[Week 88] Don’t give up (aka pisawad), or the depressive states of a PhD

This week has been very weird, with a lot of up-and-down in my mood. I had a lot of things to do: besides the summaries of neurolinguistic articles, I also had to prepare a presentation, and to write down the pre-analyses of how time is encoded in a Formosan language.

In fact, for the work, it was a week as busy as the others. But I had to deal with my mood. I was like a cat looking at the window, wondering when the window could finally get open to let me out. It was not a lack of passion, once I was in my work, I was really in a good mood. When one summary was done, or one section was written, it went down. I talked about this with my two supervisors, who were so friendly and nice in their replies. It helped me a lot for sure to understand these bad moments. I also wanted to check out whether it was a problem from me or not. I was relieved (it’s relative) when I discovered this:


I try to analyze my case based on this picture:

  1. I don’t see myself as poor. It’s the contrary, I feel lucky, I could have a scholarship and I’m also working for one of my supervisors. I don’t have the stress of the financial part of the PhD, and just because of this, I really feel so lucky!
  2. I don’t have terrible bosses. Once again, it’s the contrary, I have the best I could have!
  3. We live in constant failures. I think we are approaching to something. I wouldn’t be as categorical, we don’t live in failures. We live in constant incertitude of knowing whether what we are doing is right or not. It’s not only a problem of PhD I think, it goes the same for Master students. It’s not as categorical as the statement of the authors, but I think it’s worse. If you know that you failed, you know that you have to change, and to figure out what has to be changed. If you don’t even know whether what you’re doing is going to be a failure or not, you don’t know if it’s worth spending time and energy in answering one research question. But it’s ok, I’m kind of used to it. As I always say, it’s always worth to give it a try!
  4. We are often emotionally unstable. This is the point that nobody shares. When other students share this, it’s always in a very vague manner, so that we don’t know why they get emotionally unstable. Creepy in a way.


After my discussions with my supervisors, I tried to understand why it is harder to control our emotions:

  1. We are busy, busy, and busy. There is no concept as “I’m off to work today”. You go home, but your thinking process, your ideas are still in your head. But that’s not the only reason I think, a lot of people, not only graduate students, have this problem!
  2. We are in a competition with time. We are growing up at the same time. We see, we feel that our childhood is over or going to be over, and worth, we don’t have time to spend on enjoying the last years. We have a lot to accomplish, without being certain that we will have satisfying results, and at the same time, we sacrifice relationships and youth. The question is: is it worth? If you have the passion, yes! But this doesn’t mean that we don’t want to enjoy more these moments.
  3. We are in a competition with time, we want to live a normal life at the same time. As a consequence, we would like to hurry up. But reality is cruel: we can’t go to fast in research, this is the fastest and easiest way to failure.

You got the problem? You can’t escape from not being able to have all the time you would like to enjoy with the company of friends and family!


Let’s be honest, it got really better these last days. I started analyzing the data from a Formosan language, called Amis. If you have been following me for a while, you know that my specialty is neurolinguistics, not field linguistics. It’s a new domain that I’m discovering, which is very different. The main point I think is not the domain, but the language. Amis is a endangered language, with only a few people speaking it, and fewer people doing research on it. While I was analyzing, I had the impression that my work was useful. More importantly, even if the results I write are not as good as I would like to be, at least, more documentation will be done on this language. What does it mean? It means that I have the feeling that my time is not wasted in any way, and this made me feel happy.

I took the decision not to give up on neurolinguistics. I’m so excited when I see a brainwave, or the scan of a brain with the activation of specific brain areas. This will be a passion for my whole life for sure. Meanwhile, I would like to do more for Formosan languages, because they need it. Speakers of Formosan languages are so nice, generous, positive in their life, funny and friendly. When I think of these languages, I also think of the tribes, of the people behind these languages, of their customs, their culture, and what they can give to the world. It may be pretentious in a way, but I’m so happy just by providing a tiny analysis of one particular language. This made me feel better! So this is my decision: in parallel to my neurolinguistic studies, I will keep on learning about Formosan languages (why not trying another language than Amis?). As I discussed yesterday with my advisor, these two ideas are not in conflict in fact, maybe one day I can combine neurolinguistics with Formosan languages!

This week can be summarized in one Amis sentence that I learned these days:

Aka pisawad! Don’t give up! 不要放棄!

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