Making all the wrong moves when changing PhD


I'll try to keep it as brief as possible:
1. Join a relatively new lab (~3 years) I was really interested in even after two students left and told me it was a bad idea.
2. Three months in, discovered they were right - PI abusive, doesn't have clear direction, we don't get along personally or professionally.
3. I'm in a really bad place psychologically and mentally, and after discussing with the program coordinator and director, I let the PI know I want to leave the group - before having any other viable options.
4. PI gives me a month to find another position, during that time they expects me to continue my work - I did not. I was mostly depressed and frantically trying to find other options, as my visa depends on my employment.
5. Eventually aforementioned director gives me a three month grace period in their lab to try and sort things out. Had a couple of interviews, though nothing is concrete yet (The director is really interested in having me as a PhD student - however, I have literally heard only bad things about them from all of the current and previous students and am not willing to take another risk).

My main issue - how screwed I am? I feel there is bad blood between me and my previous PI which affects my prospects, as I have made a rash decision, and have made promises to keep up the work even though I did not. In hindsight the better option would be to suggest staying at their lab until I find a different position while continuing work, but at the time all I wanted was to get out of there. I specifically feel screwed as I have contacted multiple PIs and either got a direct "no" or no response; the only PI that may be a possibility has interviewed me four times and is "still undecided".


If you have only heard bad things about the new PI, who has interviewed you four times!, then my advice is to stay well clear of that one. You would likely be going from one bad situation to another, I've read other cases on this forum of that happening when people are desperate to get out of a bad situation. I've not heard of anyone being interviewed four times before. I don't think staying on where you are and getting one extension after another is a good situation at all. The PI will just get more annoyed and you are not likely to get development opportunities if they know you are leaving. Ideally you should have found a new position then given notice. Given the bad blood etc. my advice would be just to leave your current position and do something else for a while, preserve your health.


There's a lesson here for others. When you make rash decisions it can unfortunately seriously limit your options going forward - certainly in the short term.

You need to find a way of stepping back and thinking about your longer term options here and that may well include leaving academia for a while.

For anyone else in this situation, I would strongly advise three things:-

1) Never ignore more than one warning about a supervisor.
2) Always avoid making emotionally charged decisions. Ego-based decisions will leave you hanging out to dry more often than not.
3) Find another job BEFORE you quit your current one unless you have enough money to support yourself for 6 months without work.

Of course, circumstances might dictate a more rash approach but it's best to avoid that if at all possible.

Good luck with your situation. Hopefully another PhD position will come along before you have to go down another career route.