Stuck And Purposeless In Academia? Here’s What To Do

Feeling purposeless and stuck? Every PhD will reach a point in their academic career where they have to reconnect with their purpose.

Maybe you realize that you are not doing what you are doing for the right reasons. That you are working towards some else’s goal.

Maybe you feel that achievements like a new publication or the title of “Doctor” are some sort of carrot that you have to chase without having a clear end in sight.

This is especially true at the end of your academic career, where you have spent years working towards your PhD, or chasing endless postdocs.

You start wondering what’s the point of it all and disillusionment sinks in.      

A member of our Cheeky Scientist Association Diamond recently shared their thoughts with me and I noticed they had lost their purpose:

“I have been chasing postdoc after postdoc without having a sense of security for years and now I feel lost. I’m not fulfilled. I don’t feel connected to my academic research. I’m doing something that’s smaller than what I’m capable of doing. I’m doing something where I don’t feel like I’m having a positive impact on others. I’m not enjoying it anymore. How can I continue to do what I don’t enjoy every single day without making a change?”

If this feeling resonates with you, you probably have lost your purpose too.

And though it might feel like a dark spot, know that this is an opportunity to reconnect with your purpose. As I said, every PhD reaches this stage at some point in their career.

purposeless

Create A New Purpose Or Revamp Your Current One

Your purpose is the main reason why you do what you do every single day.

This can evolve throughout your life as you grow as a person and your priorities change.

But it is important to stay connected to your purpose no matter what. This will provide a rationale for your career. For your PhD work. For your life. 

Staying connected to your purpose will help you make difficult decisions, it will help you persevere in the face of uncertainty.

So, how do you stay connected to your purpose?

First, you need a certain level of security. You cannot enjoy what you are doing if you have to worry about how you’re going to pay your bills every month.

Unfortunately, academia doesn’t provide security anymore. 

You cannot innovate if you have to worry about funding running out, your next postdoc is going to be, or how you’re going to pay your bills. No matter how much you love your research.

Second, you need to change your mindset and remind yourself that you can do great things.

Academia is very often the land of the small. We usually have to force ourselves to feel a sense of reward from very small wins like getting moved from third to second author in a paper.

This leads to a small mindset. We forget that we started our PhD because we wanted to do great things. To have an impact in the world.

You need to go back to that can-do mindset to reconnect with your purpose.

Reconnect With Why You Got Into Research

I’m going to discuss 4 steps you can take to change your mindset and reconnect with your purpose.

These are not practical actions that you can do right now and be done with it. They will require some soul searching. 

But if you commit to the process, you will not only reconnect with your purpose, you will also get to a place where you can start making decisions that affect your life positively.

1. Identify your goals

You probably had some big goals and big dreams when you started grad school.

Spend some time thinking about the goals you used to have. Are there still things that drive you? If not, what are some new goals that you would like to achieve? 

Write them down and start planning for the future so you can achieve them.

You should always have goals that you want to achieve because your goals stem from your purpose and will help you guide your decisions.

So, how do you establish new goals? You think about the future, where do you want to be? What do you want to do?

Take your transition as an example. 

Many PhDs focus on targeting an industry position that sounds good to them without even knowing what that position entails.

This isn’t a natural process when it comes to setting up goals.

A much better approach is to identify what are the day to day actions you are currently doing that you would like to keep doing. What are the actions you don’t want to do ever again? 

Then, find an industry position where you can keep doing the actions you like and don’t have to do the actions you dislike.

A first goal could be to find that dream position that checks all the boxes. A second goal would be to get hired into that position.

purposeless

2. Find inspiration in the actions of others

Maybe you feel that finding your dream industry position is an impossible task. That it will never happen to you.

This might be a good time to remember that the impossible has been done before.

Humans have sent people to the Moon, eradicated deadly diseases, connected the world with the internet, and this is just the beginning.

As a PhD, there is something great that you can do. 

How would your life change if you acted like anything was possible? How might your energy increase?

You can get into that mindset where you feel like anything is possible for you.

The first step to achieve this is to define what you want. This is what you did in the previous section.

The second step is to find inspiration.

PhDs often have a hard time thinking in terms of possibilities, allowing themselves to get inspired because they think that emotion is bad or inspiration is bad, but it’s not. You have to use inspiration to drive yourself forward.

A good way of finding inspiration is to read stories of impossible tasks or great things that have been done.

The impossible has been done before by human people like you, and you can use those stories as inspiration to drive you to achieve your own impossible task.

3. Don’t be afraid to bet on yourself

Understanding the importance of investing in yourself is crucial to achieve your goals and stay connected to your purpose.

Do you believe in yourself? 

Enough to bet on yourself?

The best way to figure out how much somebody believes in themselves is to follow their wallet. That’s what somebody told me once. 

I was deciding whether or not I should pay for one of the most expensive events I had encountered so far.

The price was about $6,000, just for the ticket of the event.

As soon as I heard the price, I thought “I can’t go, I could never do that.” 

But many people that I admired were going to be there. Many publishers. And I was trying to publish my first book at the time. 

So, this person said to me “every great breakthrough that I have had in my life has come after writing a big check.”

This inspired me to write the check and I cannot tell you everything that I learned by going to that event.

It not only helped me publish my book. 

It ended up spearheading Cheeky Scientist.

And it’s not about the fact that I wrote a check. It’s about the fact that I bet on myself.

You have to be able to bet on yourself. 

If you see something that has an incredible return on investment and you’re not willing to invest in it, it shows that you don’t believe you can do it. You don’t believe that it’s possible for you. 

But you should because you can.

4. Define and commit to your purpose

Now that you have defined your goals, found inspiration to believe everything is possible, and are willing to bet on yourself, you just need to make a decision.

You have to decide what that next step is. 

As PhDs we’re taught to never decide on stuff. We hear all the time that we should leave our options open. To explore all the possibilities.

And this might work well in academia, but this is a different space. This is the space of creativity. And you need to make a decision, you need to define your purpose.

Get in a good mindspace, a space that fosters creativity and write down all the things that you want. Turn off the critic in your head.

Don’t limit yourself. Don’t play it safe. Write down what you really want. Your ultimate goal.

I see many PhDs that tell me that they are aiming for R&D careers, but what they really want is to be data scientists, or medical sciences liaisons. They just don’t think that that ultimate goal is possible for them.

Those things that make you say, “I don’t know if this is possible for me.” Those are the things your purpose is made of.

Write that down. 

If you can’t find something that you have a burning desire to do. That’s exciting. That seems a little bit impossible. You’re not going to have a strong enough purpose. 

And you need a strong purpose that will drive you through the obstacles that are going to come your way. Don’t be purposeless.

You need the purpose first. You can create a plan later, but plans are not exciting. Setting up your dream scenario is exciting.

Have you allowed yourself to desire something great in the last week, month, even year? 

I want you to put aside everything that says you need to tamp yourself down. 

Stop chasing the things that other PhDs are chasing. 

purposeless

Don’t think about your limitations, or the small goals of academia.

They’re beneath you. 

There are so many incredible things that you can do.

I’m an example of this, and I know thousands and thousands of PhDs around the world that are now too. 

I can tell you it is possible for you, but you can’t let that spark go out inside of you. You need to find your purpose and commit to it.

Concluding Remarks

As a PhD, you can do amazing things, for yourself and for the world. But you have probably lost your purpose after years in academia, and once you are purposeless, you lost your motivation as well. So, set up your goals, let yourself get inspired, bet on yourself, establish your purpose, and ask yourself, “what can I achieve that will allow me to fulfill this purpose?” And then commit to your purpose so you can achieve your truest potential.

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
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

The Number One Reason PhDs Fail To Get Hired In Industry

The Number One Reason PhDs Fail To Get Hired In Industry

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Today, I want to talk about the number one reason you are not being hired. You might think it’s because you are overqualified or underqualified for your target position. Or that you just can’t get hired because you lack industry experience. But the number one reason you are not getting hired is because you are invisible to industry hiring managers and recruiters. They simply don’t know who you are or the value you bring to the table. Understanding and accepting this should encourage you to change the way that you approach your job search.  Only then will you increase your…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 27th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 27th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 20th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 20th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 13th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 13th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 6th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, November 6th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

9 Wickedly Effective Ways To Accelerate Your Job Search

9 Wickedly Effective Ways To Accelerate Your Job Search

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Have you started working on your transition only to get discouraged when you realize it’s going to be a long process? How can you accelerate it? Or have you spent a lot of time thinking about the next steps you need to take without actually taking action? Today, I want to focus on the strategies you can take to increase your productivity in your job search and get hired faster.  You might be thinking there’s no way I can get hired faster. There’s no way that I can demystify the job search process to reduce the time it takes. But…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 30th 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 30th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

5 Point Job Search Productivity Plan For PhDs

5 Point Job Search Productivity Plan For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Job search productivity plan is imperative for success. Every day, more and more PhDs realize that they have no future in academia and start to plan their first industry transition. A script keeps playing in their head that says “I want to get hired.” This often leads to frustration because this script is not accurate. You don’t just want to get hired, you want to get hired into a PhD-level position. do meaningful work, where you can have an impact on humanity, where you get fairly compensated, where you can have security. I recently talked to a PhD who told…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 23rd 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, October 23rd 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.