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Anyone considered dropping out of their PhD program?


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Hi all,

I've started in a PhD program last year, and since then I've been constantly wondering if I made the wrong choice of coming to grad school. There are lots of things happening together that make me feel this way -- lack of interest in current research topic, feeling isolated among cohorts/other students, disliking the city, department's "hostility" toward any other interest(e.g. teaching, policy-making) other than research, etc. Now I'm regretting that I didn't explore other industry options before deciding to come to grad school right after undergrad, and I really want to see if there are any other options out there. Of course, as an international student, visa is always an issue... and I don't even know how to start a job search at this point. I see students here dropping out from their PhD program and pursuing other career, even in quite unrelated fields, but I don't have a citizenship/green card and there aren't really that many places that sponsor H1B visa, especially in my field.

At this point I almost feel "stuck" -- I want to stay in the US and work in this field because in my home country geosciences is very underappreciated/underdeveloped, but then there's almost no visa-sponsoring jobs available, especially just with a BA or MS. Most visa sponsors in this field are universities and research institutions, so I'd probably end up doing a Post Doc and going to academia, which I'm not sure I'd like to. Sure, I can tweak my interest a bit and go for bio/chem industries, and if I somehow get a job and it suits me, that's great, but if it doesn't, I'll be "stuck" again for several years until I get a green card. Frustratingly there's no other international students in my department except me, so usually the advice I get from them is either 1) suck it up since PhD experience includes being depressed anyway   or 2) at least try out working in industries and explore other things (but then I doubt anyone really understands how difficult visa situations can get). My US friends/acquaintances are very nice and understanding, but I don't think they actually sympathize with how "scared" I am with finding/switching jobs as they do while keeping my immigration status legal, not blaming them for anything, but it feels just very different...

I guess I just really wanted to hear something from an international student's point of view. I'd really appreciate any comment or insight.

 

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1 hour ago, zhtmahtm said:

My US friends/acquaintances are very nice and understanding, but I don't think they actually sympathize with how "scared" I am with finding/switching jobs as they do while keeping my immigration status legal, not blaming them for anything, but it feels just very different...

I understand. Been through it, not quite on the other side yet, but getting there. Americans really have no clue how lucky they are. Here's what I think.

Staying in a PhD program for 4+ years, then getting a postdoc or a job in academia (let's say another 2-3 years if you're very lucky until you get that first good job) just to get a chance at a green card seems like a big sacrifice to me. Keep in mind that if you do get an employment-based green card, the process itself could take another year from submission (and it takes months to put together the application), and you're then committed to staying in your profession for another five. That's a long time to be doing something you don't like. I really enjoyed my PhD program and I don't think I would have stayed if I didn't, because you have to be very successful to land those academic jobs that will allow you to stay in the States after you graduate, and sponsor an H1B or a green card. Those aren't some fallback plan that's any kind of guarantee; they're usually extremely competitive. If you're unhappy, you can't do good work, which will make it very hard to get those already scarce good jobs; and I'm not even talking about what it'll do to your mental and physical health. There's also the added complication that at least for the next 3 years, immigration laws are changing and getting a green card is getting more and more difficult. It's hard to see how you can trust that your sacrifice will pay off.

I don't know anything about your field, but I think that if you've already decided academia isn't for you, then the next step is to spend time seriously researching other options. Maybe the jobs you want actually do require a PhD, but maybe they don't. And either way, you'll have different goals if you're getting a PhD with a plan to go into industry than academia, and that can help mitigate the adverse effects that your programs is having on your right now. Maybe you should be looking into internships to get yourself more practical experience; maybe you want to be doing some different networking than you've been doing so far. Or maybe you want to look into moving to Canada, which is much friendlier right now.

So bottom line is that you need to be realistic but collect more information about your options. But since you're just starting your second year, committing to close to a decade of work you don't enjoy for a chance at something that's fairly unlikely to begin with isn't something I'd personally recommend. I'm sorry this isn't a more optimistic post. 

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16 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

I don't know anything about your field, but I think that if you've already decided academia isn't for you, then the next step is to spend time seriously researching other options. Maybe the jobs you want actually do require a PhD, but maybe they don't. And either way, you'll have different goals if you're getting a PhD with a plan to go into industry than academia, and that can help mitigate the adverse effects that your programs is having on your right now. Maybe you should be looking into internships to get yourself more practical experience; maybe you want to be doing some different networking than you've been doing so far. Or maybe you want to look into moving to Canada, which is much friendlier right now.

So bottom line is that you need to be realistic but collect more information about your options. But since you're just starting your second year, committing to close to a decade of work you don't enjoy for a chance at something that's fairly unlikely to begin with isn't something I'd personally recommend. I'm sorry this isn't a more optimistic post. 

Thanks for your post @fuzzylogician. My big problem is that I can't tell whether academia actually isn't for me or I'm feeling that way because I don't like my program. I came to grad school right after undergrad because I enjoyed research so much. I was basically doing my own work, getting advice, writing abstracts/proposals like a grad student for > 2 years, and it felt great. Now it's not THAT fun. Could be because I'm working on a different topic, I don't like my current advisor's style as much as I did with my undergrad advisor, lacking good friends, whatever. Or maybe I liked my research experience but I can't do it through my whole life. My current project is moving much slower than my former project due to the different techniques we apply, so maybe I'm just worn out with the slowness, but maybe if I can't handle that stress I shouldn't be continuing. I've considered switching advisors, but what if I switch to something that sounds interesting and end up not liking that either, like I did between undergrad-1st year of grad school? I feel so uncertain about everything...

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1 hour ago, zhtmahtm said:

Thanks for your post @fuzzylogician. My big problem is that I can't tell whether academia actually isn't for me or I'm feeling that way because I don't like my program. I came to grad school right after undergrad because I enjoyed research so much. I was basically doing my own work, getting advice, writing abstracts/proposals like a grad student for > 2 years, and it felt great. Now it's not THAT fun. Could be because I'm working on a different topic, I don't like my current advisor's style as much as I did with my undergrad advisor, lacking good friends, whatever. Or maybe I liked my research experience but I can't do it through my whole life. My current project is moving much slower than my former project due to the different techniques we apply, so maybe I'm just worn out with the slowness, but maybe if I can't handle that stress I shouldn't be continuing. I've considered switching advisors, but what if I switch to something that sounds interesting and end up not liking that either, like I did between undergrad-1st year of grad school? I feel so uncertain about everything...

So, is it possible for you to discreetly look into switching advisors/topics? Advisors can have a huge influence on your life, and not getting along with them can be very hard. I personally think that having good compatibility with your advisor is a *lot* more important than the particular project you're working on (as long as you're not totally bored with it). I'd opt for the seemingly less interesting topic with the great advisor over the awesome topic with meh advisor any day of the week. So I think the question is whether there is someone in your program who you get along with who could be that advisor for you. Since it sounds like you had a good undergrad experience, hopefully you have some idea of what works for you, and now you also have some idea as to what doesn't. Maybe that means just meeting with people or showing up at their lab meetings to see how they interact with students. If that option could exist, it could be worth looking into. If not, another option is perhaps Mastering out of your current program and applying for another PhD program, hopefully this time with a lot more emphasis on finding an advisor that's a good fit for you. That would prolong your time to stability, but would keep options open and it might be a way to get yourself out of the bad place you're in now. Either way, I think you need to change something, because staying in an unhappy situation for years is just not healthy. 

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  • 2 months later...
On 9/20/2017 at 10:59 AM, BunnyN said:

Are you interested in other developed countries? Immigration laws are very favorable in Europe and Japan.

 

I would be careful when explaining Japanese immigration laws as 'favorable.'

 

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On 9/20/2017 at 10:59 AM, BunnyN said:

Are you interested in other developed countries? Immigration laws are very favorable in Europe and Japan.

 

If you're an EU citizen yes - otherwise not sure which European countries you're talking about :') At least not Western Europe, and Eastern Europe seems to be even less favorable towards foreigners these days (with some exceptions)

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