Quitting PhD

posted
10-Apr-17, 17:15
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 2 months 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!
posted
11-Apr-17, 11:19
edited about 18 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 2 months 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.
posted
11-Apr-17, 15:11
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 2 months 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!
posted
13-Apr-17, 02:58
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 2 months 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.
posted
13-Apr-17, 11:02
edited about 25 seconds later
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 2 months 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.
posted
28-Apr-17, 19:46
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 2 months 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!
posted
28-Apr-17, 20:34
edited about 29 seconds later
by nake
Avatar for nake
posted about 2 months ago
Hi,

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.
posted
29-Apr-17, 23:10
edited about 2 minutes later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 2 months ago
Hi Smilinghippo, who do can you go to (at your institution or faculty) who acts as an advisor or advocate for you (other than your supervisors).

It reads as if (to me) that you have a onsite supervisor and academic supervisors-and they are all unhelpful. (Is this how it is?). Can you find out who can assist (from the research faculty, perhaps you have an international student advisor, and your faculty should definitely have something like a graduate research advisor ) and either see them, email or phone, depending on your location to lay out your case and get advice/support.

I know you said your academic supervisors were not helpful but the fieldwork situation you have just described sounds bad. I can understand why you would want to cut your losses in the situation you have described but getting on to a PhD program and funding is difficult (as I am sure you are aware), which is why I usually hesitate before writing to support anyone's decision to quit on the forum.

What you have described sounds like they are really exploiting you in the field. This situation is not something I have experience with so my advice is very limited, but I didn't want you to think that we couldn't care less.

How long do you have to do this field work-is it just for a few weeks? Is it possible to tough it out a bit because it doesn't last long? You have obviously managed to deal really well with this so far (big credit to you), could you possibly last a bit longer if it is only a short period of time in the field?

Quote From SmilingHippo:


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.
!
posted
29-Apr-17, 23:16
edited about 12 seconds later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From nake:



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.


Hi Nake, sorry to read how difficult your experience has been. Hope that it all works out for you finally and you do finish and get your doctorate, even if you don't use it to enter academia.
posted
01-May-17, 17:35
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From nake:
Hi,

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.


Hello nake,
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re having a bad time too.
We do everything we can to fulfill our dreams, we invest efforts and time and then things end up like this.
I hope you will find your way!
posted
01-May-17, 17:37
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From Pjlu:
Hi Smilinghippo, who do can you go to (at your institution or faculty) who acts as an advisor or advocate for you (other than your supervisors).

It reads as if (to me) that you have a onsite supervisor and academic supervisors-and they are all unhelpful. (Is this how it is?). Can you find out who can assist (from the research faculty, perhaps you have an international student advisor, and your faculty should definitely have something like a graduate research advisor ) and either see them, email or phone, depending on your location to lay out your case and get advice/support.



Hi Pjlu,
Thank you for your reply.
Yes exactly, I have an onsite supervisor and an academic one. At my university there is no international student advisor. There is a director of the PhD program, but it’s mostly for administrative stuff, like funding. I don’t know if I can talk to her about these issues. I went to see her in the past for issues related to funding and she immediately informed my supervisor, so I wonder whether there is any confidentiality.
Unfortunately, the field work is a big part of my project: it will last 5 months this year and 5 months the next one.
I really don’t know what to do anymore, I keep going and try not to think, but yesterday something bad happened and I had a nervous breakdown to remind me that things are not all that good.
posted
01-May-17, 18:54
Avatar for arthemesus
posted about 1 month ago
Hi,

I used to quited from PhD before I started a new program after 3 months.
Now I am in the 3rd year and I cannot cope my stress as well.
To study PhD is to keep your mind to be experience any risk of mental illness.
I met psychiatrist and psychologists. I had big problem with previous supervisor but now I changed supervisor already.
Sometimes supervisor does not know that he/she has large impact on student's mental health.
Sometimes they don't even know that they have mental illness.

Hope you can get along well with your study.
posted
01-May-17, 23:54
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 month ago
Hi, SmilingHippo,

Your director of PhD program should not have informed your supervisor that you met her. There is supposed to be confidentiality.

To completely have no support during your PhD is a disaster. Your supervisor is supposed to supervise, not redirect you to the technician under the excuse of being busy. Without a PhD supervisor's guidance, it is extremely difficult to obtain a PhD since you will be stressed, doing a lot of trial and errors and wasting lots of time. You will also be at a disadvantage compared to other students under good supervisors who will have more publications and hence, better chance at securing future postdoc funding. It is unethical that they are asking you to do all the field operations and other unrelated jobs, on your minimal pay. And there is nothing wrong wanting to visit your family back home.

You have done what you can to speak to your supervisors about your concerns. Since they will not change their attitude, can you change project completely? It is so difficult for international students to secure a PhD project funding, so please do not let go if you can. Losing one year is better than losing the entire PhD. The funding is normally tied to the student. You should be able to take your fund to where you wanna go. Can you identify another good supervisor and project? Perhaps at another institute within the same uni? Switching supervisors and projects are so common these days because bad supervisors are also unfortunately so common.
posted
02-May-17, 03:28
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for SmilingHippo
posted about 1 month ago
Thank you for your reply, Tru.
I can’t change project because the funding comes from the institute and not the university. At the institute there are only 2 directors of research in my field and they’re both my co-directors. Furthermore, my funding is related to the work I do for this project.
The other institutes that do research in similar fields all work with my academic director, so I would be tied to him again.


Quote From tru:

Without a PhD supervisor's guidance, it is extremely difficult to obtain a PhD since you will be stressed, doing a lot of trial and errors and wasting lots of time.


I totally agree with you on the subject of time: students at my lab usually take at least 4 years to graduate from 2-year master's programs and 5.5-6 years to graduate from 4-year PhD programs.
posted
02-May-17, 03:58
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 month ago
Hmm... So you are essentially stuck, funding and project aspect wise in this university.

If you wish to continue:
1) Identify another experienced researcher(s) as your co-supervisor. At least you will have a go to person to discuss data.
2) Ask your supervisor to send you for some relevant training somewhere.


You have three options, if you decide to cut your loss:

1) Finish up as a master WITHIN the 2 year period, not the ridiculous 4 years which is the norm in the group you are in.

2) Start looking at other universities and applying for relevant projects. Since you are in the country, you have the opportunity to look around and meet potential supervisors rather than just emailing them. Find those with funds or at least happy to support your application for scholarship. Do not quit until you have something else to go to. FindAPhD.com, internationalscholarships.com and JASON database are good websites to search.

3) Withdrawing candidacy. This is the absolute last choice. If you feel that your PhD will not give you the training you need, losing one year is nothing. Some have lost 4-6 years or more due to complete lack of supervision.

Only you know what is best for you. I wish you well.

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