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Navigating The Post-dissertation Blues

Navigating the post-dissertation blues

The PhD is the cherry on top of your education, and your dissertation is the pinnacle of your PhD. Getting to finalize your dissertation and defending it requires years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

At the end of your PhD, you may expect to feel an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment. However, the reality for many PhD candidates is that the post-dissertation period can bring about unexpected emotions and a rollercoaster of feelings. I indeed have felt the post-dissertation blues, and I have since learned that I am not the only one.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the post-dissertation blues in more detail and I will hopefully manage to reassure you that what you’re experiencing is completely normal.

Scott Dinsmore, an expert in personal development, talks about the “emotional hangover.” It’s a peculiar mix of emotions that can follow the completion of a significant milestone, leaving individuals feeling drained, confused, and even depressed. The emotional hangover can stem from various factors, including the culmination of intense work, the release of built-up stress, and the sudden void created by the absence of your dissertation as the central focus of your life.

How can you recognize if you are experiencing the post-dissertation blues? Here are some of the “symptoms” you may be experiencing:

  1. Sense of emptiness: You may feel a void in your life now you finished your dissertation, as the project that occupied your thoughts and time for so long has come to an end.
  2. Loss of identity: After identifying as a PhD candidate for years, it’s common to experience a temporary loss of identity or a feeling of uncertainty about who you are now that you’re no longer actively engaged in research.
  3. Lack of motivation: The post-dissertation blues can sap your motivation, making it difficult to find enthusiasm for new projects or embark on the next steps in your academic or professional journey. I remember that I found it super hard to get started on writing on of the papers I wanted to publish from my thesis.
  4. Emotional exhaustion: The intensity of the dissertation process can leave you emotionally drained, and this exhaustion may persist even after completion. I sure had to catch up on a fair amount of sleep to beat this physical and emotional exhaustion.
  5. Self-doubt: Questions about the quality of your work, uncertainties about your future, and the fear of what lies ahead can trigger self-doubt and undermine your confidence.
  6. Social isolation: During the dissertation phase, you may have sacrificed social activities and connections, leading to a feeling of isolation. The post-dissertation blues can exacerbate this sense of loneliness, especially together with the sense of emptiness I mentioned before.
  7. Uncertainty about the future: The transition from being a PhD candidate to the next phase of your career can be daunting, and the post-dissertation period can be marked by uncertainty about your next career move. Maybe you won’t even know in which country you will be living..

Experiencing the post-dissertation blues is entirely normal. It’s close to a tie, but when I ran a poll on this topic, 50.8% of the respondents mentioned that they had felt the post-PhD blues themselves. These feelings are normal as you have just reached a major milestone in your life. It is OK to take some time for yourself and digest what you just achieved. You don’t need to put your game face on immediately and think about your next move – take the time to recover from the hard work you have done.

Did you experience any or all of the “symptoms” of the post-PhD blues when you finished?

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