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  1. Sorry this is SO long, but I REALLY appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this!! I am a first year Molecular Biology PhD student in California, and I am amazingly unhappy with how my program has been going so far (ie, I have been miserable and often anxious/depressed). I keep trying to keep a positive attitude, but it feels like no matter how hard I work, things still aren't working out (and I don't feel very supported or valued by my department). I'm trying to be proactive about my anxiety, and I regularly see a therapist. There have been a string of events in my personal life–had I known at the time of choosing at a PhD program–I would have NEVER chosen my current school/program. The biggest event was in October when my mom was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, across the country, in the rural midwest. She has gone through a great deal of chemo and multiple surgeries, and it has been difficult to put a handle on the metastasis. I have been traveling home for every holiday (spending an entire month between December-Jan as well as spring break), and I have gone home for each surgery (for long weekends). I have done this with the blessings/permission of my rotation professors/department head, but it has been truly exhausting. Because of my family's specific situation, I do not have any other family members that can care for my mom 24-7, when she is doing very poorly/right after a surgery (thus part of the reason I want to visit home). My parents tell me upfront that they don't want me to sacrifice my career opportunities (I am a first generation college student), but I know in my heart that they need me (and I need to be with them). I always have such a heavy heart, knowing that my mom and my family is suffering on the other side of the country; I hate being so far away from home. One of my close friends also committed suicide during my first rotation (and he sent me a package in the mail right before he passed away; which I never got a chance to thank him for, since I was "so busy" working in lab), which also gave been a heavy heart. If these personal-life issues were the only issues, I would consider taking a medical leave. I chose not to, however, because I thought it might complicate my NSF GRFP funding/I didn't have the money to keep paying rent in my apartment, without being paid. I powered through, and now that it is the time where we are supposed to "choose" thesis labs, I am finding out that none of the three professors who I rotated with want me to join their lab. It is very distressing to me, because I have tried *SO HARD* to keep everything together, slap on a happy face, and try my best. Despite everything, I still worked 8-16 hours in the lab every day, and I had data for each rotation. When I would go home for short trips, I would work extra hours in the night and entire weekends (getting only a few hours of sleep), to make up for lost time. I was extremely passionate about the topics of research in the labs I rotated in, in I would have been happy to join any three of them. I was extremely thoughtful in choosing my rotation labs. If nothing else, I hoped at least one of the 3 professors would have noticed and appreciated my grit and determination. But I got feedback from the department head that I should "seriously start looking for 4th rotation labs, because none of my first 3 rotation professors 'want' me in their lab." After meeting with each of the three professors, I confirmed what the department head said to be true (they either told me that they didn't think their labs were "where my interests truly lied" or that they thought I should go somewhere were I could get more mentorship). I don't really understand their comments; since I was very enthusiastic about their work and I was increasingly independent, especially towards the end of my rotations (once I had been trained–able to design, carry out, and analyze my own experiments, from scratch). I understand, however, that these are just nice ways of telling me they don't want me in their lab. Adding to this, I even had one professor called me "slow" (in regards the way I think and reflect on problems) towards the end of my rotation (which was a bit offensive, she I am registered with the disability office for being dyslexic–which honestly, I don't feel like greatly effects my work). I have NEVER been called "slow" before in my life. As a different scenario (but equally bothering), a PhD student in the last lab I worked in went out of her way to tell me that she strongly advises me NOT to join the lab, that I would have a very hard time being successful there, and that the professor doesn't even know or care that I exist (harsh!). She told me not to take it personally, because the professor is very busy and has nothing invested in any of her rotation students (in addition to not knowing who they are). She even encouraged me to not give a final lab meeting, because it would save everyone time (of not having to listen to me present); and of course this PhD student is the person who schedules lab meetings for everyone. The professor of course knows who I am, because I had met with her several times one-on-one, and I am still planning on presenting my data in lab meeting. I was so humiliated, however, that I cried in front of this PhD student (mind you this was a few days before my mom was due for another surgery, so I was already extra emotionally vulnerable). I tried my best to be hard-working in this lab, I would ask for help when I needed it, and I got some interesting data–I honestly have no idea what I did to deserve those comments from this PhD student (I didn't even ask for her opinion or indicate that I hoped to join the lab!). Of course, I did not want to join this final lab (especially after these comments/experience). I understand the easiest thing would be to find a 4th rotation lab, but so far, I am truly not interested/passionate in any other labs at the university (and this department makes me feel very horrible about myself). It is a huge source of anxiety for me to be so far away from my family at this time. I have my own NSF GRFP funding, in addition to 2 years of an NIH training grant (I really can't understand why none of the three professors will take a chance on me; they don't even have to pay for me!). I don't feel wanted or respected in my department now, and I feel so misunderstood. I don't expect to be liked by everybody, but I can't understand why I am liked by seemingly no one. I went to a good university for undergrad, worked in several research labs (with publications and good rec letters), did an international research fellowship, and I try to have good people skills/be very respectful, humble and polite (I know it must not seem like it in this post haha, forgive me; I'm just trying to give context to me situation). I have a new publication that will be coming out next year, for a project that I worked on as a senior in college. I don't brag/ever bring up these accomplishments here in my program; I'm just disclosing it here, because I am having such a hard time understanding why I went from being so well-received in my past research experiences to being so-poorly received here. Originally, in addition to this school in California, I was accepted into: UChicago, UWash Seattle (Genomics), Harvard, UNC, and Princeton. I am really kicking myself now, because had I gone to UChicago or Princeton, it would have either been a 2 hour direct flight home or a 3 hour train ride (whereas traveling to/from California takes at least 7-12 hours and is expensive, to get to my family). Is it possible to try to transfer another school (such as UChicago or Princeton)? Honestly, if it weren't for NSF (and the fact that I've dreamed of being a scientist since I was 14), I might consider leaving the PhD path altogether. But I'm not ready to ENTIRELY give up; it seems so stupid to do that, just because I am having such a hard time in my current program (and I don't entirely understand why). I don't want to do a PhD on a topic I'm not passionate about (or in a department where I feel not supported/not wanted), but I have hope that there might be other options. I wouldn't mind having to start entirely from scratch at a new school, since I'm only a first year now. I don't expect my PhD experience to be magically better at a new school, but at least I were to struggle, I would be struggling closer to home. If I were to attempt transferring, would I need to reapply in December, or is it at all possible to contact the department and somehow explain my situation (to transfer)? And out of curiosity: Has anyone had the experience before, where they had NSF, but had a horrible time finding a lab that wanted to take them? What are peoples thoughts? Thank you so much!

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