The second year blues is often something that you hear about in the first year of your PhD, but is difficult to fully grasp until it creeps up on you. It may not happen in your second year, but this seems to be the most common time that PhD students experience a dip. There are many blogs that have described this period in the PhD process, and for me, the most useful one is from The Thesis Whisperer. If you are feeling like everything is getting on top of you, just take a few minutes to read about ‘The Valley of Shit’, it will help. I’m not going to use this post to describe the second year blues using a clever analogy as it has been done many a time. For me, it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my work and that caused me to lose motivation and confidence. Any work I did wasn’t good enough in my eyes, even if my supervisors said it was. I just didn’t believe them. But the important thing to remember is that you won’t feel like this forever. The PhD process is fraught with highs and lows, and there are plenty of things that you can do to help you through the bad times.
Firstly, it is vital to look after your own health. Working long hours in the office takes its toll, and can often make you feel more stressed. This is because it takes longer for you to get work done because you are tired from working so many hours. It is counterproductive, and can be a vicious circle. Try not to work weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. Eat healthily, have a good amount of sleep, and do some exercise. Exercise is a great distraction from work, and gives your brain a rest. Make sure you also have time off. Treat the PhD like a 9-5 job because this means that you are allowed to have multiple holidays during the year. N.B. Fieldwork does not count as a holiday! Finally, talk to other PhD students around you. They may be going through something similar, or will have done in the past. Just knowing that you are not on your own can feel like a weight off your mind.
In terms of work, the way to get through is to keep ploughing on. It is common to feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall when you are doing a PhD, but something will change. You’ll find a paper you had missed that leads you onto a new line of research, or a landowner will finally get back to you with permission to access a vital field site. Don’t think about the project as a whole because this is overwhelming, focus on doing the little things. Lastly, remember that you are being paid to research a subject that you enjoy (unless you are self-funded, but that’s another story) and you are not working in a boring job that you hate where you have to be in work at specific hours.
PhD student at the University of York