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Hey all!

So, I'm having a real tough time getting motivated to do any work this summer. In fact, since May. It's now July. To be fair, I just got back from a three-week vacation in Europe, so it's a bit hard to go back to doing school work, but I felt like this before I left too.

It's not anything about my program. I have a 4.0, a great supervisor, and I just won a SSHRC. I like my subject matter (but I don't outright love it), and I've got a couple side-projects too. I'm training for half-marathons and longer races, and I play two sports. I'm not depressed, just... unmotivated. Completely.

I haven't really accomplished much in ages. One of the main issues with me is timelines. I love deadlines, I work best when I have them. But grad school, especially now that I don't T.A and don't take classes, has less and less timelines than before. I try to set them for myself, but it doesn't always work.

Has anyone else experienced this (or is still experiencing this?). I don't want to quit, I'm invested in my work, but man do I not want to do it.

Thanks for any advice or help you guys can offer!

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Welcome to my world. You sound very similar to me, in fact creepily similar. I was actually making decent progress and had motivated myself to do a lot of work, but then I went to France for 2 weeks for a tournament for one of my sports, and am now having difficulty getting back into it. I don't think I've done nearly as much work as I should have this summer, I really relaxed a bit too much. During the school year I was just terrified that I was going to fail and get kicked out so I was pretty motivated. Turns out I was actually completely delusional because I got a 4.0 and was recommended to direct transfer to my PhD (which I don't want to do) and received a bunch of external funding for next year. But that's another story. Without the pressure of deadlines and the fear of failing out I am now kind of stuck. The problem is my research isn't incredibly interesting to me. The end product is really cool but the process to get there is what I struggle with. I am not a very good computer programmer nor do I overly enjoy it, and that's all I'm doing right now. The only thing that really motivates me is the desire to finish on time and the fact that it is such a challenge.

I have no advice for you but will follow this thread closely because apparently we are the same person.

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Oh wow, you pretty much described the second year of my M.Phil (2010 -2012). After all my courses were done at the end of year 1, I actually got work done that summer because I was presenting at a conference in late August. After that, from September to about January/Feb I was getting a decent amount of work done too with only a few breaks. But from about March till now I've been having massive blocks where I'm just unmotivated to do anything at ALL. And after I hit my first draft deadline in late February, I didn't hit most of my others. To top it off I got veeery sick TWICE in March and mid June, and each time I recovered, it was hard to get back into the groove.

As it is, my planned deadline is July 27 (yes, in 8 days and I') and my FINAL deadline is July 31. Luckily, my first draft was a preeeetty good first draft, and my second one was ok too. I won't even need to pull all-nighters to finish....probably cuz the adrenaline rush is kicking in big time.

Anyway, one thing helped me through everything, and that was my supervisor. Just going and visiting with him for like 30 mins when I needed to pretty much ALWAYS got me my motivation back when I was having rough patches. I also sometimes just wrote mini-papers and gave them to him for him to read and give me feedback (even though that would usually come weeks later).

I dunno if that helps, but you are most CERTAINLY not alone.

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Welcome to my world. You sound very similar to me, in fact creepily similar. I was actually making decent progress and had motivated myself to do a lot of work, but then I went to France for 2 weeks for a tournament for one of my sports, and am now having difficulty getting back into it. I don't think I've done nearly as much work as I should have this summer, I really relaxed a bit too much. During the school year I was just terrified that I was going to fail and get kicked out so I was pretty motivated. Turns out I was actually completely delusional because I got a 4.0 and was recommended to direct transfer to my PhD (which I don't want to do) and received a bunch of external funding for next year. But that's another story. Without the pressure of deadlines and the fear of failing out I am now kind of stuck. The problem is my research isn't incredibly interesting to me. The end product is really cool but the process to get there is what I struggle with. I am not a very good computer programmer nor do I overly enjoy it, and that's all I'm doing right now. The only thing that really motivates me is the desire to finish on time and the fact that it is such a challenge.

I have no advice for you but will follow this thread closely because apparently we are the same person.

Interestingly, I LOVE my topic, and my supervisor is pretty liberal with letting me do what I want, within reason. But I mean...I looove spaghetti but eating it every day, three times a day for two years? That ain't happening.

Essentially, for many of us, no matter how much we love something, there are periods where it's stale for us. You eventually get past it and get a second wind.

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Welcome to my world. You sound very similar to me, in fact creepily similar. I was actually making decent progress and had motivated myself to do a lot of work, but then I went to France for 2 weeks for a tournament for one of my sports, and am now having difficulty getting back into it. I don't think I've done nearly as much work as I should have this summer, I really relaxed a bit too much. During the school year I was just terrified that I was going to fail and get kicked out so I was pretty motivated. Turns out I was actually completely delusional because I got a 4.0 and was recommended to direct transfer to my PhD (which I don't want to do) and received a bunch of external funding for next year. But that's another story. Without the pressure of deadlines and the fear of failing out I am now kind of stuck. The problem is my research isn't incredibly interesting to me. The end product is really cool but the process to get there is what I struggle with. I am not a very good computer programmer nor do I overly enjoy it, and that's all I'm doing right now. The only thing that really motivates me is the desire to finish on time and the fact that it is such a challenge.

I have no advice for you but will follow this thread closely because apparently we are the same person.

Man, you really hit the nail on the head with your line on wanting to finish on time! I do want to finish on time, and I definitely believe that I can. But with one year done and one year to go, it's hard to see that finish line. And I can definitely sympathize with your position before this 'slump' - I was working 24 hours a week at a federal government job & going to school full-time & T.A-ing full time. I got way more done then than I ever get done now.

My major problem is time management, I have lived most of my life always going, going, going - from school to a soccer game to a rugby practice, or whatever the case may be. I have also always worked while I was in school, without fail.

But now with this SSHRC scholarship, my supervisor doesn't even want me to T.A anymore, and the department took away my R.A work because I got external funding. And to be honest, it really sucks. I am more than grateful to have won an SSHRC, but now I don't even have work to look forward to (or not look forward, as is sometimes the case). Now I have months and months of essentially unstructured time, and I have no idea what to do with myself.

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I certainly agree that I get a lot more done when I'm busier. Right now all I have is research and rugby and the abundance of free time doesn't really give me a sense of urgency for anything. What I really should do is force myself into a tighter schedule. I certainly could be training and working out more to reduce my free time but once again I'm having a hard time convincing myself that this is not summer vacation sometimes. Once September hits I will be back into my varsity season (my last one, tear...) and so will be a bit busier which should be good. I also will be TAing again in either the Fall or Winter semester. I might sit in on a class or two just for fun as well.

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Setting deadlines for yourself is a great idea but if it isn't working for you, I suggest telling someone the deadlines and getting them to hold you accountable. It could be your supervisor or you could team up with a classmate. Try to find someone who won't let you off the hook - the threat of being chewed out for missing a deadline can be really motivating! As for unstructured time, you could create a daily schedule. Maybe working on specific things at the same time each day will help keep you on task, so getting into a writing mind frame or a reading mind frame (etc) would become habit.

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phd090406s.gif

Pretty much how my summers seem to go. I wait all year for when things will slow down so I can get lots of work done, but then it seems like summer is when we have to do all of our maintenance work!

Edited by Eigen
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  • 11 months later...

I am in a major slump right now, in every aspect. I feel tired all the time (even though I'm sleeping fine), have no motivation or interest to do lab work, and don't even want to eat. It's been really bad the past few weeks. My adviser had a grant due on July 2nd, so in the weeks leading up to that I was working 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day, and getting a ton of things done. Then after July 4th I just lost all motivation. I've been checking out of work early, slacking off while at lab, and just avoiding lab work at all costs. I constantly feel guilty about not getting work done, but just can't seem to get myself out of this slump. Any suggestions??

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My way to get out of a slump: allow myself to go deeper into the slump and recognize that I deserve the time off. My logic: I'm not being productive anyway, so I might as well take the time to recover. I try not to work (for a day, two or three, depending on how much time off I can afford myself) and get work completely off my mind. Go away or stay home, sit on the beach or hike, whatever it is that helps you relax completely. It's important to be conscious about the choice to take time off from work, because it's a way of acknowledging your hard work and that you have a right to some sanity. Normally after some real rest I feel refreshed and I can slowly think about getting my head back in the game.  

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My way to get out of a slump: allow myself to go deeper into the slump and recognize that I deserve the time off. My logic: I'm not being productive anyway, so I might as well take the time to recover. I try not to work (for a day, two or three, depending on how much time off I can afford myself) and get work completely off my mind. Go away or stay home, sit on the beach or hike, whatever it is that helps you relax completely. It's important to be conscious about the choice to take time off from work, because it's a way of acknowledging your hard work and that you have a right to some sanity. Normally after some real rest I feel refreshed and I can slowly think about getting my head back in the game.

I can relate to this! Doing half-hearted work is not very productive towards research nor does it help you refresh yourself. Sometimes I'm afraid to really take time off because what if I never want to go back? But I don't think we would have made it this far if we didn't have true desire in our field -- maybe buried deep down with all the less-fun part of grad school/research. Maybe a true break can help remotivate you!

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My way to get out of a slump: allow myself to go deeper into the slump and recognize that I deserve the time off. My logic: I'm not being productive anyway, so I might as well take the time to recover. I try not to work (for a day, two or three, depending on how much time off I can afford myself) and get work completely off my mind.

 

I like this way of thinking, too. For me, after long periods of nonstop work, all I really want is to do nothing. But after 2-3 days of lying around, instead of feeling "free," I just feel bored. Then, the idea of work becomes very appealing. I think taking time off can give us perspective and remind us why we love what we study.

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Some slump-beaters that have worked for me, can't explain why some of them work though!

 

1. Change the time of the day/night you work - really flip it around. For example if you are normally a late sleeper working late into the night, try sleeping early and waking at a weird 4am for a few days, or take a 3 hour nap say from 10pm to 1am and then start working - something you would not normally do. You don't need to persist with this - just do this for a few days, enough to get out of the slump.

 

2. Start a new mini-project, something that might be useful in the long run. Forget about your existing work to bring back the excitement of "starting" something new. Once you're excited enough - get back to reality [ :) ]. This way, your time-out is not really wasted.

 

3. Work in micro-sized bits - make a list of say half a dozen things to be done, and keep skipping around all of them. It does not even have to be concrete work - just read a bit here and there, think through what needs to be done for a certain task etc. I have no idea why this works (any theories?) but usually gets me going pretty quickly. 

 

4. Find your "switch / triggers" - certain music/TV programs/activities somehow seem to get me into a mood for working. Many have the opposite effect - know which one is which!

 

5. Try to talk about your work, setup lots of meetings or find new people to discuss ideas with. "Socializing" my work or simply talking about it has been the most effective way for me to get out of vacation-mode.

 

6. Try fuzzy's way - this has worked well for me as well - although I have not always had the ability to completely take a few days off.

 

7. Perhaps the most ridiculous one - start thinking about your research and then extrapolate-fantasize it into game changing breakthroughs that will completely rock your field - quite motivating (if not a wee bit embarrassing, but what the heck!)

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Ah yes, the summer slump. I've been very productive in terms of getting stuff done for other people (for hourly pay). But when it comes to my own stuff? I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books related to my research interests... and they're still sitting on the table unread. I'm not beating myself up over it... seems to be the nature of summer... unstructured, hot and sometimes humid weather, summer art and music festivals, hobbies, road trips, dinner parties, going away parties... I think I'll be glad when the semester starts again!

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Going through the summer slump right now.  I dragged my feet on my dissertation proposal on an amount of work that could, I discovered, be completed in one night.  I'm supposed to be grading papers right now…lol.

 

I thought I was depressed too, because I've struggled with depression.  But no, I'm really happy for the most part.  Just completely unmotivated.

 

That PhD Comic that Eigen posted is exactly what my summers look like.  Then it's September and I'm like fuck, I haven't done anything!

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One thing that has worked for me in the past, when faced with way too much unstructured time, was to go out of my way to put myself in situations with deadlines.  I don't mean the sort of soft deadline where you say to yourself "I'll finish this by July 27th!" and then don't, whereupon you just feel even worse about yourself.  I mean something involving external commitments.  For example, does your department have regular speaker or presentation series?  See if you can volunteer to present yours.  Are there people at your institution or in your town that you don't necessarily know, but that you could set up meetings with to talk about your work?

 

Basically the motivation to MAKE these hard deadlines hit you is easier to come by than the motivation to just flat-out do the work.  At least it is for me!

 

Edit:  The important thing is to know that it's not at ALL unusual to need deadlines to be productive, you shouldn't feel bad or deficient because of it, and you can turn it into a strength.

Edited by jeffster
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I've been having this going on all summer, but I had to write and submit a poster abstract the other day within 24 hours (my prof procrastinated herself and didn't give me the data till the midnight before!). Since then I've been able to start working on coming up with a proposal! It's like it broke through that "it's summer!" mental block for me.

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I just spent all day at my parents' house (oooo cable TV!!) watching episodes of "Scared Straight." 

 

But I assisted with a labmate's nastily dirty fieldwork all week. I needed the decompression and don't feel too guilty.

 

Despite being waaaay behind on the summer writing goals I set for myself. B)  

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I am in a major slump right now, in every aspect. I feel tired all the time (even though I'm sleeping fine), have no motivation or interest to do lab work, and don't even want to eat. It's been really bad the past few weeks. My adviser had a grant due on July 2nd, so in the weeks leading up to that I was working 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day, and getting a ton of things done. Then after July 4th I just lost all motivation. I've been checking out of work early, slacking off while at lab, and just avoiding lab work at all costs. I constantly feel guilty about not getting work done, but just can't seem to get myself out of this slump. Any suggestions??

 

 

This is me exactly. I always feel like this after I'm really busy, have a crazy schedule, or am just working non-stop towards something. Then I burn out, and just don't feel like doing anything. I'll try to write something or read something, and my mind will just be completely blank. My advice is similar to what another poster said above: just take a couple days off. Don't feel guilty about it, and don't even think about work. Do something that makes you love or something that you find invigorating, but do something. Don't just sit home and watch TV (unless that's something you find refreshing!). Get some fresh air, go hiking, exercise, go on a weekend trip with friends, whatever. I like to do something active that I don't do very often, like go ice skating or have game night with friends. I've found that some distance let's me recharge, and gives me some time to miss it. And try to ease yourself into your normal schedule. Don't do too much right away, just start chipping away at whatever you should be working on. No judgement, no pressure. You work hard, and you deserve some time off. You'll get the work down, but you need some time away to come back and be at your best.

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Well I'm just getting done with my first year!!! Took my written qualifying exam not too long ago. I get to go home soon; really need to get away from scool for a little bit. So right now, I'm just coming to lab, and getting basic stuff done. Have no real motivation to be here at this time, what I have been working on has been riddled with failure. Really fustrating. I will start a new project soon, and hopefully it will turn out a lot better. I am hopping that sometime away from lab is what I need to get me motivated again. If not, this is not goint to end well. But I really don't know. I would suggest, getting back into things gradually-start slowly and do more each day!!!

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  • 2 weeks later...

so the slump is continuing- the less i do the less i want to do- feeling almost depressed over lack of work i've done over summer. My supervisor is back in a week, and i don't have what i had planned to do done. I am currently waiting for participants to respond my surveys and can't analyze the data until they do. I have been trying to do other stuff, but am very demotivated. I have no idea what my super is going to think of all this.... quite worried. I really should have put the studies online earlier. 

 

right now i think i'm actually feeling burnt our over stressing about doing nothing- really finding it hard to get out of this rut. today i am feeling particularly tired, so its a bit of an exception and yesterday i did do a few hours, but in general i'm crap lately.

 

any advice..... to get out of this rut.... is it normal?..... what the hell do i say to my supervisor???

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I'm in that weird lull of nothingness too.  It's like I've submitted things or am waiting on things to come back to me...so really I can't do much.  And the things I could get started on...I'm just trying so hard to push off.  I know I'll pick it back up once school starts and then I'll be super productive...but for now it's just like twiddling my thumbs...

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I will be starting my PhD program September 22. If I were at home, all I would do is refresh Jezebel.com, facebook, science daily, etc. I started working in my PI's lab; it's a pretty big lab and there are a few senior graduate students, a post-doc, and two lab managers. They are here very early (7 am) and stay late (often to 5-6 pm). I am trying to model my behavior after theirs, showing up at 8 am (gasp!) but leaving at around 3 pm. I want to make sure I make a good impression on the current grad students, post doc, and lab managers. Shame is a great motivator for me! :P

 

If you force yourself to work for a few hours, block websites, and work in a place where people are also working, you'll guilt trip yourself into being productive. Also, having clear physical and psychological spaces for work vs. play is a good idea. Lab is mostly for work, a little bit of play (goofing around with labmates), but home is my netflix sanctuary!

 

I'll be reading this for more tips!

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