Quitting PhD

10-Apr-17, 17:15
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hello everyone,
I am a first year PhD student. I am at the end of the first year and I am wondering whether to continue or not.

I'm doing my PhD overseas and I like the job: reading, writing and the research part. However, I am working in a toxic environment.

My supervisors never have time, they just tell me “you have to do this” and if I have issues I rarely have an opportunity to validate and discuss solutions, which already caused me to waste 2 months. Another PhD student quit after a few months and they told me the reason he left was he needed too much supervision, that in this lab you are just told what to do and you have to do it.

Apart from this, I feel like I was basically lied to during my interview. I am the only foreign student at the lab and it seems like they don’t understand I have different needs. For example, they don’t want me to take time to go back to my country: I went back once and they were all pissed. Moreover, I had to threaten to leave to get paid. Finally, there are some other practical aspects they didn’t even consider that now fall on me.

I can’t change supervisors and I can’t talk to anyone at the lab because they all think this is the way things work.

Meanwhile, I am not letting stress kill me. I do sports; I have a healthy lifestyle and friends I can talk to. For these reasons I think there actually is something wrong and it’s not only in my head.

I am thinking of quitting and going back to my country, because at this point I don’t think a doctorate is worth all this psychological suffering. Have you ever experienced something similar? Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you all for your time!
11-Apr-17, 11:19
edited about 18 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 weeks ago
As with most things, the way you handle this effectively is in choosing to do so. You either accept that this is the way your PhD is going to be and stop letting it bother you, or you decide you don't want to spend the next few years like this and go home. Ultimately it is what is the most acceptable choice for you after weighing up all the things like career options and your mental health.

Alternatively you can speak to your supervisors honestly, give them the chance to give you the support you need, if not forthcoming you could go to graduate school head and tell them to sort it out and eventually change supervisors if still not as you want it.

Personally I would talk to supervisors, and just stop letting it bother me/accept that it's going to be an annoying 3-4 years if they didn't change and then just get on with my PhD.
11-Apr-17, 15:11
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 2 weeks ago
Thank you for your reply.

The thing is I wonder how good my research can finally be in this situation.
I’m doing my best and trying really hard, but if I don’t get feedback on my work how can I improve? I had to write my project as a first step of my program and my supervisor corrected it in a very superficial way, you could see from the comments he didn’t even read it twice.
I spoke to my supervisors and they said if I needed support I could talk to the lab technician, because they don't have time. The lab technician is at the lab twice a week and has her own research to do and not much time as well, so it's quite a mess.

Apparently the unavailability of supervisors and teachers in this university is quite common, starting from the undergraduate level.

Anyway, thank you again for your time and I will think about all the pros and cons!
13-Apr-17, 02:58
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 2 weeks ago
My experience has been that detailed feedback that addresses issues in any depth are only forthcoming at the later or final stages of writing. The PhD is a journey that is considered to be largely independent so responsibility for growth and development is largely on oneself.

I can understand your claim or statement though that if you get limited feedback early on, it is harder. And the quality of supervision is probably uneven. There would be amazing supervisors out there who just really inspire, but I think most of us have 'good enough' supervisors just like we have 'good enough' parents, etc (borrowing a concept from Winnecott). Good luck with it all-it is a tough process and some people (perhaps like yourself) do have it a bit tougher than others unfortunately.
13-Apr-17, 11:02
edited about 25 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 weeks ago
Hi, SmilingHippo,

Considering that you are only in your first year, would you be willing to consider changing to a new project and supervisor who is more suitable for you? Clearly a hands-off supervisor who may have little experience with international students is not working well for you.

Do speak to your postgraduate coordinator (there is one in every school) to identify potential new supervisors for you. I do not believe you cannot change supervisors. You are not the first student with compatibility issue with the supervisor and wanting to change. You could also speak to people outside your group and even those from different schools, as long as they are working on the area you are interested in. Talk to their students and technicians as well to know the supervisors true colours. You do not want to leave a bad supervisor for another who is just as bad or worse.

Calm down and reassess your situation and options. Good luck.
28-Apr-17, 19:46
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 1 hour ago
Thank you all for your replies.
I took some time to think and then some new things happened.

My PhD is in agriculture, so I’ll be working in the field during summer. What happened is that they told me I’m supposed to take care of all the agricultural operations, while nobody in my field does that. What we do is we go in the field, collect our data and that’s it.
I asked why and they told me that at this institute the farm workers only do the “heavy” jobs.
I was pretty pissed because this takes a huge amount of time; moreover, they basically want me to work as a technician (there are only technicians at this institute, no post-docs and I’m the only PhD student), but without the salary and social benefits of a technician. When I say I can’t do something because I’m now running tests at the lab, they get annoyed and ask when I’ll be done with those tests, like they were an issue and not a part of my program.
As this wasn’t enough, my co-supervisor forced me to do additional work for another project not related to my PhD, obviously for free.

I can’t switch supervisors because the field work depends on this institute and the institute is tied to my co-supervisor.

I really like the project and the work, but honestly this is not a PhD. Even if I got to the end of this nightmare, I wouldn’t be competent to have this title, because all I’m doing is technical work and don’t have time to read or even think and try new things.
Thank you again for your time!
28-Apr-17, 20:34
edited about 29 seconds later
by nake
Avatar for nake
posted about 30 minutes ago

Am going to be a bit blunt and say you should cut your losses while you still can as you are still in your 1st year. There are particular challenges relating to the supervision of an international student, and if your supervisors are not willing to help you out in this regard or be supportive then you might be better off going somewhere else. My advice to you is to start making your backup plan, and once that works out, then leave. As an int student also I can relate to your story when you have supervisors who are not ready to address your specific needs.

I can remember when I started this PhD my supervisor had a student who quit/never finished, but he dismissed the student as unserious. I shouldn't have taken his word for it, I now believe there was more to the story. A student would not just quit a PhD if they are having a good time.

Am also in a situation where I can't switch supervisors because the project is tied to my current supervisors. You are told to just cope with a supervisor that isn't compatible with you.

Am hanging on to my PhD because my friends and family think I should, but personally, it is coming at a huge cost to my psychological health. I might also quit soon because even if I do get the PhD the whole experience has changed my perception of academia.I would have to ask myself eventually, was it really worth it, and am sure my answer would be no.


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