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Considering leaving my PhD program


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I am at a point of complete frustration with my PhD program and really need some advice. I am doing the fieldwork for my dissertation right now and should be done by the fall. Next year could be my final year, but it could also take a bit longer depending on how I progress. Right now it's looking like it may also take longer if I start working part time to help support myself.

My frustration right now is stemming from the fact that my supervisor is becoming really difficult to work with. He doesn't respond to my emails (I'm overseas right now doing fieldwork), skips our supervision meetings, and when he does show up to our meetings he usually hasn't read any of my work. I feel like my project has gotten unwieldy due to my supervision having gone down hill the past year. I am also really irritated because my fieldwork was delayed by months because of his disorganisation -- this delay also ended up costing me a lot of money because I am not fully funded and relying on grants and scholarships, which were not enough to cover my expenses during these delays. I have tried various tactics to try and take control of the situation (sending him reminders about our meetings, calling to remind him, showing up with a list of things to discuss, and emailing him a list of the points discussed -- not to mention expressing my concerns about my finances and the numerous delays), but still feel like I am all alone and on an uphill battle. I also put a lot of volunteer time this past year in to help him with a project, thinking that if I did that, he would give me better quality supervision and I also thought this extra project could benefit my career. Now I'm feeling a like he took advantage of me because I haven't gotten much out of all the time I put in helping him. The results of the project also don't seem on track to be published since he has dropped the ball on it completely.

Financial concerns are also weighing heavily on me right now as I did not get a grant I had hoped to for next year. This means more student loans (I already had some from my MA and have taken out more along the way while working on my PhD) -- and this just adds to my frustration. My SO keeps telling me to stick with it no matter what and just get the degree. Achieving a PhD has been one of my dreams and I am studying a topic that I am very interested in and I have been very lucky to gain access to the site where I am conducting my research. I'm also at a very highly ranked school so I do think that if I could get the PhD, it could be worth it.

I just feel like my heart isn't in it anymore and I'm not sure if its worth the sacrifice of time, money and stress to keep going. I have also thought that maybe I should just finish my fieldwork and take a year off. However, I also think that if I did that it would be hard to get back into school mode again. I'm just really not sure what to do. I feel like dropping out and just taking a second MA and being done with it. Yet, I also think I could regret this decision later on. I feel stuck. Does anyone have any advice that could help me with this decision? Thank you so much for reading through my post.

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So you're saying you have a year or a year and a half left? I understand how frustrating it can be, especially when money is tight. I'm not in a PhD program, but I'm working on a masters. That being said, I would say stick it out and get the degree. If you don't have that long left then why waste the time and money you have already invested?

Edited by robot_hamster
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the hard part about finishing a PhD is not how long it will take. it's finding the will and endurance to do the specific work that is required of you. if you don't have the will to do it, it won't matter if there's only 3 months left.

talk to the director of grad studies about all of these issues, including the shitty advising you're getting. see what s/he says. it may be possible to get some informal co-advising from one of your dissertation committee members, and this other prof can keep you on track and help you manage the project realistically. our advisors are people too and sometimes they really drop the ball. we can't let that derail our own career paths. so, first and foremost, talk about your DGS and see what help they offer you.

if it's still not working out, try to defer enrollment for a year. being away from academia for a year may make you remember why you started in the first place. you could go running back with renewed energy to finish the degree. or it could make you realize you're much happier out of academia, in which case, you don't need a PhD anyway. at that point, once you've deferred and decided you don't want to go back, then you can see if they'll just give you the second MA.

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Thanks for the advice. I think you both have very good points. I have just been getting so frustrated (mostly with my supervisor) that it's hard to think clearly right now. The past month things have been coming to a head because he hasn't returned any of my emails regarding short but important questions about my fieldwork. Usually, he at least offers some kind of a response. I will talk to my DGS, either over email right now or in person when I finish my fieldwork and talk about my options. I think an informal (or formal) second supervisor might be the answer. I don't think I can get through the next year if my situation doesn't change in some way. Some colleagues have told me I just need to finish the PhD on my own, but I really don't think that's reasonable. I need some guidance to help me get through the next year -- and to help me structure my dissertation and flesh out my ideas.

I've also thought about transferring to another PhD program, but I'm not sure that is the best idea either since I have just one year left where I am at. I have the feeling transferring would prolong things.

Thanks again for your thoughts and suggestions.

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most schools won't actually let you transfer to their program if you're not going to be doing any coursework with them (most schools won't let you transfer at all in grad school, actually). so i doubt that would even be an option.

i'd recommend talking to the DGS sooner rather than later, even if it is by email or skype. co-advising with someone who is particularly good at setting schedules and helping you work through conceptual problems sounds like it would really help. good luck!

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Some colleagues have told me I just need to finish the PhD on my own, but I really don't think that's reasonable. I need some guidance to help me get through the next year -- and to help me structure my dissertation and flesh out my ideas.

I don't think this is a good idea at all. I do love my advisor, and he's necessary not just for planning my dissertation and other research projects, but to keep my sanity intact. You need someone on your side, not just to direct your work but also to help you when you're ready for the job search, introducing you to people, making some calls, vouching for you. This industry is really about who you know.

I third the suggestion of talking to the DGS for help, and also having a secondary and/or informal advisor - I have both a formal secondary advisor and two informal advisors that I feel like I can go to for help or advice, one of each in each of my departments. It's really necessary to have a variety of perspectives, and like I said, making that connection can really help you when you are looking for jobs. Plus you have to have multiple people on your dissertation committee, right?

You may have to be more independent, but you still need an advisor.

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