Jump to content

I want to change advisors.


Recommended Posts

Well, the title says it all.  Here are the following reasons:

 

I feel culturally isolated.  Everyone else in my research group consists of Chinese and Korean nationals and I have never met a more insular group of people.  They are also the most passive group of people I have met.  My attempts to socialize and get to know them on any level fall flat.  Additionally, it is *way* too hard for me to understand the accents of even the most social ones.  There are frequent communication mixups that occur.  I am completely alone, socially.  Half the meetings I walk into are exclusively spoken in Mandarin Chinese until the professors show up to officially start the meeting.

 

Too many meetings a week with too many groups.  I am not sure what the average amount of meetings is, but is three meetings a week the norm?  They are all with different groups which seem to be with different projects.  In each meeting, it is expected for me to have a presentation ready in that particular format to present my results.  I'm spending half the time trying to compose presentations while barely having time to do the actual research.  I frequently get criticized for the quality of these presentations.  Work-wise, I am expected to work 60-80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.

 

The research itself, as much as I have tried, simply does not interest me.  I went into aerospace, and I am poking at graphene and cleaning samples and learning chemistry.  It is an absolute headache, and I try to sit through the other meetings where I hear everyone else's presentations, and none of their projects interest me either.  It's all in semiconductors.  I'm just... not enthusiastic about any of it.

 

I am tasked with learning software, solo, which hides its tutorials and courses behind paywalls.  These courses are about a weekend long, and many can teach the actual things I need to learn.  However, I am highly discouraged because the software experts have spent years before they came to understand the simplest features which could have otherwise been taught in these weekend courses.  I do not want to spend that much time just to learn something that a proper expert could help me become familiar with.  I have toiled away trying to work out the same bug in my program that I've been faced with for the past 4 months, and it is getting seriously annoying.  No one in the group knows what's wrong, no one in the group has been much help, and the blame is being placed squarely on me for failing to live up to expectations.  I simply do not know how to continue.  I have tried, through many sleepless nights, on getting it to work, with no luck whatsoever.  The experts in my group are just as confused.

 

I do not get along with my professor.  He objectively lacks the skills to concisely communicate to me his expectations.  Group meetings are scheduled on the fly, and I am expected to be in town at all times, lest there be a sudden meeting scheduled.  Anything I do in my personal time (you know, to actually get some stress relief) which involves me leaving the city for just a few days, even if it is happening over completely nonscheduled times, is met with criticism from my professor.  This is where I begin to firmly draw the line.  I do not appreciate my professor criticizing me over what I do in my personal time, or grilling me over why I am in X city at Y time.  Additionally, I simply do not like the overall demeanor of my professor.  He sucks the energy out of the room with his passive-aggressiveness, and accuses me around the rest of my colleagues for blaming others for my problems when prompted for suggestions on improving something.  He also seems more than willing to criticize other students and their own personality problems and work habits behind their back to me.  It is no leap of the imagination to surmise that he is doing the same about me to other people in the group.

 

 

Are these at all legitimate reasons?  The only reason I feel like I am wrong is because I am not progressing with the research anywhere near as much as I would like to have done, at this point.  I do not know how to continue.  I feel that my lack of progress completely nullifies any complaints I have.  I have been a constant ball of stress, at this point, have lost a significant amount of weight (the lightest I've ever been fully grown), and am getting ulcers all over my mouth.  I wish I could exist in a more positive work environment, where I can relate to the research and where I give a damn about the research itself.

 

If they are legitimate reasons, how would I even approach my advisor to broach the heavy, risky topic of wanting to change research?  I figure if I feel this way now, I bet I will continue to feel this way in the upcoming years. Perhaps it is best for both of us to get a better research fit.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Holy cow. This sounds rough. How long have you been working in this lab? I'd be pretty hesitant to bring this up with a PI with this kind of demeanor, but it sounds to me like it'll be necessary pretty soon (before you go absolutely insane).

The best policy is probably blunt honesty. Express to him that you need to take on research that interests and motivates you, and that what you're doing now is not what you had imagined yourself doing. I think moving onto something else would benefit both of you a ton.
 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yikes. I'm sorry that you're going through this. How long have you been in this lab? Did the research you're working on interest you at any point, or were you put on the project because you weren't completely sure about what you wanted to work on?

One thing that's certain is that you can't go on like this. You won't make it. I think the first thing to consider would be talking to your PI to tell him you don't intend on continuing to work on this project. Go into the meeting with some ideas for projects that would interest you and go from there. I've found that a lot of problems seem much smaller when you're working on a project you're happy with.

Don't give up. You came this far for a reason. You just need to find a situation that works for you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

that is a tough situation. you mentioned several problems and i would say most of them are amendable except "you don't like your research". for that along, i would say you should switch group. just a side note, i love graphene and semiconductor stuff. perhaps if you take a general solid state class to get a better background, you can grow to like the subject.

Link to post
Share on other sites

that is a tough situation. you mentioned several problems and i would say most of them are amendable except "you don't like your research". for that along, i would say you should switch group. just a side note, i love graphene and semiconductor stuff. perhaps if you take a general solid state class to get a better background, you can grow to like the subject.

I disagree with this. I think the biggest issue is the negative environment, which seems to be caused by your advisor. I don't think that can be easily fixed except by finding a new group.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've gotta be honest: There are a myriad of subjects which would interest me if the overall vibe around said subject was that of enthusiasm and positivity.  Right now, I feel like I am simply on my professor's leash and regularly shamed.  I am sick and tired of working through these bugs, and I do not know how to improve upon it.  I hear that there are situations where the students get along well with their professors.  This would be unbelievably helpful to me.  There just seems to be a fundamental disconnect with how my professor communicates, and how I most effectively receive information.  I can't even perform to standards that are satisfactory to myself whenever my professor is watching.  I just get too intimidated, too worried that even more criticism will be piled on.  Right now, I've gone through a recent break-up situation which has numbed me just a bit to the critique.  Unfortunately, I can feel him clearly ramping it up, hearing that my performance has been lackluster, all in blue comic sans email font.

 

My problems feel numerous and I have no idea how to effectively get out of the situation.  Part of me is desperately working late hours just to show some sign of progress so I can at least feel justified in bringing up my desire to change research subjects.  Every day I feel like I am just being a lazy person without a purpose.

 

Even if I was getting everything right, I still would not feel any satisfaction from it.  I am merely presenting it to what feels like an emotionally dead environment.

 

I know that I am not slow at learning software.  I learned everything up to this months-long bug in about two weeks.  I feel this project will be laced with sample preparation more than actual analysis of data.  Granted, all experiments will involve some high degree of sample preparation, but few quite reach the level of cleanliness and precision required for analyzing nanometer-scale van der Waals behavior on semiconductor material.

 

I had aspirations of going to space, building structures in space, subjecting materials to different types of failure, and now I am poking things and seeing how sticky they are.  I suppose, on some level, my interest would level out as a decent "meh, it's alright" if I was in a research group with good vibes.  I know if that were the case, I would not feel so compelled to leave, because I would at least feel like the work environment was decent.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've gotta be honest: There are a myriad of subjects which would interest me if the overall vibe around said subject was that of enthusiasm and positivity.  Right now, I feel like I am simply on my professor's leash and regularly shamed.  I am sick and tired of working through these bugs, and I do not know how to improve upon it.  I hear that there are situations where the students get along well with their professors.  This would be unbelievably helpful to me.  There just seems to be a fundamental disconnect with how my professor communicates, and how I most effectively receive information.  I can't even perform to standards that are satisfactory to myself whenever my professor is watching.  I just get too intimidated, too worried that even more criticism will be piled on.  Right now, I've gone through a recent break-up situation which has numbed me just a bit to the critique.  Unfortunately, I can feel him clearly ramping it up, hearing that my performance has been lackluster, all in blue comic sans email font.

 

My problems feel numerous and I have no idea how to effectively get out of the situation.  Part of me is desperately working late hours just to show some sign of progress so I can at least feel justified in bringing up my desire to change research subjects.  Every day I feel like I am just being a lazy person without a purpose.

 

Even if I was getting everything right, I still would not feel any satisfaction from it.  I am merely presenting it to what feels like an emotionally dead environment.

 

I know that I am not slow at learning software.  I learned everything up to this months-long bug in about two weeks.  I feel this project will be laced with sample preparation more than actual analysis of data.  Granted, all experiments will involve some high degree of sample preparation, but few quite reach the level of cleanliness and precision required for analyzing nanometer-scale van der Waals behavior on semiconductor material.

 

I had aspirations of going to space, building structures in space, subjecting materials to different types of failure, and now I am poking things and seeing how sticky they are.  I suppose, on some level, my interest would level out as a decent "meh, it's alright" if I was in a research group with good vibes.  I know if that were the case, I would not feel so compelled to leave, because I would at least feel like the work environment was decent.

Personal fit with your advisor (and lab, if applicable) is very important - I actually think it may be the thing of most importance. It sounds like you really don't have it (understatement!), which is a valid reason to get out of that environment! It's just that phrasing it as a research interest thing might be easier to explain. Is there somebody in the department you trust that you can talk about this with? Do you have any potential new advisors in mind?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Personal fit with your advisor (and lab, if applicable) is very important - I actually think it may be the thing of most importance. It sounds like you really don't have it (understatement!), which is a valid reason to get out of that environment! It's just that phrasing it as a research interest thing might be easier to explain. Is there somebody in the department you trust that you can talk about this with? Do you have any potential new advisors in mind?

 

There are some professors in the department who have a personality that I would jive with very well, I think.  Unfortunately I have not had too much time talking to many of them.  I was also told that I should make my intents of leaving clear to my professor immediately instead of ask around behind his back.  On the other hand, I don't want to risk soiling my own bed before I know there's somewhere else to go.  I'm in a tough situation.

Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some professors in the department who have a personality that I would jive with very well, I think.  Unfortunately I have not had too much time talking to many of them.  I was also told that I should make my intents of leaving clear to my professor immediately instead of ask around behind his back.  On the other hand, I don't want to risk soiling my own bed before I know there's somewhere else to go.  I'm in a tough situation.

Yeah, I don't really know how to handle that. I don't think it would be out of line to make a point of getting to know the other professors a bit better without letting on that you're shopping for a new advisor.

Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some professors in the department who have a personality that I would jive with very well, I think. Unfortunately I have not had too much time talking to many of them. I was also told that I should make my intents of leaving clear to my professor immediately instead of ask around behind his back. On the other hand, I don't want to risk soiling my own bed before I know there's somewhere else to go. I'm in a tough situation.

A word of caution- there is a crazy prof at my school who is notorious for having students switch. One poor woman tried to be honest and tell him she was leaving. He promptly told everyone in the department how horrible she was and basically made it impossible for her to find a new lab. Then another guy who switched made sure everything was arranged with his new PI before telling the old one. Obviously he was angry, but this guy got to stay. So I would be selfish here, personally. If you have to burn a bridge, just burn one, not all of them.

Link to post
Share on other sites

So, two professors are aware of my intents, and they both consider this information coming out to be just as annoying for them to deal with as it would be for me to deal with.  They also have some administrative roles in the department, and they will be coming back to me with potential opportunities (e.g. funded).

 

I tried to better pinpoint the demeanor of my PI which makes me come to the conclusion that it would be unbearable to purshe a Ph.D. under him.  I have worked in the missile defense agency, for NASA, on various research projects that required learning things I did not know and reaching out for resources.  In none of these experiences have I been exposed to such a condescending demeanor.  If I err, the pain doesn't stop after I fully and promptly own up to what I do.  No, it seems to give both professors (two professors running the group) carte blanche to expound for periods of a half hour or more (in front of the research group) about why it is so important to not make the mistake and how I am supposed to think. In that last phrase lies the key reason why I cannot work for this research group: My PI is demanding that his students think the way he thinks, precisely. By doing this, he is eliminating the possibility of breakthrough ideas from non-compliant students. Furthermore, not once during my entire time here have I ever been encouraged by my PI, or given positive feedback for making good progress. I feel that all I can do is meet his expectations on what he feels should be good research. I am at this school as a confused student. I explained my intents and the way I think quite clearly in my application essay. He has read this essay and wanted to take me on. Why does he feel that I need to completely deconstruct how I naturally approach problems to precisely match how he approaches problems? He should have just rejected me if that was his plan. Needless to say, now I have to reject him.

 

The PI deliberately avoids answering my questions about research expectations via email, simply so I can sit in his office and waste another hour with him lecturing to me in a condescending manner something that he could have simply told me in 5 minutes and I would have been on my way.

 

I have dealt with professors before. I have been in research groups before. I have never encountered anything like this. I do not know what his beef is, but, at the very least, we do not and will not get along.

 

Of course, when the cat is let out of the bag, the only reason I will publicly state is that the research is not a good fit for me.

Edited by GradHooting
Link to post
Share on other sites

So, two professors are aware of my intents, and they both consider this information coming out to be just as annoying for them to deal with as it would be for me to deal with.  They also have some administrative roles in the department, and they will be coming back to me with potential opportunities (e.g. funded).

Does this mean you will likely be able to switch to working with one of them? I am not sure if I am reading it correctly. If so, that is great news. It sounds like a really horrible environment to be in, and you are right to get out as soon as you can. Good luck, please let us know how it turns out.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Does this mean you will likely be able to switch to working with one of them? I am not sure if I am reading it correctly. If so, that is great news. It sounds like a really horrible environment to be in, and you are right to get out as soon as you can. Good luck, please let us know how it turns out.

Ah, I forgot to clarify.  I was referred to these two professors by the graduate coordinator.  I know that, for sure, I will not be able to work with one of them. One of them is the "graduate advisor" for the general grad program for my focus. The other is... I don't know, to be honest. They have some vague ability to do something.  One of them is going to get me information on which professors have money, I believe. It's just waiting it out for me, right now.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know how much longer I can do this.  Almost every day I'm curled up on the floor in tears, feeling like there's no escape, just trying to get my work done. The hours are just so much. I don't know. My therapist seems to have run out of ideas.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It sounds to me like you need to get out now. Would it be a problem to be briefly without an advisor? Like, could you leave his lab and find another after? I'm naive about these things so maybe this is a dumb question.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is the point where a medical leave of absence might be a good idea. Dropping out of the program and restarting again elsewhere is also a valid decision to make, especially if transferring groups is going to prove difficult. No PhD program is worth daily-tears-on-the-floor levels of misery.  

 

The question you'll need to think about over the coming months is if the strain on your mental health is being exclusively brought about by this particular PI/research group, or if it is tied to grad school life in general. PhDs do put people under a lot of stress, even with a "perfect" PI or research group folk can still get depressed. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is the kind of situation that I dread having; while I do not have any advice for this particular matter, I still admire and appreciate you sharing it, and I'm hoping for the best and for positive news from you :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is the point where a medical leave of absence might be a good idea. Dropping out of the program and restarting again elsewhere is also a valid decision to make, especially if transferring groups is going to prove difficult. No PhD program is worth daily-tears-on-the-floor levels of misery.  

 

The question you'll need to think about over the coming months is if the strain on your mental health is being exclusively brought about by this particular PI/research group, or if it is tied to grad school life in general. PhDs do put people under a lot of stress, even with a "perfect" PI or research group folk can still get depressed. 

 

I was really enjoying my time here last semester.  The research wasn't that interesting, but I was making the best of it.  This semester, the amount of stuff I have to do on a weekly basis has been severely ramped up, the class that I have been teaching is now being taught by my abusive advisor, and my attempts to find emotional sanity or confidants outside of therapists have been hindered due to the realization of the requirement of 60-80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.  I looked more into just how long a Ph.D. was going to take, and asked myself whether it was truly worth the ~7 year sacrifice of my life to do something I do not truly love.

 

Two days back I concluded that I wish that my school never gave me the monetary offer that it did.  I would have gone to another school and pursued something much more directly aerospace.  What I am doing right now has nothing to do with aerospace whatsoever, despite the degree being called that.  That is not worth 7 years of my life.  My early attempts to ask my advisor about aerospace applications (I mean, it was on my freaking SOP.  He read it. I was invited to the school because of it) elicited a response of "No no no, you're thinking about it all wrong. This is not about acquiring skills for a certain field.  It is about learning to become an independent researcher."  While I might agree with the sentiment of that statement, it completely ignores the importance of loving the work you do. I don't want to work in semiconductors.  I was only here because it was the only financially supported option I have.  Now I realize that I wish I had taken the financially worse option so I could keep doing what I loved.  This isn't about money anymore.  I had saved up for an unfunded situation in the first place.  Plus, I can always search for PI's while at school.

 

The goal in the back of my mind right now is to finish a master's degree here, then transfer to where I actually wanted to go (assuming they even let me in a second time).  I am in very good academic standing, at the very least.

Edited by GradHooting
Link to post
Share on other sites

I am going to be talking to my advisor on Monday.  I have a lot to talk about.  My performance has been absolutely horrendous despite putting in 81-100 hours during the week.  I am working at probably around 30% efficiency and I am making mistakes that I never made last semester.  The workload is the same as last semester!  I'm just not of a sound mind right now.  I am starting to see all the problem around me and am starting to realize just how much of a commitment I am making.

 

I was up for 21 hours straight trying to get a homework assignment done that everyone else seemed to get done in around 10-16 pages.  I turned in 34 pages and wasn't anywhere near halfway done.  I am making tons and tons of bugs when programming and I just cannot debug it all in time.

 

I forgot to post the lab data for the class that I should have done on Wednesday -- because I forgot my thumb drive on Wednesday.  I never made any of these mistakes last semester.  I am just worse at everything I do right now, and I feel I have no way of controlling it and bringing myself back up to the quality that I was at last semester.  I feel at a loss.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I made a pretty important decision today.  I am now pursuing a terminal master's degree with a thesis option (hellbent on getting published, though).  I would love to pursue a Ph.D., but it would have to be in something I enjoy.  What I did in this case was follow the money.  If I was doing something I actually enjoyed, I'd definitely stick around to complete the degree.  But it's 5-6 years of formative years of my life not enjoying where I am, all for a piece of paper which merely states that I am capable of completing the work necessary for a Ph.D.  I love the science and I love learning something to very fundamental and complete levels.  My motivation comes from being immersed in topics I enjoy.

 

I came for aerospace, was given nanomanufacturing research to do, didn't enjoy it, and now I've decided to walk away having at least turned some of it into something that is publishable.

 

Maybe I'll come back for a Ph.D. in something else, some other time.  I just don't know.  So much of my life I had defined a Ph.D. as just being the final academic goal.  Life's really mysterious to me right now.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Congrats on the big decision! It certainly sounds like it'll be much better for your immediate mental well-being.

 

My sister was doing her Ph.D. at a prestigious UK university in the sciences and ended up with a Masters as well because she ended up really hating the atmosphere. She took a long break and went out into the world, worked, etc. and now is going for a Ph.D. in Germany! So yes, breaks from academia are healthy and wonderful. Good luck finishing up the MSc!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone.  Unfortunately, it seems that my desire to gain some sanity in my life has resulted in the professors from all directions doubling down on the pressure they're having on me.  They want me to have all research done for a thesis by October, while teaching two classes over the summer and taking classes, teaching classes, and doing research on the semester that I am to finish my thesis.  I simply do not have time to breathe and I will not be allowed to even leave the city at any point in 2015.  I do not know whether I have the emotional wherewithal to do this.  I was hoping for the pressure to scale back a bit, but it seems the exact reverse is happening, and not a single damn person at this school has been of any assistance to me whatsoever.  Every single person has basically told me that I am on my own, to "talk to more people and see what they can do" (basically redirecting me to someone else), and to work harder.  "Just 8 more months" Well, I do not know if I can last 8 more months under this pressure.  I need to breathe.  I need some time to recharge and reorganize so I can then do the doubling down they want me to do.  But, no, it's a mixture of "future programs will see your lack of publishing by now as a serious mark against you" and "doing a master's in over 2 years looks really bad" and and equally confusing "that Ph.D. programs will look down a coursework master's degree is complete nonsense."

 

Not a single word of encouragement from anyone. Not a single sense of drive from anyone. I don't know. With every additional person I talk to, I feel even more energy being sucked from me.  It's like there is no spirit in this place, no vibrancy about my proposals and ideas.  Maybe I'm just terrible.

Link to post
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

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.