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First Semester Blues


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I have been working toward the goal of being in a PhD program for years but now that I'm finally here, I feel disappointed. I'm very satisfied with my choice of adviser, my cohort and the program in general. I guess I just expected to feel a bit happier in my day to day life. I knew first year optimism would burst at some point but I didn't expect this so soon.

I am already feeling pressure to publish. I am grateful for the push my program provides but I can't help feeling like I'm already behind. Classes, although touted as unimportant, take up a significant amount of time and energy and my lab requires hours of mandatory training. I've never been the best at housekeeping and I'm finding it very difficult to keep up with cleaning and the organizing that comes from a cross-country move. On top of this, I'm feeling lonely and I find myself developing crushes on a fellow first year (much younger than me) and on an assistant professor (my age but completely inappropriate).

I'm not 100% sure why I'm posting, I guess I just needed an outlet. Does anyone else feel this way? Will it get better? I feel I'm in the right place, doing what I want to do. I expected hard work but I'm surprised by my level of current discouragement. I love my subject area and the opportunity to read and think about it full time is the best thing I could have done with my life.

Thanks for letting me vent.

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I have been working toward the goal of being in a PhD program for years but now that I'm finally here, I feel disappointed. I'm very satisfied with my choice of adviser, my cohort and the program in general. I guess I just expected to feel a bit happier in my day to day life. I knew first year optimism would burst at some point but I didn't expect this so soon.

I am already feeling pressure to publish. I am grateful for the push my program provides but I can't help feeling like I'm already behind. Classes, although touted as unimportant, take up a significant amount of time and energy and my lab requires hours of mandatory training. I've never been the best at housekeeping and I'm finding it very difficult to keep up with cleaning and the organizing that comes from a cross-country move. On top of this, I'm feeling lonely and I find myself developing crushes on a fellow first year (much younger than me) and on an assistant professor (my age but completely inappropriate).

I'm not 100% sure why I'm posting, I guess I just needed an outlet. Does anyone else feel this way? Will it get better? I feel I'm in the right place, doing what I want to do. I expected hard work but I'm surprised by my level of current discouragement. I love my subject area and the opportunity to read and think about it full time is the best thing I could have done with my life.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Hey... I'm having "first semester blues" as well - as evidenced by my own separate vent-post, hah. I've noticed that I always tend to become discontent once I've reached my goal. It's just human nature, I suppose.

I also know what it's like to feel blase about everyday life. Do you get a chance to do anything fun? Ever since the semester started, the highlight of my weekend has been going to the grocery store! Perhaps you might enjoy exploring your new town? Taking pictures? Eating exciting ethnic food?

Sorry for not having any better advice.. I'm in the same boat!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I know this post is rather old, but I figured I'd post anyway. I've been told on multiple encounters with 2nd and 3rd years in my program that we are all supposed to feel this way. I've been given the same story over and over again, but no methods on how to really cope with it. I left my SO, my family and my friends behind in NC and starting over in a small town was very difficult for me. It still is. I'm drowning in classwork that everyone says is unimportant while simultaneously stating that we have to maintain a certain GPA. If I have to maintain a certain GPA, then the classes are important. Period. My outlets, thus far, have been writing, picking up non-science related novels and treating myself to the movies every now and again. I initially attempted to cope with the stress by working out, but there comes a point where physically fit meets manly and I'd very much like to still have some curves by the time grad school is over tongue.gif. Don't worry, apparently everything does get better. Of course, we always question when. And, as with all things, "when" is out of our control. I wake up every day expecting it to be better, and every day I am confronted with the sheer amount of work that I have to squeeze into a single 24 hour period.

I am now attempting to train myself in the mystic art of patience. I know it will get better, but probably only once I stop focusing on how bad things seem to be. I hope tomorrow will be better, but if not, there's always Haggen-Daas.

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Honestly, I think it gets easier once you get into the rhythm of grad school and figure out what is required, what is optional but that you should do anyway, and what you don't need to worry about doing. That can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to figure out.

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I honestly believe my first year was the easiest by quite a bit and it just got down hill from that, even as classes ended. I can relate to the feelings of loneliness, confusion, and feeling lost and the way I got through that was through finding random hobbies. I took up running, which helped me clear my head. I actively looked around for various clubs or activities I might want to attend and meet people (e.g. wine tasting club). I took a bunch of pictures of the campus and tried to see what I can do with the whole photography thing. And I started going to the gym on pretty regular basis (at least to shoot a basketball around). I was busy with stuff, but in reality, while I was being pushed to do research and do it well, there was no expectation to publish something immediately and the time I would spend on all these little hobbies, I could get back by spending more time in the lab on the weekends or working a bit later. In the end, you gotta figure out what works for you and how to feel relatively happy, otherwise it'll be really hard 3-5+ years.

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don't let yourself get stressed out and bogged down so much so in the first semester/year that you talk yourself out of your program before it's really gotten started. i just started my grad program and, if you have as many required courses as i do for your first year or two, the first year can be the most tedious/irrelevant/boring at times but (imo) shouldn't count as representative of all that may come int he next few years. i'm in the social sciences and hope to eventually have more ability to sign up for classes that i really think i'll love and that will actually help me build on what i'm interested in researching. i appreciate the backgrounding basics of these required courses but i can also see how such requirements can be disillusioning re: the next few years of coursework experience and prospects.

Try to hang in there and things might look up in the next year or two. If not, then it really might be a time to reevaluate... but at this point it might be a little premature!

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  • 2 weeks later...

If it makes you feel any better, I'm in the same boat: I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to go for my PhD, and that it would be awesome; and now I'm here, and while my advisor is good and my fellow grad students seem fine, it just sucks. I'm lonely all the time and have trouble getting excited about my work, which never happened to me in undergrad.

Of course this means I don't have much advice - if I had it, I wouldn't be like this! But my plan for the moment is to stick with it. I don't have any better ideas for what to do, and if I left a lot of people would be disappointed. And a PhD is a good thing to have whether you stay in academia or not. There's always a chance things will get better, too... and if they stay this bad, well, maybe quit after you pass quals; then at least you get a Masters (at most places anyway).

It's comforting - in a sad way - to see how many people on this forum seem to be having this similar issue. At least we're not alone.

One bit of advice I do have is to look into doing some outreach or community service. I got involved with a community service program here and it's the one thing I enjoy; it feels meaningful and the other volunteers are nice.

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