Problems of PhD students

June 18, 2016 08:24 AM Prabin Pathak


By Prabin Pathak

I am a research student, currently pursuing Masters in Civil Engineering at the University of New South Wales. Since I came to this university in September2014, I have been in regular touch with many Ph.D. students. My mother always insists on my finishing the studies first when I express dilemma over my Ph.D. future and professional life after. If I start to ponder about Ph.D., pros and cons start playing in my mind.

I will tell you the story of my friend from India. He came to Australia to pursue his Ph.D. in early 2014 at the age of 24, and I got to know him in mid 2014. He was a product of IIT Kharagpur, a premier institution in India, and was doing his Ph.D. with a full scholarship with sufficient amount of fund under the supervision of a renowned personality in this field. He used to be very introvert, and was always a party pooper, and most of the time, he used to stay alone in his room. Everything was going well. However, I started noticing some changes in his behavior after a few months. One day, I went to his room, and I found strange behavior from him. He had stuck small pieces of newspapers on the walls. Initially, I laughed at him and made fun of him about his stupidity. However, later I realized that it was not a matter to joke about. He told me his supervisor was spying on him, and these holes in the walls were spy cameras. Even microcracks are the suspicious region from where his supervisor might be spying on him every time, and he needed to work hard for his supervisor and research papers to get his Ph.D. in the allocated timeframe. I tried to console him, but I didn’t seem to be breaking through. Sometimes, he used to talk about himself, as if he is having a conversation with his supervisor in the lab. I informed the department about his unusual behavior, and his father came and took him back to India. Later I came to know that he had been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder known as schizophrenia.It was one of those sad moments. Sometimes, I feel guilty for not being in regular touch with him, and that I could not take care of my friend.

This is just a story of a Ph.D. student, and now we can imagine how getting Dr. in front of our names is making some students mental patients. I have seen many students coming early in the morning to the campus, staying till midnight, and sometimes even sleeping there on the chair. In fact, we can say that family life, social life of the few Ph.D. students is almost nonexistent. This sort of depressing feeling is common for those students who have never left their house before, and come to overseas for their Ph.D. Some students just keep themselves busy in research work because of fear of supervisor, and take Ph.D. as burden without having proper rest, and consequently becoming a victim of mental depression.

This is just a story of a Ph.D. student, and now we can imagine how getting Dr. in front of our names is making some students mental patients.

When I look at these students, I always get afraid of my Ph.D.future. However, there are students who enjoy their Ph.D. They maintain a balanced relationship with their supervisor, friends, and family. It seems like they are playing a game with pure dedication and plan, and they are scoring continuously.

So, in this scenario, it is a tough decision to make whether I am ready for my Ph.D. or not. From my experience with Ph.D. students and even my research experience, I have come to the conclusion that unless and until you are passionate about your Ph.D. topic and research work, it’s better to stay away from it. It requires a lot of perseverance, patience, and hard work to complete Ph.D. within the given timeframe. Here, early Ph.D. does not mean Ph.D. at a young age. However, it means whether you are mentally prepared for the time and effort you are going to spend for 3-4 years. Recently, we have seen a tragic incident in UCLA where a student, who was 38 years old, shot his supervisor. In May 2016, an Indonesian professor was killed by a student in a dispute over the content of his thesis. Besides this, there is an increasing trend in suicide cases from Ph.D. students, and all these incidents were the outcome of mental disorders due to the students being unable to cope with the pressure. Most of the successful Ph.D. students always say that being old enough age wise does not make you eligible for Ph.D. In fact, Ph.D. is not only a physical game; it is a mental game, and the important part is whether you are mature enough to come up with a proper strategy about what you are going to do in your Ph.D and with your life after Ph.D.

It is heartbreaking to see extremely talented students killing themselves and other innocent people, but it has been found that it is the paucity of proper Ph.D. planning which leads them to mental disorder. If we are having some problems with our work, most of the psychiatrists always suggest us to share the problems with friends and family. It is a very important part to keep our social life running, maintaining regular contact with friends and family. In every university, there is a separate counselling department; they are always there to help you out if you are going through a tough phase. So, friends, if we want to live a better future, let us think about the work we are going to do, and the life after our Ph.D., and always keep our social life alive. Besides our dedication and hard work, social life is essential and most importantly the only key which can make us a better human.


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