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Motivational Quotes for the PhD Journey


The PhD journey is a long one where it’s easy and normal to feel unmotivated for certain stretches of time. We all need a little inspiration to perk us up during those days. Jenny Mak offers you four handy motivational quotes for when the going gets tough during your PhD…


“Success requires Action”

We all procrastinate. It’s something that is easy to do especially at the beginning of your PhD when it feels like you have a lot of time. But to be successful—by this I mean successfully finishing and submitting your thesis—it’s not enough to say that you want a PhD, you also have to do the work. Doing the work means sitting down at your desk, butt firmly stuck to chair, and just doing it. It helps to set yourself concrete goals like writing 500 words a day, and trying your best to meet that target every day.


“Progress, not Perfection”

Perfectionism often gets confused with having high standards. For me, this has meant that I’d revised a chapter countless times before sending it to my supervisors for feedback because I felt that it just wasn’t right. But here’s the problem: the “right” version doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion—painfully shattered when you get back said chapter with lots of critical comments from your supervisor. Conversely, something that you think is “average” might actually be good enough for your supervisor. It’s good to have high standards, but don’t kill yourself over them. “Good enough” tends to be good enough. Check out Petra Kolber’s TED talk titled “The Perfection Detox” for some sharp insights into the perils of perfectionism.


“Eat the Elephant one bite at a time”

I don’t remember where I heard this quote. But it came handy in the late stages of my PhD when I felt tired and frustrated that no matter how much and how fast I was writing and revising, there still seemed to be no end in sight. Finishing a thesis can feel like having a huge elephant in front of you that you’re supposed to eat in its entirety. Of course, if you mainly focus on how massive this elephant is and when you can finish eating it up, you will feel overwhelmed. But if you take the elephant bite by bite, and not think about how much of it is left, one day the elephant will be all gone. The same goes for your thesis: break it down to small actionable tasks and do one task after another, until it is done and ready for submission.


“Enjoy Climbing the Mountain”

Doing a PhD is extremely challenging work. While we do it for the intellectual stimulation, sometimes we might wonder: why do we put ourselves through such difficulty? If you need a reminder of why you have chosen to do this, here is a quote by Tadashi Yanai, the founder of Uniqlo, which I have found helpful: “I’m never really satisfied with anything because the world is ever-changing. If you keep climbing up, then you see another, higher mountain. You climb up that peak and see another. I will pass away eventually because that is life. But I am climbing mountains because I enjoy the process of climbing a mountain.”


What challenges have you faced in your PhD so far? What motivational quotes did you find helpful when you had to face these challenges? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Jenny Mak is a PhD researcher in the English and Comparative Literary Studies department at the University of Warwick. Her research looks at embodied experiences of globalisation in contemporary world literature. She has a background in creative writing, journalism, publishing, and sports training.


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