PhD Anxiety

At some point during your PhD you will come to terms with the fact that you’re not as smart as you (or other people) thought you were, even though you secretly knew this anyway. At the same time you may realize that intelligence isn’t the most important factor in completing a PhD.

Does this comic speak to you?


This comic is from the excellent PhD comics, and it refers to vacation stress, but the emotional roller coaster is the norm all year round for many PhD students. For those of you who can identify with the comic, here are some suggestions:

1. Doing a PhD is a job. Sorry to disappoint. Yes, the department sets flexible goals and deadlines, but that means you have to be accountable. Being accepted into a PhD is program is not a license to “find yourself” at the expense of meeting your responsibilities.

2. Write. If you don’t want to write, don’t enjoy writing, don’t feel like you’re good enough, or worry that you can’t produce important work, you’re in the wrong business. If you don’t have time to write, make time. Nothing else is as important as developing as a writer.

3. Rethink e-mail, and by e-mail, I mean whatever you’re using to excuse not getting your real work done. I’m talking about productive procrastination. Don’t take on other jobs unless they obviously contribute to your forward momentum in the program.

4. An existential crisis is not a luxury you can afford. It’s self-indulgent and it damages your ability to meet your goals. Push through it.