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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Post-upgrade slump

The ‘post-upgrade slump’, also sometimes called ‘the second year blues’, is a feeling of lack of motivation, either overwhelm and stress or disinterest and apathy towards your degree, and a general feeling of ‘urgh’ about your degree, usually around your second year, after your upgrade.

The post-upgrade slump is, unfortunately, a very common experience. There are a number of reasons why it can happen:

Sometimes what we call the ‘post-upgrade slump’ is actually just burn-out. You may have been doing extra work, or just using more mental and emotional energy, in the run-up to your upgrade.

After your upgrade, you usually then only have one more deadline – your thesis submission. Some people find the lack of tangible deadlines de-motivating, and like it’s an endless expanse of unstructured time.

However, other people feel anxious after their upgrade about the amount there is to do before they submit and feel like time is whizzing by.

Some people also start thinking more about what they’re going to do post-PhD, and start worrying about whether they’ll get a job or whether they’ll finish on time.

What will help you get out of your slump will depend a bit on what’s causing it. However, one thing that helps nearly everyone who’s feeling slumpy is to take a break. Even if you’re feeling anxious about how much you have to do, and even if you haven’t been working on your degree much recently, take a break. Make it a break with absolutely no plans or expectations that you will be doing any work whatsoever. Often people find this helps refresh and rejuvenate them.

  • Take a break. Did we mention that one already?
  • If you haven’t had your upgrade yet, book some holiday time in for afterwards.
  • Talk to other people, whether that be your supervisors, your friends, your family, or a therapist. Don’t go through it alone. You can find links to sources of support in a dedicated section here. <link to section>
  • Some people find it helpful to know others have been through the same thing in their second year.
  • Talk to other PhD students in your team or college.
  • Talk to other PhD students on Twitter using the hashtags #PhDChat or #AcademicChatter
  • Read blogs from others about their experiences of feeling in a slump. For example, this blog discusses one PhD student’s experience with a post-upgrade slump, and what helped them to get out of it.
  • As you move through your degree, what you’re working on changes, you develop as a researcher, and your commitments change (for example taking on more/less teaching). This means the way you work and your working habits may also need to change. What got you here might not get you there. Look at the sections on work-life balance and positive working habits and work through the ideas and activities to see if a new way of working or new habits would be beneficial.
  • You could also take a look at the sections on imposter syndrome and self-care and compassion to think through what your needs are and how they could be met.
  • If you’re starting to worry about the future, look at the section on the PhD coming to the end in this resource. <link to section> You could also spend some time in supervision talking about your current plans post-PhD (or wanting to make them), to help you think about if there are other kinds of experiences you want to get before the end to help you with that, such as planning a conference or finding a mentor. This can help you feel like you’re moving forward and that you have some control, and lessen some of your anxieties about the future.
  • Take a break!

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