Jump to content

Should I leave?


R.S.

Recommended Posts

I'm a first year biology grad student at a really good school. The problem is, I bombed my first set of midterms. As did half of my program. After much begging for help, we finally got assigned tutors, but they don't know what they're talking about and are not helping us. The people that are doing well in our program are not open to helping us, and the people in other departments are cliquey and somewhat mean. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, don't know how to correct it, and am receiving very little support/guidance from my program.

On top of all of this, I feel out of place. I like my research, but I don't love it. I've never loved research, but I've always been good at it. I produce good data but....some mornings I have to force myself to go in. It's never been like this for me. I've had jobs I've hated with a passion and I've never felt this way. My classmates are not very receptive to my efforts to become friends (every time I ask if they'd like to grad a drink or a bite, I get a yes, and then an awkward text two hours later with some excuse). I've made efforts to fit in that have all failed. The half of my program that is doing poorly is in the same situation I'm in.

I want to leave. I am honestly sadder than I've been my entire life. Never have I worked this hard and done this poorly. I wish I was slacking but I'm not, and I'm doing my best to get better but no one will guide me and I can't figure this out on my own. I'm in a terrible place emotionally and it's putting a strain on my relationships with loved ones too.

What should I do at this point? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. ;(

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, no...there's nothing worse than not having support. I'm a relatively new grad student. But, I'll try to offer some advice.

1) I needed a tutor last semester. No one within my program really had time to help me. So, I got a tutor from a nearby university. She made all the difference. I don't know where your school is, but if you're in a university hub, don't forget to make use of ALL resources. Does your prof. have office hours? Is he helpful? Live in his office, if necessary. Get your questions answered. Oh, don't forget there might be a postdoc willing to tutor. Don't just limit yourself to older grad students.

2) I'm sorry your peers are so unfriendly. That must be awful. If I were you, I'd be cordial, but wouldn't keep trying to be friends (at least not right now). I'm sure ppl in other depts. are nice. After you get past the hurdles of this semester, try to meet others by choosing an extracurricular activity. Maybe there's a club you'd like to join?

3) I hate to tell you to bail, but if you're truly miserable maybe a diff grad program would be better? Or, maybe stick it out a little longer to see if things improve? Ugh, I really don't know what to say. I'm sorry you're so unhappy and that the program is so unsupportive. Good luck

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some of what you're experiencing sounds like mild depression (not clinic but just a response to a situation where nothing feels right, you're out of place everywhere and being hit with new experiences at a rate faster than you can handle). I am going through the same in this first semester (not for the same reasons but I recognize the feeling you seem to be describing) and two things I have found that are really helping are to get out of the bubble of my department and find events and groups on campus which help revive me a bit. I joined a French conversational group and am getting involved with the Race and Difference institute at my school and I am already feeling the difference. Other grad students or even senior undergrads that you meet at other functions might be more open to hanging out. The other thing is to go outside the university all together, if you can. Churches, charity organizations, dance groups (my activity of choice) will give you the chance of socializing with a different group of people outside of your academic circuit which I have always found helpful. I would try to stick it out for at least a semester if not a full year to see if you are having adjustment pains or if it is that grad school is just not right for you at this time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It sounds like this may be your program/department more than research itself, or being an academic. I think the first step is to determine whether that's the case - is this that you are becoming disillusioned with research and the academic life itself (in which case you may not need a PhD at all, and may decide to leave) or is it that your program is sucking all of the life out of you and the things that you used to enjoy, you don't? Sit down and take at least a half-hour to really think about this. Journal or make a list or do whatever you do that helps you introspect. How do you feel about a research career, one with the type of job that requires a PhD? Do you see yourself enjoying that? Do you want that option to remain open to you?

If you decide that you want to finish your PhD then the culprit might be your PhD program itself. Maybe you go to a toxic program/department and you need to transfer. Or maybe this is always the way it is your first year at this place and it gets better. The thing is that even the most supportive programs encourage sink or swim because that's what academia is like. Personally, I feel like I am a nice person but I also would not volunteer my time to tutor other colleagues in my program either, just because I don't have a lot of time to begin with. There are a lot of people who WOULD be willing to tutor you (either for money or something else), though, so you have to find them.

My colleagues/cohortmates didn't really want to be close friends, either - they are very nice people to chat with in the research room but not necessarily the folks who wanted to hang out. So I sought out other people to hang out with. I hung out with the master's students, I did things in the city to meet young professionals, I hooked up with alumni from my undergrad who were in my city, and I got a GAship on campus that exposed me to a group of people who became friends.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks guys. I do have a tutor, who was next to impossible to find, but he literally told our study group that "we were screwed" in the middle of a study session. That's the kind of environment this is. It's awful.

I'll take everyone's advice. Especially the part about sitting down and figuring out what I want to do with my life. All I know is right now, nothing is worth the damage this is doing to me. :( I have no choice but to stick it out until the end of the semester though, but I really do think I'll leave and try other options.

Thanks again. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We all know it's dangerous to compare ourselves to others, but if half your cohort is struggling, it seems reasonable to say, "It's not you; it's the environment." I imagine most people in your program (and most people in general) are like you, and are used to being able to succeed if they put enough hard work into things. The first major experience of that not working is really jarring, especially when it's academically related and one's self-identity has been shaped by being successful in this field. (My first major experience with hard work not being enough happened in the workplace, but I think the feeling was the same... absolutely horrible.) If so many of you are going through that, and if everyone processes things differently, your fellow students may just be unfriendly because of their own stress and coping mechanism. After you get over the hurdles of this semester, they may turn back into real people, and be worth getting to know. The feeling does shake; I've gotten used to no longer being a super student, and have found self confidence/ self worth that does not depend on being the best at everything. (Not saying all of this applies to you and your classmates, just guessing some of it is pretty universal to the kind of folks who end up in grad school.)

In the mean time, I'm glad you appreciate the need for a support system, even if they seem to be blowing it off. I second the idea to get involved in an group outside your cohort, or even outside the university. For me it's really important to interact with people whose lives haven't done a total shift in the past few months, and who are stable and in a position to be friendly. I got that through church, but others have made good recommendations about other options. I know you probably feel like you don't have any time, but volunteering a few hours a week can be a good way to be productive and do something valuable completely unrelated to school.

Good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One other thing that may help is getting together with some of the other people and trying to figure out what, specifically, is making you guys have trouble with the courses.

One of the things I've seen a lot of is people without strong undergrad backgrounds in the courses they're taking- our department actually put in entrance exams to prevent this. If you have a weaker undergrad background, you may be able to go sit in on some of the comparable undergraduate courses at your new school, and see if that helps out with the material you're covering now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks again for all the advice. I asked about undergraduate courses, but there's honestly just no time to do it, and the undergraduate courses wouldn't help with what I'm taking now. Completely different material and style.

We've gotten tutors and are continuing to do our best. We'll see what happens come December. Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst. ;(

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use