and I don’t want to let anyone (family, directors, etc) down, especially me 😉

  10. amcrumbles says:

    I found your post entirely by accident – from the dates on here, you have likely graduated by now- if so, CONGRATULATIONS! And if not yet, you must be so close – so also CONGRATS YOU ARE SO CLOSE! For what it’s worth, I googled looking for some motivation to get moving on a project and found it on your page. Thanks for voicing my thoughts and reminding me that this is all just part of the process. Best, XX

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