Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

5 Steps For PhDs To Control Depression When Searching For A Job

I could not believe what the doctor was saying.

I had shingles.

Brought on by stress and lack of sleep, the doctor said.

I was a PhD student with overwhelming amounts of stress, and a never-ending to-do list defined my life.

But shingles? I thought only the elderly got shingles. I was 26.

I was in the prime of my life and I had a disease that attacks people with weakened immune systems.

It was horrible.

I was miserable.

The couple of weeks that I had shingles were terrible… I was in constant pain and hardly had the energy to walk to the bathroom.

It was a memorable wake-up call.

What would cause a young, otherwise healthy person to succumb to the varicella zoster virus anyway?

At first, I blamed my PhD for making me not just sick, but also miserable.

It was the workload, the demands, the culture…

But the truth was… it was me.

I was choosing to be miserable, and choosing to suffer.

Sure, being a PhD student or a postdoc is not easy.

Only 2% of the population has what it takes to earn a PhD — no one ever said it’d be easy.

But it was my response to the difficulties that was making me ill.

I was letting the opinions of others stress me out and letting the demands of the lab outweigh the need to take care of myself.

I decided to change.

I hadn’t worked this hard to be unhappy.

I was going to put my well-being first.

This was the only way to make sure I didn’t end up sick and miserable again.

So I worked shorter hours, I said no to my advisor, and I took lunch breaks.

Did it make everyone happy?


But, did my PhD project crash and burn?

No, that didn’t happen either.

As my health and happiness improved, so did my productivity.

I managed to graduate on time with several publications, speaking engagements, and accolades to my name.

It wasn’t a miracle, I just decided I was done suffering and took steps to change my situation.

And with the help of my alternative career mentor, I discovered my passion for science communication and smoothly transitioned out of academia.

It was not just a successful transition, but a healthy one, where I was ready to balance the demands of industry.

There is no good reason to let the negative academic culture get in your way

Why PhDs Need To Stop Being Miserable

A recent study by Ghent University found that one in two PhD students experiences psychological distress.

Another study at UC Berkeley found that 47% of PhD students suffered from depression.

These mental health issues were largely attributed to poor work environment, a negative supervisor relationship, lack of career guidance, and conflicts between job and family demands.

And it’s not limited to students — a survey by the Guardian reported that two-thirds of career academics suffer from mental illness.

It seems like everyone in academia is suffering.

The statistics are very concerning and it’s clear that major issues exist within academia.

But academia does not have to make you miserable.

Stop blaming the system and start taking responsibility for your own well-being.

And remember, if you have the signs or symptoms of depression don’t be afraid to seek help from a healthcare professional.

As a person who has earned (or is going to earn) a PhD, you have many advantages over non-PhDs.

You are an expert in your field, you know how to persevere through failure, and you’ve spent many years developing excellent problem-solving and analytical thinking skills.

Plus, according to a study published in OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers, PhDs are the driving force behind the knowledge-based economy and PhDs have greater international mobility than other highly educated people.

Being a respected and successful PhD is a privilege you have earned.

There is no reason why you should let the negative academic culture limit your future prospects and leave you feeling hopeless.

Top 5 Issues PhDs Face That Interfere With A Successful Job Search

You are not the only one struggling to survive in academia.

The dysfunctional academic environment leads PhDs into a place of low pay, high job demands, and limited career advancement.

But this is not the way it has to be.

There is a way out.

Success at a job that pays well and makes a positive impact on the world is available to you outside of the academic bubble.

According to the NSF, PhDs starting out in industry earn nearly twice as much as those starting in academia.

Twice as much — $100,000 versus $50,000 per year.

And according to a study in Nature, salary is the second largest driver of job satisfaction among PhDs.

You can get paid well for a job that you are satisfied in if you take the steps to get there.

Stop letting academia bring you down.

Here are the top 5 reasons PhDs are suffering in academia and how to overcome them to achieve success in industry…

Use networking to meet others and discuss career opportunities

1. Combat isolation with high quality networking.

To earn a PhD, you must be self-motivated.

No one is going to do your research for you.

But the self-starting mentality also means that you are often alone.

PhDs know how to work tirelessly and independently toward a goal for many years in a row.

Countless hours are spent alone at your desk reading and researching, or at the lab bench performing experiment after experiment.

A survey by The Guardian found that 64% of PhDs felt isolated.

Even if you work in a large academic group, the competitive academic environment can make your group mates your enemies.

Don’t let the demands of your research and the academic environment leave you isolated.

Take the opportunity to combat your loneliness, and set yourself up to land a great industry position at the same time, through networking.

Networking is the best way to get a great high-paying industry position as soon as you graduate.

But don’t just attend PhD-only networking events.

These people cannot offer you an industry job.

Instead, attend diverse networking events.

Meet people in different industries, make new connections, and make new friends.

As a current PhD student, you are in the perfect position to make new connections in industry and add value without asking for anything in return.

Cultivate these connections with genuine interactions and when the time comes, you can ask them for a job referral.

With quality networking, you can decrease your feelings of isolation and establish quality relationships with people in industry.

Self-doubt makes you question your validity as a scientist or as a researcher

2. Beat imposter syndrome by developing leadership skills.

It is very common for PhDs to experience imposter syndrome.

In academia, you are taught to doubt your research and critique your findings with the utmost scrutiny.

While this critical eye leads to high quality data, it can also lead to high levels of self-doubt.

When self-doubt makes you question your validity as a scientist or as a researcher worthy of earning a PhD, you are suffering from imposter syndrome.

To overcome imposter syndrome, you need to recognise your value as a PhD.

You are an expert in your field — a leader.

As the holder of an advanced degree, you have many advantages over other job candidates.

In particular, PhDs are well-suited to management positions in industry.

As you recognize that you are qualified for these high-level industry positions, your imposter syndrome will begin to fade.

Combat a negative mentality and self-sabotaging thoughts by developing your leadership skills.

As a senior PhD or a postdoc, you have led research teams, trained people, and guided a project from start to finish.

These are traits of a leader.

Fine tune the other intangible skills an industry leader needs and put the feelings of inadequacy behind you.

3. Improve your career prospects with a job search strategy.

According to a survey completed at UC Berkeley, the number one factor contributing to graduate student happiness and satisfaction was their future career prospects.

Both graduate students and postdocs face the terrifying statistic that less than 1% of PhDs become professors.

The thought of becoming an unemployed PhD is terrifying, and leads many PhDs into a place of mental and physical illness.

However, this worry is misplaced.

Once you look outside the ivory tower, there are many job opportunities.

PhDs are highly sought after in industry and there is no reason you should not have a job lined up for yourself after you graduate or finish your current postdoc.

The key to getting one of these industry positions is to have a solid job search strategy.

Haphazardly searching for jobs on the Internet and submitting your resume to job search websites is not a job search strategy.

It’s laziness and hoping for luck.

You need to have a plan.

Learn what is normal and what’s not normal in a successful PhD job search.

Network in person and online.

Create a tailored resume and cover letter, highlight your transferable skills, and make the best impression at your interview.

As a PhD, you know how to solve big, real-world problems, so don’t make the mistake of thinking your job search strategy is trivial.

How you look for a job will determine how successful you are at getting a job.

The more strategic your job search, and the more organized your plan, the greater your chances of success.

Ignore the opinion of your advisor and invest your time in actions that will get you into the job of your dreams

4. Move beyond your bad advisor by investing in yourself.

Another important factor in the happiness and satisfaction of graduate students and postdocs is the quality of the relationship they have with their advisor.

A negative advisor can leave you feeling isolated, overworked, and without a future.

Lots of PhDs worry about the opinion of their advisor, preventing them from getting a job.

However, you do not need an academic letter of recommendation from your advisor to secure an industry position.

Stop worrying about the opinion of your advisor, and instead invest your time and effort in things that will get you into the industry position of your dreams.

Focus on taking the necessary steps to leave academia.

And along that road, invest in yourself. Reconnect with your core values and take the time to do things that you love.

When you have confidence in yourself, it is much easier to shake the negative opinions of others and continue down your own path.

It will also help to find a new alternative career mentor that will support you on your journey from academia to industry.

Dismiss the negative attitude of your advisor by investing in your own well-being and truly seeing your value.

5. Deal with overwhelming workloads through efficiency and effectiveness.

I remember spending nights sleeping under my desk at the university so that I could get extra work done.

Although I thought this was helping my project, I was wrong.

Many studies, including this one in Nature, show that lack of sleep can impair cognition to the same extent as drinking too much alcohol. Lack of sleep can also lead to illness.

Yes, doing a PhD or postdoc means that you have lots to do, but it doesn’t mean you have to work ridiculously long hours.

When I decided to work shorter hours, I was surprised to find that I still managed to get the same amount of work completed.

Imposing strict working hours upon myself forced me to be more efficient and less easily distracted throughout the day.

There are many resources to help you become more efficient and effective during your PhD or postdoc.

I enjoyed reading The 4 Hour Work Week and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but there are many resources out there.

Find what works for you and instead of working harder, work smarter.

Being effective and efficient will benefit your journey into industry as well.

Time is money — no matter what your job is, there will always be tasks and to-do lists.

Learning to be effective now will help you dig your way out from under the overwhelming academic workload and set you up for a successful future in industry.

Many PhDs and postdocs in academia are needlessly suffering. The negative academic environment can place many PhDs into a place wrought with mental and physical illness. But this is unnecessary. You can take control of your own well-being and stop being a victim of academia. Fight loneliness with networking. Improve your leadership skills to combat imposter syndrome. Create a job search strategy to show yourself just how vast the PhD job market is. Stop believing the opinions of your negative advisor and focus on efficiency instead. When you decide to overcome the PhD issues that are making you miserable, you will place yourself into a great position to secure a job in industry.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly


Jeanette is a chemistry PhD turned science communication enthusiast. During her PhD she realized that her favorite part about research wasn’t actually doing research, but rather talking and writing about it. So, she has channeled her passion for discovery into teaching and writing about science. When she isn’t talking someone’s ear off about her latest scientific obsession, you’ll find her on the soccer field or reading a good sci-fi novel.

Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Similar Articles

5 Miscalculations That Are Holding You Hostage In Academia

5 Miscalculations That Are Holding You Hostage In Academia

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

As a PhD student, I felt more and more lost the closer I came to graduation. That’s because I had started to doubt that I knew what I wanted anymore. You could say I was torn, but that would be an understatement. I was absolutely wracked with indecision. My original plan had been to continue on in academia.  I was going to apply for a postdoc.  Then on to Assistant Professor.  And so on. However, I was starting to see a real pattern emerge among the PhD graduates I knew. I liked to check in periodically with those colleagues and…

Is Cheeky Scientist A Scam? Who Shouldn't Join The Association

Is Cheeky Scientist A Scam? Who Shouldn't Join The Association

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Is Cheeky Scientist a scam?   Has anyone here had any experience with the Cheeky Scientist Association? Is Cheeky Scientist worth it?  What’s the deal with Cheeky Scientist? Is Cheeky Scientist legit? PhDs are trained to be critical.  In academia and in life, every decision they’re faced with is made with extreme prejudice. Examining facts, collecting resources, and determining what is a trustworthy source of information is one of their biggest strengths.  PhDs have superior critical thinking skills, so it makes sense for them to carefully consider any investment – even if it’s an investment in themselves. And in almost every…

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job. PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business. You can’t get a job without industry experience. Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever? These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs. Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After…

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The number of PhDs wanting to transition out of academia increases every year. Initially, most of these PhDs were recent graduates and postdocs.  But as the crisis in academia has gotten worse, we are seeing a lot of adjunct and even tenured professors wanting to leave. They feel professionally unfulfilled in academic positions because they are overworked, work in uninspiring roles, and/or are paid marginal academic stipends, fellowships, and wages.  Far too many PhDs are unable to find any meaning or joy in their academic careers, which negatively impacts both their professional and personal lives. Unfortunately, many of these PhDs end up…

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, I thought I could jump into my first industry position ready to hit the ground running. Much to my surprise, this was not the case.   During the first few months of my new position, I felt like I was drowning. Everything I thought I knew about my field, how research is conducted, and how companies operate was turned on its head. I was not prepared for this major shift, and it showed. I waivered between trying to impress my managers and sitting mute in meetings, intimidated by everyone in the room. If I had known what…

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Nothing could prepare me for the shock I received walking into my first industry onboarding experience. Literally, everything was different from what I had experienced in academia. The processes, the culture, the pace – absolutely everything. I also had no idea what onboarding meant. I heard the word tossed around but, to me, it was just the process you went through to get all the mandatory paperwork out of the way. That was so far from the truth. My first onboarding experience lasted almost 6 months. Yet, throughout that whole process, I had no idea that I was still being…

The One Productivity Hack Every PhD Needs To Get Hired In Industry

The One Productivity Hack Every PhD Needs To Get Hired In Industry

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If your job search isn’t producing results, perhaps you’re doing too little. Or, just as likely, you’re doing too much… too much of the wrong things. You may think “If I just spent more hours of the day searching and applying for jobs, I’m sure to land a job eventually.” But investing more time into a job search without a strategy is time wasted. An effective job search strategy is one that conserves our most precious resource: our mental energy.   Protecting your mental energy is the one productivity hack that every PhD needs to get hired in industry. As…

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you recently started your job search, you probably feel the pressure of proving that you’re a good fit for the industry roles you’re applying to.  You have to carefully craft your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile, and prepare for countless interviews just to prove you’re  qualified for a position.  This pressure can make you feel that employers hold all the power, and the only thing that matters is convincing them that you’re the best candidate for the role. Don’t let this pressure make you neglect other key components of a successful career, like company fit.  You’ll likely accept…

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re among the 2% of the population who has committed to push a field of knowledge forward.  That makes you one of the most innovative people in the world. This is something special. As such, you deserve to work in a position where your tenacity and ability to solve problems are out of good use. Where you feel satisfied and are rewarded for your job. That’s why I encourage all PhDs to look for an industry position, because academia is a dead end where dreams go to die. However, you have to be strategic when…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.