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doggoprof

I want to quit (rant-ish)

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I'll be honest. I'm already planning on switching from a PhD to a Masters. I have just finished my first year of graduate school and do I feel like I've been put through the wringer. I knew graduate school was going to be tough, but timing can be horrible. Unfortunately, I went into a severe depression episode during my first year of graduate school. Its worst point was during the spring semester, and I only started crawling out of it toward the end of the semester after finally getting on medication that helped me. It does not help that I work for a first year professor who needs to get publications out soon and research ball really rolling. I started working the summer before my first semester for this professor. I helped him set up his lab and started on a project. At the start of the fall semester though, he took that project, gave it to an undergrad that started working in the lab, and gave me a new project. I didn't mind at first since i liked the new project more. Then near the end of the semester, he gives me another project and tells me to focus on this new project. After the start of spring semester, he gives me a third project and tells me to focus on this new one over the other two. I just barely got really started on this new project before I got sucked into the worst part of my depressive episode. I barely remember what happened for a good portion of the spring semester other than I had to drop a class because I was failing it so badly. Most of it seems like it was a waking dream. It was bad. I didn't get a lot of research done, could barely keep up with my only class that I was enrolled in other than seminar, and got significantly behind in grading for TA. I know it was bad, so I let my PI know what was going on and why my research was lacking. He seemed very supportive and told me my health was more important than my studies.

As I started crawling out of the abyss, I started getting more research done and picking up the pieces to try to catch up. I go to talk to my PI one day and he asks me to sit down to talk. He then proceeds to tell me that he doesn't think he can put "satisfied" on my yearly review for progress. He had been expecting that I would already have a publication done (didn't tell me this at any point nor help me get there), but due to my circumstances had gone ahead and asked to submit his review at the end of summer. He then laid out his expectations for the summer since I seemed to be doing much better. It killed what little motivation I had scraped together upon crawling out of the depression abyss I had been inside. He gave me two more projects (so now I have 5 projects that I'm juggling) and expected that one of them I would get done and have published by the end of summer. I had already planned on taking a short vacation to try to spend some time away from school to try to recover some from the year I had just experienced. I went on this vacation, processed what I had been through, and came back to tell him that I was going to switch to a Masters. 

My PI seemed okay with this information. However, I wasn't letting my guard down, he had seemed okay with working with me as I tried my best to keep up despite a near crippling depression (some days I just couldn't get out of bed). Good thing. My PI has distanced himself greatly while still piling on the expectation. He talked as if he was supportive of my decision, understanding that the circumstances of timing hadn't been the best and this seemed the best decision. He talked about cutting back on projects so that I could focus to hone in for a thesis. He's only added to the load since then. He keeps coming up with more and more ideas for parts to my projects. The one that he wanted to have a paper out on looks like it is not going to work the way he wanted since we're doing a collaboration and the collaborators have not gotten back to us with any data. He's now pushing me to do a vague literature search so we can test our material ourselves. I'm getting so much pressure from him, yet he hardly seems to actually spend much time to help me out. There is one other graduate student in the lab and our PI will constantly check up on him and his projects. Yet I have to seek out my PI to give him updates to my projects. I work better in the mornings so I often come in early, but my PI expects that I'll stay just as late as he does (he's a night owl) even though he sometimes doesn't come into the office until 9:30-10 am. He gives hints that he doesn't like that I'll sometimes leave "early" even though I've completed all I have to do for the day. He's even said to me, "You know I can't be paying you for sitting at the computer," because the few times he might check up on me, I happen to be at my computer doing something else because I'm waiting for a reaction or something else to be done. He was shocked to hear how much I have gotten done on my projects, granted I may have not have had the best communication with him, but it doesn't really seem to be enough for him. I've tried improving communication with him and that seemed to improve his disposition toward me, but now he seems to avoid me sometimes as if I'm too needy. I'm not sure what he thinks of me and I have generally enjoyed working for him, but I'm starting to crumble under this pressure I feel. I've been coming in later so my time aligns with his more. It just feels like I have to make a large amount of effort without getting much feedback in return other than feeling like I'm not getting enough done. It doesn't help that I'm finding a lot of failures and so I'm having to change my methods a lot so it doesn't seem like I'm making a lot of progress except finding all the ways not to do my reactions (which happens, that's research). 

Honestly, the only things holding me back from quitting are my pride, that I don't want to feel like I admitted defeat by leaving the school, and the fact that I know I'll likely be better off making it through the next year and finishing with my Masters. If you want to answer a question, then tell me this: how do I make it through this next year? I'm worried that he'll keep on with the amount of projects and that I won't be able to finish in the next year no matter how much time I put in. I'm not sure how to work this out, really. I did try talking to him and discussing the amount of work, but it doesn't seem to stop him. I feel like if I don't end up finishing by the end of spring next year, I'm going to quit because I can't take it anymore. Any advice would be appreciated.

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Have you tried having a conversation with your PI about all of the projects where you ask him for specific desired outcomes for each and to rank each project in term's of priority? Having that might give you more clarity about what you're being asked to do, how to spend your time, etc. It might also be a nice way to remind your PI of all the various projects you've been asked to do (because, tbh, it's possible ze doesn't realize they've put so much on your plate). In the course of that conversation, you could also ask which, if any, of these projects could serve as the basis for your master's thesis work. (In terms of finishing, your path will be much easier and more likely to be successful if you can find a way to use one of these projects for your thesis.) During the meeting, develop a clear list that you both can agree to. Then, afterward, you can email your PI with that list as a "reminder" of what you've agreed to. I hope this helps. Good luck!

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I have sympathy. Sounds like a stereotypical "Assistant Professor in Science". A lot of PIs struggle to learn emotional intelligence when they're on the tenure track if they don't already have an instinct for it; and unless you hit some kind of research jackpot within the next few months the pressure to generate results for papers/grants is only going to continue. Try not to take the PI's behavior personally (it's about their stress, not you as a bad scientist).

As @rising_star says - getting clarity on what you need for a Masters thesis should be your main goal. Accepting that you can't please your PI 100% may also make your life easier.

Is it possible to transfer into another research group in your Dept? Y'know, one where the PI is less...intense? Of course it depends on what your career goals are (you don't need a PhD for everything), but a more established PI might be better for you.

 

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I sort of tried to do what you suggested, Rising_star, at a previous time, but he seems to change his mind based on what interests him most (or maybe pressure with funding, I have no clue). When he was surprised I had gotten so much done was when I had done this tactic to remind him how many projects I was juggling. He didn't seem phased. Of course he's also hinted that I should be putting in more time, so I just think he has high expectations. Maybe actually getting an agreement, though, will help the situation. None of my projects have made much headway which is probably why he's been vague about which he thinks would be best for focus with my Masters. After all, he just recently realised that one of my projects has already been done (quite some time ago) and so he sent me off on a literature search to find a new starting point for the project. It seems like some of his ideas are not well researched and that makes me wonder.

St Andres Lynx, unfortunately, I went to a school specifically for this professor despite all the horror stories I knew about of going without other secondary options at the school. The next PI that would fit for my work scope has lost every student that has joined his lab. They all either just outright quit, or left with a Masters so I have no inclination to change. The inorganic department is small at this school which is my field so I also limited myself there. In some ways, I'm fine with finishing with a Masters. I have no idea what I exactly want to do for a career, but my undergrad professors made it seem like a PhD was necessary so I went. Now that I know I don't want to teach, becoming a professor is of no interest to me, and I have no idea about industry. Since I have no idea, I just want to get out with a Masters and experience working outside of academia. If I really feel the need to return, I will, and likely that will help me to get a PhD because I'll have a solid reason to do so other than, "well I need it, right?" I have a feeling a Masters might be enough for me, but it may just be the bitterness about the PhD program I've been in talking.

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As you're a chemist you may have already seen this, but I figure it's useful for other scientists out there too: the compilation of "I Quit Grad School In Chemistry" stories from the Chemjobber blog (http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/search/label/i quit grad school in chemistry). Just to assure you that you're not alone. 

Surviving another year in this lab may mean (i) accepting your Masters thesis is going to be imperfect, but that there are more important things (such as taking care of your health) (ii) putting your mental energy into researching possible careers and applying for jobs (iii) devoting small chunks of time to "nice things" even though you could be in the lab running reactions. 

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Doggoprof -- I really understand how you feel and I sympathize with you.  I am trying to finish up my master's now and I can't wait to be done; I also couldn't imagine doing a PhD.  I think it's hard to have depression when pursuing higher education because there can be so much competition and everyone else seems so happy with what they're doing.  I'm not sure if grad school was the thing to cause my depression . . . it might be.  It is so hard for me to get work done being depressed because I have zero ability to focus.  Sometimes I would just stare at my computer trying to think of a single sentence to write.  Honestly, my viewpoint is that you should not feel ashamed for wanting to quit or just do a master's.  If I am reading your posts correctly, it seems like you might not like the working environment of academia.  There is nothing wrong with feeling that way.  This is how I feel.  I want to get out of academia as fast as possible.  Why?  Because I crave a work-life balance.  That doesn't mean I am not willing to work hard.  It often seems that my colleagues like to brag or try to one-up one another on how much work they have to do or how much they torture themselves by not going out on a weekend or a Friday night.  I am not about torturing myself with endless hours of work.  My colleagues and I differ in that, but to each their own.  I would suggest taking care of your mental health.  If you chose to finish a master's, make sure you have things in place that can help your depression and get you through the hard times.  Maybe creating a game-plan for the next year would be wise.  I wish I had recognized my mental health issues before they had gotten so bad.  The good thing is that you have already done things to help yourself.  If you want to talk further, or commiserate, feel free to comment back!

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