Looking for hope. As usual, a desperate PhD student on the last year.


This is the really first time I ask for a piece of advice in a Forum, to be fair it feels great to read all the stories everyone share, good or bad is always good to know you are never alone :), thanks in advance if you're reading this, it means a lot to me.

Like most of the shared stories in this Forum, I must say too: when I started my Ph.D. I was extremely excited, I decided to come to Canada from my beautiful but sadly third world country to study a Ph.D. and to be honest, I wasn't even thinking about the money or the opportunities, I could get after my Ph.D. was done, I was naive, I merely did it because I love science and I enjoy learning and I got a nice scholarship from my country to study abroad, so I not only encouraged myself to travel alone and do this but also I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry when I knew my background was more biological, Microbiology to be more precise. Anyway, I never expected to find myself in a group which is not willing to cooperate at all, I struggled with the courses which I found normal but when it came the time of doing research, I found myself lost and isolated, people were pointing me like the person who does not fit because is not a chemist so they were not willing to discuss anything with me and even when I tried hard to make myself fit and to work hard to make my projects work neither of those things happened. The relationship with my supervisor was good at the beginning but then became worst and worst, I even talked to him once about switching programs but he convinced me to stay and the fool of me accepted.
Now I am writing my thesis and I feel depressed and sad and I am too worried now since I am definitely not gonna get any recommendation letter from my supervisor, we had an awful discussion on a Zoom meeting where he literally told me "You shut up and listen, you know you are not a good student and you should learn how to listen" and this was because I didn't agree on doing one experiment he was asking me to do, my arguments were -a person tried to do it 10 years ago, didn't work, I only have three months left if I want to graduate on time and I proposed a new idea which came from a different research group-. During the pandemic, I got a job at Walmart since University closed and I couldn't do any experiments and my supervisor completely ignored me during this time and I was already depressed thinking I am a failure so I wanted to keep myself occupied.

I took therapy and I convinced myself I should finish what I started but now, besides a piece of advice from you, whoever is reading this... do you think I am not gonna get a job related to science in Canada if I don't have my supervisor's letter of recommendation? I like my job at Walmart and honestly people in there are nicer, but I cannot stay there forever, I would love to get a job on what I like the most.

Thanks again for reading, have a nice day :).

Avatar for rewt

Hi Cibarrar,

I am very sorry to hear about your experience.

I honestly can't say if you will get a job in science but taking a few months away from STEM might do you a lot of good. I know several people in the UK who took several months away from their field after their PhD because of burnout. It is normal to get fed up with your field after working on one project for so many years, so having some time to recharge and get some perspective is great. You can work out what to do with a clearer perspective after you have submitted.

Avatar for springtime

Sounds like you have a hard time getting to where you are now, so don't give up stay strong.
I know it's easier to say it than actually do it(I am guilty of not following my own advice all the time)
But try not to worry about getting a job, the more you worry it will increase stress levels.
the fact you already have a job at Walmart means you won't be unemployed once the Ph.D. finishes, so at least that is something!
if you have a network of people within your area of interest, it will help to find employment in something you enjoy.
But don't get too hung up about it!


I'd point out culturally, it's likely your supervisor would still write you a letter of recommendation. I've had the fortune to work with academics from many different cultures, and some take this very seriously/honestly, whereas some take it as a formality/glowing by default, and some care only in the sense HR request it and no academic actually reads it. Obviously, when these clash, it's confusing for all involved.

The problem is not, I think, going to be the lack of a letter of recommendation, but the reasons that underpin it. If you have 3 months left (PhDs in Canada are typically 5-6 years?), and you're not so much arguing about the thesis write-up, but the actual experiment you're doing, you are never completing successfully on-time. I think your supervisor has hit the point of trying to tell you what to do 'by the numbers', and you should really listen carefully before arguing. There may be a truth you don't want to face there (like the fact you're not completing on-time), which is skewing how you hear and respond to their academic argument.