I know this will come off really immature, given that I am 30 years old. I joined a university as a PostDoc after completing my PhD 6 months ago. I am yet to publish anything after joining here. I was planning to join the industry after a year of joining (it was initially a one year contract, but it got extended for 3 more years). My professor is very understanding, and he is very motivated. His team is getting into theoretical machine learning and the papers he published are already making strides and catching everyone's attention.

I, on the other hand, am just starting in the area of datascience. I am an average coder, and my math skills are also pretty average. If I work hard I can crank out some papers ( that is how I finished my PhD), but lately I have been feeling very unmotivated and distracted. I have a few family problems (I am gay from a conservative family), but that is no excuse for not being motivated, I know. I tried out to be a datascientist at an Internet company but was rejected after the on-site interview following a Skype interview, the reason being that my practical skills were not on par ( I did a mainly theoretical PhD, and my knowledge of practical algos is lacking).

On the other hand my colleague who is a PhD student (only 25!) has been publishing and his works on machine learning (also theoretical), have been attracting researchers from Facebook and Google, at a recent conference. As for me, the very idea of going to a conference gives me shudders.

I am out of ideas and out of steam to be honest, but I really want to create pathbreaking research and join a top company to start my career as a datascientist. But I feel lost.

For context: I did my PhD on random graph analysis.

I really need some guidance. I know I should have figured this out already given I am a 30 year old graduate, but unfortunately I haven't. I can blame that on my depression, but how long can I do that for? Anybody who has been in the same situation as me? Any input is welcome.

  • I've been depressed for fifty years, this is not something that just goes away. What you do is work with a therapist to learn strategies for how to cope and be productive anyway. I would suggest a behavioral therapist.
    – HLGEM
    Apr 20, 2018 at 21:16
  • And consider that after the pressure of a PhD, you might be somewhat burned out and need a break from the work.
    – HLGEM
    Apr 20, 2018 at 21:17
  • @HLGEM Thank you for your comment. Could you please tell me exactly what CBT entails. I have heard of it, but I don't know what it is. I have just started going to a psychologist right now, but I have a feeling he doesn't get me and thinks I am exaggerating. Apr 20, 2018 at 21:22
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    it's possible this is not the ideal "SO site" for this question, PK. What about the "academia" site? (This site is more like "How do I politely tell my boss his zip is undone?" and so on!)
    – Fattie
    Apr 20, 2018 at 21:47
  • There is no point to compare yourself to someone else. Everyone has different competencies, interests and goals. Find what you are good at and continue on that path. [Cue: Rating a fish by its ability to climb trees] Apr 21, 2018 at 8:45

3 Answers 3


Rejection is the norm while interviewing, and you need to get into the practice of interviewing and accepting rejection to be any good at it. One rejection doesn't tell you anything about who you are as a person -- it's a pretty random and unscientific process.

Furthermore, you may have a lot of academic skills, but you need to learn interview skills specifically to get into a top tech company. Read books like Cracking the Coding Interview and work through the problems. Get good at answering typical interview questions. If you become talented at interviews, getting a good job will be easy -- but you have to practice.

As someone with an undergrad science degree, I would kill for your kind of academic CS pedigree. You have very bright career prospects, but to get there you have to apply yourself and not expect to walk right into it.

If you're in a PhD program, you're more than smart enough. Academia has a way of cultivating imposter syndrome in smart people, and as soon as I got out of that environment and into the work world I felt much better about myself. So you're not the next Alan Turing -- neither am I. But I'm doing fine, if you don't mind me saying so.

Finally, it sounds like you're pretty obviously dealing with burnout and depression: consider seeking outside help if you aren't already, and try not to deal with burnout by pushing yourself even harder. (That leads to worse burnout, which can take years to undo.) Take care of yourself.

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    Thank you for your thoughtful response. This puts so much hope into me and it clearly delineates what I should be doing. I have been feeling burnt out for a while, but I just started seeing a psychologist. You can't imagine how much your response has lifted my spirits. Apr 20, 2018 at 21:37
  • @PoochaKutti Glad I could help. I wanted to get a PhD and dealt with pretty severe academic burnout, too, and have come out the other side unscathed. I know when you're in the middle of academia it seems like it's the whole world, but there's a lot of opportunities and life to be lived out there. Don't give up hope because you're struggling. Pretty much everything is easier than a technical PhD.
    – Slothario
    Apr 20, 2018 at 21:44
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    I know what you mean. To be honest with you I should have quit academia long ago. I actually did take a break and work for a while, but something kept pulling me back. I like research, but the isolated worklife of academia is gruesome. I will try to have a wider perspective. Thank you so much again. Apr 20, 2018 at 21:58

You first need to decide whether you want to stay in science or move to a company. Normally people do that after their PhDs at the latest. The more you are waiting the more difficult it will get.

There's no one way that suits everybody. If you aren't into theory and publishing, use the next months to brush up on your data science skills and apply like crazy.


Adding to what Danny Newman said, it is not (that) hard to bring yourself up to par in terms of coding. Coding is more like a sport or a musical instrument than like theoretical skills, practice, practice, practice, practice!

You are thirty and a post-doc. Unless you have a family and kids, you definitely have enough time to practice coding. You will find that it is not only beneficial for your career, but it is also fun.

Finally if an up and coming professor was willing to hire you and extend your contract for 3 years, you must have some level of competence or skill, so don't sell yourself short.

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