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I'm in the exact same boat as you- same place in my program, same age. And I agree that this past year has been a joke, at least as far as department life goes. Doing things online will always be crappy.

I guess my advice is to be really honest with yourself if this is your passion or not. Is this your 'calling' in life? If it is, you will find a way to push through. As Marcus points out, you will reach low points in your program, covid or no covid. So, in a way this present situation is nothing new or unique. If its not covid, it will be something else. Might as well figure out how to deal with adversity now.

If you strip away all the exterior things - department life, conferences, teaching in person, etc.- and all you are left with is just you and your books and your writing, and you hate it, maybe that is an indicator of something. Maybe you have been pursuing philosophy all these years as a way to just avoid 'the real world'? I suspect many students do this.

Only you can answer these questions. What has gotten me through the last year is my certainty that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and my passion for it. Doesn't mean it isn't hard, of course. But again, if it weren't covid, some other challenge would come along to make you question your choices.

sympathetic reader

Initially, my response to the loneliness of the pandemic was just to bury myself in my work, mostly by writing papers and dissertating. It helped that my dissertation was already well under way. Knowing that the finish line was close helped me not to get too bogged down in sadness. But OP's situation is different, since they only just starting out on the dissertation--an already overwhelming task at the early stages which, when coupled with pandemic blues, can no doubt feel like the last thing you want to spend your time on. Still, I want to emphasize that OP is nowhere close to being alone in having a hard time keeping motivated right now. For me, things have been harder more recently; the strategy of burying yourself in work is not a healthy one for the long term.

Anyway, if there is a tiny piece of advice I can offer as regards finding motivation, it's to try and organize regular or semi-regular online work sessions with some of your peers. You might structure them by using the "pomodoro" method, where you work for short intervals of 25-30 minutes and then allot breaks of 5-10 minutes (these are sample numbers; you can adjust as you see fit, but the idea is not to make each work interval too long, at least if your objective is to gently guide yourself back into productive work habits). During these breaks, you can just socialize with others on the call. And because the work intervals are short, it can feel less daunting to just dive in.

This link is useful for getting the pomodoro sessions going:


It helps if one person on the zoom call shares the timer using the share screen function, so that everyone on the call is synced up with one another.


I set myself one small, precise research goal at the beginning of every day, and then went about satisfying it (e.g. write 250 or 500 words on paper X, read paper Y, etc.). Once I reached the goal, I decided whether I felt like stopping (in which case, I could happily do so) or pressing on and exceeding my goal for the day. I reported on my progress each day in an online community, too, for some accountability.

I worked 1-2 hours most weekdays using this method, and not at all on weekends. I also wrote four papers from scratch, submitted them, R&Red them, had them accepted, revised several other papers, wrote many referee reports, etc. It was painless.

You don't need the motivation to do a lot. You just need to sit down and do a little bit on a regular basis.


I should have added: one I was done with my task for the day, I spent the rest of the day on fun stuff--hikes, movies, games, etc.

new assistant prof

@sympathetic reader: I have been doing regular zoom work sessions with a friend as well, and this has been hugely motivating and a way of connecting. We do 30 minute work sessions and prior to each session we state what mini goal we will accomplish. After we say what we accomplished, maybe do a little exercise together or get a snack, then set goals for the next session. Probably the reason I am not insane.

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