Doctoral Journey and Psychological Downside


S. Ainavolu

1/14/2022 9 min read

Doctoral Journey and Psychological Downside – Beyond Correlation-Causality to Coping and Cure

The doctoral journey can be intense, complex, and even obfuscating in many cases on one or the other dimensions and, in a select few, on multiple dimensions. Upfront clarification may help appreciate the nuance and categorizing this appropriately. This may help absorb the contents of this writing better and help make use of the same. It focuses on the research/academic places that have demanding requirements, have complex processes and are quite multi-tasking, with the focus on the doctoral program may be diffused.

Modeling along the lines of input-process-outcome may comprehensively cover contextual factors, policy parameters, actor characteristics, and various interactions among these. Many of the possible issues and pragmatically affecting factors are well known in the academic community and hence a separate listing may not be required. Quick touching ground can be done by mentioning various contextual factors, policy features, actor characteristics and the very process that shall witness strong interactions and moderating as well. This paper shall cover the important of these as perceived by self, and cover these more from a coping and curing perspective. It is a fact that the title terms are observed to be correlated in significant cases. Instead of statistically finding out without controlling many of the interferences, debate on the quality of causation, suggesting coping and cure shall benefit the most important stakeholders viz. students and next, their committees and advisors.

The program and the “inside”

As we are aware, the program may be long drawn and demanding. Assumptions at the entry time may have to be revisited as time progresses. One may be able to cope with the demand or may need “slow track”, if not outright exit. Affinity with the subjects of the course work, thesis area, specific topic is important. So also, the process, rigidity, demands, friendliness of the ambience, life stage of the student, interest of committee and advisor on the student and about the work, all these matters. Quality of interactions within the small team that matters most to work viz. student, advisor and at the most the active committee members, and possibly Ph.D. program chair. Machine like impersonal work and no reactions can’t be expected in the human context. Often the time runs out, and milestones won’t witness any progress. Life situations keep evolving.

As we are aware of the psycho-somatic linkages, even the physical health may yield as a result of the stress, inaction, frustration on account of these. Physical strain, psychological stress, financial condition, family situation, job market situation and desperation of the need and requirement, methodological demands, resource constraints, time pressure, even parental health/life may affect from case to case. We deal or to be honest, refer to these conditions with reference to Bach Flower Remedies (BFR). As clarified earlier, a self-defined mandate for this writing is “coping and cure.” Any reference to any situation may please be taken academically, and no judgment is involved in discussing any instance.

Awe to observation

First time this seeker’s familiarity with Ph.D. happened was when he was eight or nine year old when his father took him to a felicitation ceremony in the small town that was hosting the family due to father’s academic engagement of teaching the future teachers. The felicitation occasion was a lecturer in the local government college completed his Ph.D. This was in mid-70s and it was the first Ph.D. earned by anyone in that remote, socio-economically not yet progressed border district. The developmental situation can be gauged from the fact that the campus that housed our family (in a tin sheeted quarter) and a hundred student batch in the hostel had no electricity. The awareness gained after the ceremony was, it was “highest study” and very difficult. Reflecting now, it was indeed difficult for that uncle in his early forties, probably who was posted 300 km away from the university with 10-12 hours of bus travel one way, was working full time, had no research funding for even remote place library work. And after almost two decades, I appreciated these factors fully and also learnt that in addition, he was also a householder with responsibilities. The incentive for him was limited materially, probably a small increment in the basic salary, and potential posting in then only PG centre in ten districts, whenever the vacancy arises and seniority is reached. It was a typical state government’s academic setup situation and was so. Probably Maslow’s upper portion motivated him to go through the above; I guessed when I started working for a large utility firm where there wasn’t much incentive for additional studies/qualifications.

Demanding process

Often the selection process prevents the entry of non-clear and non-motivated students in the doctoral program is the realistic assumption. However, it is a snapshot view, and the dynamism in human situations shall turn the situation differently over the next few years. If the evolution and trajectory are favourable, it is a positive selection. Else, one probably misrepresented, or case got misjudged for potential “evolution”, where often the hindsight is the only answer. Previous academic record, work attitude, ethical orientation, motivation to pursue and additional driving factors, probably may predict the result favourably in majority cases but in a few minority probably a significant minority, may be beyond the prediction boundaries. These though a smaller portion of the overall cases, plead the attention and require the facilitating hands to see the process through. Even in the majority cases too, there may be a time when some intervention is required to “pull out” of the problem spot. Repeating here that emphasis is on coping and cure and suggestions can be along any ground (eg. counseling etc.) but here Bach Flower Remedies (BFR) are suggested. The mapping of the discussed situation and BFR may be taken as the best effort by this seeker cum healer and the intent is only to clarify and help improve the situation in all open-minded cases, viz. those who are willing to try.

Hesitation and under-confidence

Ideally to begin with, one should start with Wild Oat, that helps one find life’s purpose. It greatly helps clarify the mind and makes one commit enough and sufficiently. Having taken up the challenge the journey is long and often tedious. The daunting coursework may pull back the spirits of the individual. Even assignments or facing exams look impossible. Hornbeam for hesitancy and Larch for confidence shall definitely help one. If the assignment is returned with adverse comments or the thesis proposal is turned down or even if thesis is rejected, Gentian shall help gather courage again and attempt afresh. Before any presentation, a few drops of Larch shall see the situation through. For any quick response situations administering Rescue Remedy, a combination of five flower essences shall ease the situation.

Lack of clarity and focus

Clematis is a wonderful remedy that helps one stay focused. White chestnut regulates uncontrolled thoughts. Repeated attempts to grasp if are not very productive, then Chestnut Bud shall help. Time wasting habits are really taxing the individual, and the person is not able to come out of the grip of the habit, Cherry Plum shall help. Uncontrollable situation where the mind yields get saved by this. Often the extreme act due to failure of reason and loss of hope too can be remedied through Cherry plum, in combination with other BFRs.


Jealousy may not be openly confessed but in a smaller network immediate comparisons happen and the resultant may be hurting for both the sides. Holly relieves the envy feelings. Batchmates may be completing and leaving or if the spouse pair were pursuing together, one of them might be finishing and the other not very close to completion, awards of different categories may have come to one or the other and not to this person. All these lead to Holly required situations. Additionally, if the person avoids meeting anyone (even if temporarily), probably something may be serious. Aloofness may be one reason. Even when meeting friends the person avoids the troubling topic is second. Agrimony helps the person open up and discuss her/his problem with the trusted friends atleast. Aloofness may be the norm for the person and in such cases Water Violet helps. His/her aloofness and island behaviour may not cause problems to any, but the person’s ability to draw from the beneficial eco-system around gets severely restricted. On the contrary, the person may be too social to the point of imposing his ideas and plans on all other “fellows”. Vervain contains over-enthusiasm and Vine shall stop his/her bullying nature, if any. Senior students bullying require Vine. On the contrary, if the person is too docile, Centaury shall help find their feet. There may be cases when Vervain plus Vine combination is required by the advisor and Centaury is needed by the research student.

More on inter-personal

Doctoral journey is a social process. Regarding the choices to be made, academically or otherwise, including whom should be approached as the advisor etc., one may keep seeking advice from one and many. Cerato helps ease the situation for the person. It addresses self-doubting behaviour. If the choices are filtered to two and one is struggling to zero on one, Scleranthus shall definitely help. It shall also help in case of shifting complaints or even psycho-somatically induced itching that appears from moving place to place.

Fear and doubts

Fear and anxiety are of different degrees. Different and even general anxieties without any specificity can be addressed through Aspen. To fear a known trigger is aimed for resolution through Mimulus. A shocking humiliation or a “grounding” can be addressed through Star of Bethlehem. It eases the shock. Rock Rose addresses the terror on account of a specific situation. In science labs, if there was an explosion in an earlier experiment, the student may freeze for onward actions. A combination of Rock rose and Star of Bethlehem shall definitely help. This fear is higher order than in case of Mimulus. If we develop the anxiety and worry about others, it may be a fellow student colleague or remote family members, Red chestnut helps.

Almost lost hope

Moments may come when the basic ingredient of life, hope appears shaken. Gorse helps, if it is due to any specific and serious reason. Mustard helps if there is no specific reason but the descending of dark clouds are frequent unwelcome guests. There could be situations that cause “lost hope” irrespective of our doing and that is also beyond our means of helping or improving. Someone’s thesis went for the “examination,” and the well-respected professor entered a very serious life stage or immediate family members are into danger stage. Sweet chestnut helps in such desperate situations and help us see the light at the end of deep tunnel.

Life is what happens

Along the journey one may also have milestone events happening in life. Getting married, having kid(s), losing parents or siblings, spouse moving to a different city on account of transfer are all seriously impacting incidents. Coping may appear difficult. If one has to “travel through” one or more of these situations, Walnut helps one transit successfully.

Remedies the advisors may need

A perceivable perfectionist guide may need Beech if he/she is too critical to the point of affecting the process. The student most likely may drop out, and even if completed, shall never ever be close to the academics. As mentioned earlier, there may be cases when Vervain plus Vine combination is required by an over-enthusiastic and imposing advisor. Similarly, an impatient advisor needs Impatiens to improve the interaction quality and process continuity. Chicory shall help the students when taken by advisor who is highly possessive. If the advisor always talks of her/his thesis days or of earlier students, Honey Suckle taken by the advisor shall greatly help the situation. If the time is consumed by the advisor talking about his areas of concern, Heather has to be taken by her/him so that focus can shift towards the student who has to start the life after the thesis. A rigid and dogmatic guide requires Rock water to become little open-minded and considerate.

More process supporting remedies

The student researcher may enter a stage of “getting overwhelmed” during the process. Elm helps for this. If the student is strongly getting bothered about “one thing”, possibly the result or an element of the model itself, then it is Crab Apple that can help. If the student after really tiring and demanding assignments or field work is exhausted, Olive can help recover the apparently lost energy. If the researcher is not resting at all, probably a break-down may be around. To prevent the situation, Oak if administered, shall help the student balance and manage the time well even with adequate rest. If the advisor or the student develops apathy for the process and resign mentally from the situation, Wild Rose can help one re-engage enthusiastically. If the student or the advisor gets into self-blame situation and spend energy on regretting, then Pine can ensure active engagement. Not a very uncommon situation is “why me” whenever not so pleasant occurrence happens. Willow brings positive energy to the surface and pushes out the outward self-pity and deep inside lost feeling and resentment.

Approaching from a different perspective

The issue of research studies can be approached from Vedic Astrology perspective too. Various “houses” in one’s chart may point towards the process facilitation and outcome achievement. Being open-minded and exploring in a swadhyaya session with the learned may throw light on the previously unknowns, or as they say “dark areas become open.” A deeper examination of the ninth house (higher education), eighth (deep diving aptitude), sixth (the working context), the eleventh (peers) seventh (house of partnerships), and the overall lagna (first house), fourth (inner mind) along with tenth (profession and social capital) shall reveal and help one with gained insights. The emphasis on a particular “house” depends on the issue at hand. The knowledge of “transits” too help.

Positive closure and outcome achievement

As this writing mentioned in the beginning, the purpose of this paper is coping and curing. Mechanism and means are only of supporting interest. Process getting helped and outcome manifesting in the desired manner counts. The proof is in achieving the desired outcome. The emotional price paid in achieving can’t be too harsh and the time taken not too long. Overall effectiveness matters, and BFR can help if sought. May all those needing help may have an access to it.