How do you force yourself to do something you're not internally motivated to do?
August 3, 2012 11:32 AM Subscribe
Need specific advice on finding motivation for work in a PhD program. Snowflakey background information included of course.
posted by blue_bicycle to Work & Money (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry this is so long but I think the background stuff is relevant. There is a TL;DR at the bottom if you want to skip it.
Right now, I am going to start my third year at Big State University on a PhD fellowship in the social sciences. I get a very small stipend but I pay no tuition and I am not going into debt for this. I think of my PhD as a low-wage job with some prestige, health insurance, flexible working hours, and generally nice colleagues (and some real asshats just to keep it interesting). However, I have been unhappy since the first day of the program.
During the application process I was single and envisioning a think-tank type job at the end of the PhD. I never wanted to be an academic and was clear on that going into this. Now, at the start of Year 3, I’m very happily married to someone whose job is not geographically flexible. Last year we were able to live together, before my partner’s job moved to another state. That involved a 6-hour round trip commute for me each day. It was horrible. At the moment we live thousands of miles apart from each other, and although I don’t have that wretched commute anymore the situation is not much better.
The industry careers I had in mind when I began this process aren’t a good fit anymore. I’d like to live with my spouse eventually and think tank-y type jobs only exist in a few urban places where my spouse cannot work. There is no other job I’d like to do that requires this PhD and it now seems totally useless.
I have been struggling with the issue of whether or not to quit since the very first day. In Year 1 everyone said, “Don’t worry it gets better.” In Year 2 it did get better in some ways and worse in other ways. I still though about quitting all the time. If I quit now I have nothing to “show for it”. If I quit after this year (3) I can at least get the conciliatory MA. Big State University makes the leave-with-an-MA process as difficult and unappealing as possible. Big State University does not award MAs in my field, so I’d technically get the MA from Affiliated College not Big State University. Straight MA students at Affiliated College (where I have never been) only have to complete 30 credits and write a thesis to get their degree. En-route-MA students from the PhD Program have to complete 45 credits, pass the first set of comprehensive exams, and write a “thesis comparable” paper to get the exact same MA. The soonest I could walk away with the MA is the end of this academic year, Spring 2013.
If I for some reason decide to stick it out after this year then I can live and work from wherever I want in order to do my research and write-up. Average time-to-finish in our department is 7.5 years, but I am aiming to finish in 5. So far I am on track to finish in five years. Unfortunately that doesn’t resolve the problem of a PhD not being relevant to a career. I also think I'd be less miserable and better able to cope with the aspects of the program I dislike if I could live with my partner and have that personal life balance. Unfortunately that part of my life had to be sacrificed to the PhD.
And now, after all that preamble, here is my actual question: I was starting to panic about failing the comprehensive exam in a few weeks due to my excruciating inability to study for it. I sat at my desk for days and just blanked out, unable to read a thing. I went to see a counselor at Big State University because I was wondering if this was a sign that I should just quit already and I didn’t know what else to do.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t really helpful – I just babbled a lot about not knowing what to do and she nodded and told me she hears that a lot. Empathy is great but it didn’t help me make up my mind. After a few sessions I just felt like I was wasting my time talking when I needed to be making a decision. I figured that I needed to knuckle down to study because waffling between quitting and staying was making me crazy and the test dates was getting closer every day.
So now I’ve made the decision to continue just for this year and then if I’m still miserable I’ll leave with the MA and at least I’ll have “something to show for it.” I do really enjoy teaching (I currently teach 2 courses on my own, write my own curriculum, etc and I enjoy it) so a community college or high school job might be in the future for me-- in that case the MA might be handy.
I’ve made the decision. I should be good to go now, right? If only. I still can’t manage to motivate myself to study. Fear of failing isn’t doing it, nose-to-the-grindstone determination isn’t there, passion for my discipline isn’t working, walking away with an MA doesn’t feel so great and I’m just at a loss. I’ve tried to give myself a healthy routine, I exercise outdoors every day in the morning, eat well, make time to see friends and socialize, but I literally spend hours at my desk each day just totally stuck. I use Freedom to turn off the internet, I use a timer to try and set myself small tasks but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m going to lose my mind. I’m frustrated with the situation on a macro scale and I’m frustrated on a micro level too. I don’t know what to do, but I have to get through this somehow. I only have a few weeks until the exam. Help.
TL;DR: I’m unhappy in my PhD program but committed to stay through this year. I have to pass a set of exams in a few weeks and I just can’t seem to motivate myself to study. I have to unblock myself but I don’t know how.