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The Post PhD Slump (PPS)

Posted in: PhD Survival
The Post PhD Slump (PPS)

Over 12 years ago, PhD Comics published the first description of PQS (Post-Quals Slump), a highly prevalent condition among grad students that severely impacts their interest in science, and their ability to defend their thesis. As PhD Comics described, this condition can only be treated by a hard-hitting cocktail of Advisor-Pressure (AP), Spousal-Income-Frustration (SIF) and Lack-of-Savings-Realization (LSR).

I have survived PQS but am now experiencing another debilitating condition, which seems to be related in some way to PPS. In an effort to understand this new condition, which I call the Post-Phd Slump (PPS), and to connect with fellow sufferers, I have carefully characterized it. Here are my findings:

What is PPS?

PPS is a debilitating condition that renders scientists demotivated and unfocussed in all areas of their work, The severity of P.P.S is directly proportional to the numbers of years in academia. It is the main cause of brain drain from research and contributes to alternative science career transition.

What Causes PPS?

The exact cause of PPS is unknown, but it is thought to have similar origins to PQS. Recession and lack of research funding in recent years have increased the rate of incidence.

Symptoms of PPS:

  • Repeatedly thinking “why did I do a PhD?”
  • Lack of motivation to do lab bench work
  • Cynicism towards research and academia
  • Increased web browsing for alternative science careers
  • Awareness of the income gap between you and your MBA pal

Treatment for PPS:

  • Mentorship and funding availability can temporarily relieve some symptoms
  • Symptoms can be controlled by regular doses of good lab results and publications in reputable journals
  • In severe cases, the only treatment available is a non-academic-career-transfusion
  • Lack of treatment can cause career growth retardation and needless loss of good scientists to better paid jobs

We need your help to better understand these conditions so that more effective treatments can be found. Please contribute to the data by posting your experiences of PPS, and indeed PQS, in the comments section.

If you need a reminder of why being a scientist is awesome, check out our top 15 reasons to be a scientist.

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Image Credit: slworking2


  1. xatman on September 18, 2011 at 7:45 am

    The effort required to finish a PhD can certainly be a motivation killer for life after the degree.

    Some things I have found that can help in getting past the PhD mentality and moving forward with the next stage of your life:

    – Go outside. I was amazed at the effect 20 mins of thinking time out in the sun and not under the fluoro lights had. And it didn’t even take the hour that I thought it would and had been putting it off because of!

    – Take a Tim Ferris-style mini-retirement. 4 months away from work was exactly what I needed after finishing my PhD. Almost everyone else I have talked to says that it is 100% essential to take a break after you finish, to avoid burning out, recharge, and get yourself a little bit restless by doing nothing. If you don’t have much cash spare, just move to a country where a little will go a long way.

    – Scale back your hours. While work ethic will differ lab-to-lab, the 15 hour days you put in at the end of a PhD just aren’t sustainable. Nor are they usually productive in your transitional post-doc or whatever role you are assuming for now.

    – Don’t worry. You’ve finished the thesis. If everything from here goes bad, well at least the thesis is in the bag. You don’t need to apply the same level of worry to the next phase, and really, you’ll probably be more productive when you’re coming at your work from a less-stressed perspective. Not convinced?

    – Start to think of yourself more as an all-purpose problem solver, rather than a Western blot troubleshooter. You may be an expert at extracting data on a hard-to-work-with protein, but no one cares about that in the real world. Instead, someone who can motivate and manage themselves to achieve real outcomes over a multi-year research project is an attractive commodity. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you will see yourself as being compatible with a wider range of jobs.

    – Work on something different or in a different sector altogether. There’s no rule that says you have to continue the same stuff you did in your PhD. In fact, your perspective on it is probably getting a bit stale by now. Instead, try to use your experience to other problems and come at them from a new angle. Your scientific training should be transferable to lots of other sub-disciplines. Or, if academia has got you down, start to look into industry – it’s not a completely science-free wasteland populated by corporate ghouls (although they do exist).

  2. Sapinder on September 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Hey Uma……….
    u are very right. I am in my final year of PhD and I have started developing the symptoms of PPS. And I should appreciate you for giving words to my condition and thinking. The career transfusion has really got a space in my mind and I keep comparing myself with my B tech and Management friends.
    The only thing stopping me from changing my decision is that I love doing science. My research troubles have actually overshadowed all other issues of my life. I am really in confusion state. I don’t know whether I am happy or sad?
    But whatever I love it because now I am used to it…so no complaints !!!!
    Thanks for the article

  3. bioburt on August 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Abstinence is best.

  4. Jode Plank on August 31, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I am right there with you.

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