Quiting in your 4th year?


I wondered if anyone out there could give some advice. I'm currently about to enter the 4th year of my PhD and I just don't know how I'm going to continue. I think I've had a pretty tough few years and now I'm just exhausted and sick of my PhD. To briefly summarise: In my first year I had one week's worth of training from the postdoc who was meant to be looking out for me before she went on a year's sabbatical. She only told me a few days before she left. After that, I was pretty mmuch struggling in the lab on my own trying to figure out what the hell I was doing (I didn't have any experience in the technique before starting). Several months in, my friend and flatmate died suddenly and I took a couple of weeks off, then tried to get back to work because I was worried I was falling behind. I couldn't get the experiments to work and pretty much reached the end of my tether. My boss finally stepped in and gave me something else to do (unrelated to my PhD project but which was technically simpler to try to get me some data whilst we tried to work out what to do with my project. This was mostly a bit of data analysis from someone else's experiments and there's not enough to make it a full PhD project). In my second year I agreed to try the experiments again with the help of another postdoc and we had some small success, but then I found that a group in America had pretty much done my entire project but much better than me, and it felt hopeless to continue. By this time I was in my third year and panicking about my lack of data. I decided that perhaps I ought to change direction and work more with my secondary supervisor (who until then had very little input). Initially I was feeling very positive about the change in direction, but since then everything has gone downhill. Since January both my grandmother and mother have had to be rushed to hospital, my sister had a psychiatric breakdown and has been in and out of hospital, and my long term boyfriend (of 6 yrs) broke up with me. I've been so stressed that I haven't been concentrating on my work and I've screwed up a lot of experiments/data analysis. I know the new boss is angry with me (I overheard her bitching to my old boss about how useless I am) and I don't know how to fix things. I haven't been sleeping, I've been crying all the time and I know I'm not getting the work done and just confirming the boss's opinion of me. I feel completely overwhelmed, my self confidence is shattered and can't see myself ever completing as I have very little data. What should I do?


this is a sad state of affairs. The lack of support from those around you appears not to be uncommon. It looks like the person who was supposed to work with you at first didn't want to give away all their secrets, which was probably a bit selfish but people get like that about work which has become their 'baby'. i think part of the problem is that you haven't given yourself enough time or attention and it has all crept up on you and now you have too many things that are really unfinished business to deal with. You need a bit of a break. Go to your boss and explain, you may not get much sympathy, some people regard anything like this as showing weakness, but it isn't because it takes courage to face your problems. Tell them you are going to think of a plan to sort things out to give you a fresh start. When you have done this, go to the department dealing with postgrad stuff and tell them that you have things you need to deal with, go to student welfare too. Then what you need to do is write down all this unfinished business so you have it all in focus. Then write down by each item what you think you need to do to start to sort things out. If you don't know what to do go back to student welfare who should be able to find you someone to talk to. Once you have some positive things in place for this part of your life you can then tackle the problems to do with your work. Do the same thing, write down the problems sort them into things you can do something about and things you can't. Things you can't are water under the bridge, so let them go. The rest think of a solution. if experiments don't work, see if there is anyone else who can help at a different uni if necessary, if people are being a problem because they don't realise what has happened, tell them as much as they need to know, if they are still horrible put it down to them, not you having the problem. Take everything one step at a time, if you reach an immovable object, find a way round. sorting things out takes time, so give yourself time, it may take a while for things to improve, but they will, life is a roller coaster, you are at the bottom at the moment, but the only way is up! best wishes. J