For many PhD candidate the middle stretch of the PhD is the hardest. At the beginning of the PhD, you start starry-eyed and ready to change the world. As you are wrapping up your thesis, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The middle part is were things often get murky.
The middle part of the PhD often goes hand in hand with the second year dip. Here’s why the middle part of the PhD is often such a challenge:
- More tasks at the same time: You typically will be somewhere in the middle, juggling various tasks. You may still be reading the literature, but also working on your experiments, trying to report these in a consistent way, and perhaps you also want to be working on one of your chapters or papers. You also start to go to conferences, maybe you are taking courses and/or assisting in teaching. There’s a lot more going on than in the beginning and it feels like you are just always getting more and more on your plate.
- Progress feels slow and difficult to quantify: You may be doing a lot of things and spending a lot of time on your research, but you don’t know if you are progressing quickly enough to make it to the end on time. Progress in research is often painstakingly slow, and involves trial and error. Especially as you are in the trial and error stage, it can be hard to understand that all of this work has value.
- Uncertainty about what is upcoming: You are not sure if you’ll be able to figure it all out, because you still have the research to do. This feeling can be unsettling, as you are working on something that cannot be put in a mold – it’s not like doing homework where you know more or less what is expected from you and where you know how to invest your time to get to the final result.
- Fatigue: You may have been going full out for a long time without resting enough. You may have developed bad habits related to the many hours you are working. At some point, your bad habits and lack of sleep are going to catch up with you and you will crash down feeling just too tired to do it all.
Did you experience a second year dip in the middle of your PhD? What caused it in your case?