Warning: This post is long, depressing and rambling. I’ve written it for my own benefit.

Almost 18 months ago, I was video chatting with my PhD advisor and mentioned an idea for a new research project. He was enthusiastic about it and said I had his full support. And that I could use my publication from this project to build the narrative of my thesis and work towards finishing my PhD. I was ecstatic to say the least.

Very quickly I assembled a rather large team of students (undergrads and a couple fellow graduate students) to build out this project. I was also assisted by a professor in my department with similar interests, who was keen on using the outcome of my project in future classes. I mentioned the idea to other faculty as well, and they were all delighted by the idea and said they’d love to work with it when I had the finished system.

The project grew very quickly. There were a few bumps on the road, but that’s to be expected of any academic project where some of the students are learning as they’re working. We built out the bones of the project, and I started writing publication. I formed an outline with the major points and presented it to my advisor, who approved. He was really happy to see me motivated and making progress.

I don’t know when things started to go wrong, but the work eventually began to stagnate. Tasks were taking longer than anticipated. I began dreading team meetings because I had to address that things weren’t getting done. As we approached the end of the semester, students needed time to study for finals, which meant even less work getting done. The project turned from something that I woke up excited to work on, to something I hated even thinking about. I avoided the topic as much as I could when talking to my professor.

6 months after the project started, my professor brought up the elephant in the room. I wasn’t making enough progress. And having undergrads work on my project wasn’t cheap. He needed a return on that investment, whether it was in the form of a research publication, new partnerships, or a public demo. I made the hard decision to disband the project team and finish the project myself. Everyone was understandably confused, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them the real reason. I just said that I appreciated all their work building the foundation of the project, and that I’d finish the remaining tasks myself.

I couldn’t finish shit. Thinking about the project made my stomach queasy and the blood rush to my head. It was like my body was telling me to do anything else. Anything but work on this project. Anything but write this paper.

Months went by, and I did very little. Every weekly meeting with my advisor was the same song and dance. Him and I chatting about everything else going on besides my pet project. And then him finally bringing it up, and me scrambling for an excuse for why I couldn’t get it done. And him saying that it’s okay, to take my time, to be compassionate with myself. And when the call ended, I was left with one feeling: relief. I’d bought myself another week. Maybe this week I’d actually make significant progress. But that never happened.

More months went by. One morning I broke down sobbing before my meeting with my advisor. I knew I couldn’t keep this up. I finally started therapy, where I began to look inward at why I am the way that I am. I uncovered undiagnosed trauma from my childhood years. I started treating myself and others with more empathy. I let my advisor know what I was going through. He was happy I was getting treatment for my mental health, and never once made me feel guilty about not working on my paper.

It’s fall of 2022. I still haven’t been working on my paper. I’ve made progress on other projects, but none of them will help me get any closer to graduating. I continue making excuses with my advisor, and now he’s growing frustrated (understandably). It’s been a year since I started this project. He says I need to work on my time management. I agree.

In December 2022 I decide to take a month off to travel and see family. A complete detox from my PhD. I enjoy my time there. I don’t think about my project.

And now I’m here. It’s January of 2023. I’ve arrived in the US and I’m about to go back to university. I’m no closer to graduating than I was 2 years ago. At this point I’m seriously considering quitting. I just don’t have what it takes to earn this degree. I’d promised my advisor I would have a paper draft ready by the time I’m back. That meeting is in 2 days, and I haven’t written a word.

I recently watched this TED-Ed video about procrastination. It didn’t tell me anything new. But watching it has inspired me to take another shot at this paper before finally quitting my PhD. There’s lots of people in similar situations, and I’m sure a few of them finally broke out of it. Maybe I can too. So this blog post is my first honest try at fixing this mess (per the video’s suggestion of journaling my thoughts). I hope it helps.

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