How to Get Out of The PhD Prison!


The internet is covered with audience shocking topics: negative experiences, dramas, even tragedies address the need of shared sorrow and failure. "Oh dear, that sounds worse than me. I am not that bad after all." This thinking is how we got into this mess in a first place: you google PhD and you find pages of crying people, criticizing the system and telling their tragedies.

Particularly young scholars (like myself) are tempted to feel exactly like everyone else apparently feels about the PhD: frustrated.

Strolling through the net, you will quickly see that criticizing is what scholars can do best.

They write novels, stories with dialogues, fiction, about what happened to them when the professor said that their work has been miserable. The majority of posts I read in the net are rather scary. It's hard to find positivity out there when talking about a PhD. Sometimes I myself even avoid blogs because the posts are so negative and discouraging. They tend to drag me down! I hope that this post may make you feel better about the journey you are on.

So do you feel frustrated? Do you feel sad? If so, you are not alone. Let me tell you my top three reasons for PhD frustration: 

1. Writing a PhD is emotional.

Writing itself is a very personal activity and being criticized regarding something personal is harder to digest. The paper doesn't lie and negative feedback and reviews may hurt hard.

2. Fully depending on your superior can be irritating.

Misunderstandings and bad communication with your professor can mean some hard weeks during your PhD. Each comment and suggestion can change your mood very quickly, particularly when they are contradicting. 

3. Piling up debt can make you feel helpless.

A PhD is not that well paid compared to an industry job with the same qualification. Piling up your debt can add some negative feelings.

However, we always have to think: What would have been the alternative? Working for a dinosaur company to increase the dividend of some shareholders? As an analyst 90 hours a week in an over-achiever cult? Has there been really an alternative for you when you decided to pursue a PhD?

I think that the variety of impressions are important. A PhD is for many (if not for all) a mystery and scholars continously try to understand its magic before, during and afterwards.

In order to debunk the magic behind research embracing positivity is key.

But what I see in the internet about academia with PhD prisons, publish & perish systems and the hate towards the gatekeepers of your success (action editors, reviewers, editors-in-chief,...) is not what I experienced. I met many humble people trying to guide and help me with my research. Of course, I also met some black sheep on the way. But in comparison to the industry, academia is a paradise. For all PhD students, here is the way out of your frustration: Go out there with your research and spread it with a positive mood. I promise that positive things will happen to you. Not right now, not tomorrow, but they will. I promise.


Go out there and celebrate if something cool happens to you during your PhD. Be it a conference, a publication, the submission of your thesis or just some great oral feedback. It's the only way to get some positive energy into your work, which will, in turn, directly improve the quality your work.

In celebrating your success, you reward yourself and create memorable moments that help you remember these times in a positive way.

The thing we shouldn’t miss is celebrating these events. Gather people around you and celebrated your success. I think that there are many opportunities that we miss where we could have celebrated during our PhD. You have got to acknowledge these milestones by creating an event. Celebrating helps you process your progress and motivates you to go on.


If you do a PhD you are doing something extraordinary because you dedicate yourself to progress. Negativity, however, is still something people heavily relate to if you read the comment section of most PhD blogs, it's maybe the nostalgia that drags people down there, but please... we have got to be honest, most of us get "ok" paid for doing something we really want to do. What's better out there than that?

Publish and Perish is a discouraging thought for young scholars.

It refers to the thinking that although you publish, you will perish within the academic system. It's a very sad idea. No one can decide that you perish, except yourself. Your attitude matters and when doing research is your goal, how can you possibly perish? You are doing research and you will create something special that will last.


I think we all carry the way out of the frustration within ourselves. We just have to activate it. Like pushing a button by doing something different the next day. A PhD is hard work but the things in life worth achieving generally are. Take up your head and be PhD proud. You should be!

If you like this post, follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Tell me if you are frustrated with your PhD, but also tell me your way out of that. Cheers, Marcel