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RinseRepeat

Anyone feeling regrets?

8 posts in this topic

I feel so incredibly selfish and confused that I am about to write this, but I am wondering if anyone else is going through/has gone through something similar. I just finished my first year of my phd program.....and I feel horrible. It's been a long, confusing road to get here. To explain, I focused full force on this goal of being accepted to a phd program and it was a long 3-ish years of hard work. One round of full rejections, but the second time getting multiple offers. That felt like the hardest decision of my life, and to be honest, I made a small mess of it. However, I ended up going with my brain and accepting the offer at a school where the program and lab were a great fit and really are the best decision for my career/training. However, I was tentative about location and the "quality of life" side of things. In the end, I pushed all that aside and told myself I had to do what was best for my future. (As a side note, I was also entering a grad school-forced long distance relationship, and this decision helped there as well). 

Well now, one year in, my relationship completely imploded and I feel isolated and very unhappy where I am. I have learned a lot in my classes and feel that my research is going rather well, but without that "life anchor" keeping me grounded, I keep dwelling on the fact that I am not happy where I am in the world, and I have years before anything will change. My unease of location and "quality of life" has ballooned so much recently. I keep playing back in my head that I had options in places of the world where I'd feel more comfortable and would have more of a support system, but I know that I would have found what was lacking in the program or lab fit (depending on the option) to be similarly distressing. 

I know I'm not the first to find myself living somewhere they only went for the school/lab. I know I'm not the first to have grad school and distance destroy the relationship they felt would endure and saw as their future. But has anyone else found themselves in this position and have any advice? I don't want to be upset for the rest of my time in grad school. It was such a huge goal I was so happy to have the opportunity to take it on. I feel SO fortunate that I was given an offer in this program, and feel really guilty that I am letting other life issues make me miserable. Especially when so many others did not receive offers...because I know how horrible that feels as well! 

People in my life who don't know how grad works keep asking me if I can "transfer". Even if I could, I don't know that I would because my lab and program really are great. It's just the thoughts of "am I burning years of my life just waiting to move on?" that are torturing me. I don't really know what advice I could even be hoping for here, but if anyone has gone through a similar situation, even some experiential support would be appreciated. Should I have put more weight into "life/location happiness"? Did I let my intellectual side of the decision have too much weight? Or am I just feeling something that is common early on in a big change like this? 

I'm thinking about looking into doing some visiting researcher time for maybe one of my years (I saw other grad students do this in the lab I worked in before getting accepted) and wonder how common that is....

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You're not alone.  I transferred undergrad institutions due to depression caused by homesickness, and so when I chose a grad school, I definitely put a lot of weight on quality of life. However, even though I am only 2 1/2 hours from my friends, family, favorite city, and my boyfriend, I still feel depressed here and sometimes wish I chose one of the universities in my old city.  

Unfortunately, we cannot go back :/ We made our choices and now we have to stick with them or tarnish our reputations.  You have to stop thinking in the past, in "what ifs".  Embrace your new place, especially opportunities and experiences that are unique to your university.  Take some more time to socialize and maybe even date.  Do you feel isolated?

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It's a tough situation, you did what was best for your career and made a hard choice. I will say that there is no guarantee you would have been happier in a program that wasn't as good a fit as this one, even if you were closer to your friends/support. On one hand, it is easier to find new support and make new friends than it is to be happy/content in a program you don't feel is a good fit. 

It does sound like you're really stressed though. Perhaps this is a crazy suggestion, but have you considered seeing a therapist? Many psychology grad students do so as the program is quite intense and stress-provoking. It could help you organize what you're feeling.

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Posted (edited)

As someone who dropped out of a dream PhD program due to depression and has regretted it for five years, I would say don't make a decision just yet. Seek support first. Speak to a counselor or psychologist. Speak to faculty members. Think about dropping down to part time to reduce your stress. Consider all your options first - don't just withdraw. I mirror the sentiment that another program won't necessarily make you feel better, even in a different location. 

Edited by theonlyexception

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You're not alone, I too am finishing my first year in my program and have realized I'm not in love with my program or its location.  Since you can't transfer in grad school the way you can in undergrad and for me personally dropping out and reapplying isn't an option I'm going to stick it out and make the most of it.  This is going to take just as much effort as it did to get into a program in the first place, but since I'm determined to have the career I want then its what I'll do.  

In terms of quality of life I am literally forcing myself out of the house and into the community to do something every week whether I feel like it or not.  Yes I do mean don't spend all of your time on campus or with people from your department/lab.  There's nothing wrong with them, but you don't want to get labeled as a downer that no one wants to be around or work with.  

In the community free events, site seeing, meetups, and short term volunteer opportunities are great places to start.  I've attended plenty of things that I wasn't totally interested in or had no idea what they were and usually had a decent time or at least learned something.  I also ask the locals what I should see and do while I'm here and add those things to my list.  I will only be here for a few years, but when I leave I can truly say I experienced being here even if I didn't love it.  If you're able to get out of town on the occasional weekend, during school breaks, or for a training opportunity somewhere else then do it.  A change of scenery can refresh your batteries in many ways.  Engaging in self care is also very important.  Whatever your thing is....exercise, meditation, cooking, a hot bath, etc. it needs to be done regularly so that you have some balance.

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Thank you all for your replies. I've been thinking and the bottom line really is that I would never leave. I've come too far and have worked too hard. Plus I feel loyalty to my PI and the department for giving me such a great opportunity. As a response to the one post, I don't see any shame in it AT ALL, and am currently in therapy. I know this change hit all the big life changes that can affect you all at one time (they usually say just one of these changes is extremely stressful, so have the others as support). I'm not surprised I'm struggling so hard with moving location, stressful job (phd) change, and relationship ending all happening at the same time. 

It's interesting, though, that from posting here (and also talking to friends in programs) how common this is for people to feel regrets, overwhelmed, etc. Especially since, for most of us, it's a big goal that took years of hard work to achieve. That's why I posted that I felt so selfish or wrong feeling this way and even questioning it. I should be ecstatic...and I feel guilty that I am instead so distraught about things. I also found out a few people I am acquaintances with and also one friend decided to leave their program in their first or second year. When they told me, I couldn't even fathom making that decision, so I know I'll never do that. I just need to push through, but the support of people is really kind and helpful. 

I think the biggest thing is I need to accept that my life is changing/changed and, in some ways, I have zero control over it. Even though I long for the things I built toward previously and miss so much, for now they are gone. I guess it's not a process of working toward my educational/professional goals with the focus on getting back to where I was and loved previously. I'm sick of feeling like I'm "in transition" but it is what it is.....right? Thank you all for the kind words. I really needed them...especially when I wrote this. 

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I just wanted to add that the first year of grad school (often) sucks. It just does, even when things go pretty well. You're in a new place, you're adjusting to a new program, you're trying to get projects off the ground (and you're new, so lots of them will fail), you're forming a relationship with your PI, and you're trying to pass classes. It is so, so common to feel like you are spinning your wheels, but you aren't. Trust that it will get better if you keep working at it. Seek out help and support wherever you can -- in addition to counseling, maybe try joining a student group or church? Just talking to someone about how you feel can go a long way towards easing the burden. For me, a huge help was just finding out that my experience was not unique -- that the first year just sucks!

The second year, in my experience, sucks a bit less. I hope you feel that way, too. And however you feel about it, don't beat yourself up; grad school is rough! It's okay to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, uncertain, and extremely jealous of your friends with "normal" jobs! Don't add to your burden by feeling guilty -- there's nothing to feel guilty about.

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So here's what I've come up with (this took me years by the way). There are six things needed to survive in a location you don't love and/or in a position you don't love but you actually only need half of them at any time. They are (in no particular order) alcohol/drinking, therapy, church/religion, sex, travel, working out. It can also be some combo of these things. Some of it is about endorphins, some about getting out there and doing things, and some about actually working through issues. If you're lonely, look for meetup groups or become a regular at a coffee shop or bar. Take up an activity you've always wanted to pursue (lately, for me, that's been group fitness classes). It's all survivable if you want it to be, though I know it can be hard to remember that sometimes. Good luck!

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