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Most PhDs motivated and academically satisfied

Life as a PhD student is rewarding and privileged at the University of Copenhagen, but for some a lonely experience, survey shows

Being a PhD-student is no bed of roses.

It can be stressful and needs motivation and determination, but it is also satisfying.

This is according to the approximately 600 PhD-students at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) who answered the University Post’s PhD-survey.

The feeling is amazing when you get the scientific result you are after. One respondent wrote in the comment field: »I love being a PhD student«.

Half are very motivated

The survey shows that half of the PhDs who answered the questionnaire have a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ level of motivation, of the remaining half, most have a ‘moderate’ level of motivation. 12 percent score ‘low’ or ‘very low’ on motivation

One out of three gets a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ level of academic satisfaction from their work, nearly half a ‘moderate’ academic satisfaction. 16 percent are ‘low’ or ‘very low’ on academic satisfaction.

Mixed emotions

Comments on the survey show that being a PhD is an emotional roller coaster ride as motivation and academic satisfaction swing up and down.

“Sometimes you have days where everything is ‘super’ and you get great results (and publish) and other times you get nothing,” one writes.

According to another PhD, “academic satisfaction comes seldom, but is rewarding when it does and accounts for the persistence of a high level of motivation”.

One PhD has mixed feelings about the different duties that the work involves:

“Lab work is repetitive and boring and so is data management and processing. But field work is amazing and so is conferences and looking for results. Writing can go both ways, but is usually enjoyable. Teaching is great! The excitement and high motivation and academic satisfaction are all because I wrote my own project and have the freedom to run it myself.”

“However, there is always a time pressure to finish and this is very stressful. The most stress comes from not having enough time to do proper research as demanded and then fill all the teaching and course work requirements as well. It is an impossible task for anyone – no matter how efficient – and that is very stressful and unfair working conditions,” the respondent writes.

Excitement gone

One in ten has lost motivation and experience less academic satisfaction as reflected in their comments:

“Working alone is not so motivating for me and during the time of my PhD I have experienced a low level of supervisor support which I think has a negative impact on both my motivation and excitement,” one writes.

“I find my project very interesting, but have lost my motivation and joy over time due to the lack of encouragement and motivation from my supervisor,” another writes.

One commenter is going through a bit of a crisis:

“One year into the PhD the initial excitement has worn off and been replaced by a large and confusing body of data. My work efficiency feels low as I try to sort through it all, pursuing both wrong starts and dead ends for days on end, while repeatedly hearing a small whisper in my head, asking: Why are you doing this anyway? Where is this research going to end up, and how can the value of the output ever match the trouble of its production?”

See an overview of all the responses on the pdf file below this article.

(More results from the University Post PhD survey will be forthcoming)

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