Help with anxiety and feeling like leaving my PhD

posted
04-Dec-17, 10:36
edited about 19 seconds later
by GiGi
Avatar for GiGi
posted about 1 week ago
I've just started the 3rd year of my 4 year PhD, and I had to take a couple of months off for an illness recently. I've never had an issue with my supervisor before, but since I returned to work she has been unwelcoming and not supportive, and it almost feels like I'm being punished for being ill. I've been shouted at and told I'm not going to finish my work on time despite being given extra time to account for the time I took off. Every meeting in the first few weeks after getting back ended with me in tears, and I have become more anxious than I have ever been. Our meetings have improved in the last week or so, but it still feels like a bad work environment and I'm struggling with it.

When I've tried talking to my supervisor about stress and anxiety she basically says that everyone is stressed, she's stressed and she's still working. This makes me feel like I can't confide in her about how I'm feeling, and I feel physically awful right now and I'm really struggling to motivate myself to go into work or even to work at home. I feel anxious about going in and sometimes even worse when I'm there. I've been seeing the university counsellor, but it hasn't helped much and they only provide a limited number of sessions.

At the moment I feel on the verge of leaving as I can't see how to make the situation better. I have been passionate about my research topic up until now, but I'm finding it hard to get myself back into it. When I try and think of it from the outside I don't want to give up on my work and I want to finish what I started, but I really want things to go back to normal and be happy at work again. Any advice would be really appreciated.
posted
04-Dec-17, 21:10
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
Hi Gigi, Sorry to hear about this. It sounds like terrible treatment and is no wonder you have been feeling so bad. One thing came to mind when I was reading this. Is there an academic you trust and could talk to confidentially? It might be helpful to get some advice and leadership from someone in the department perhaps. They may have suggestions that could help, eg getting another supervisor on board or attending meetings with you so that this sort of abuse cannot happen, or maybe something more drastic like changing supervisors completely (even at this late stage this is what I personally would do...). Know that you are not alone. Please try find someone who may be able to assist rather than quitting - as you are quite near the end by the sounds of it, and why should you have to quit because of someone else's unprofessional and bullying behaviour. All the best and hope this is a tiny bit helpful. Tudor
posted
04-Dec-17, 22:25
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 week ago
Hi, GiGi,

So sorry to hear you had to cope with this when you just came back from sick leave.

I agree with Tudor_Queen that you should speak to an experienced and trusted academic about this. Do you have a second supervisor or postgrad coordinator you can talk to? If not, do you have someone who can be a mentor and help you? Do you also have a students union who may have someone who knows the postgrad academic system in your uni?

I know you are at the verge of leaving. But, are you far off from finishing the minimum experiments required to start writing up your PhD? If you are near, can you quickly finish and go? If you are far and cannot take it anymore, could you either write up as master or look at changing PhD supervisor rather than quit completely?

Bullying is not acceptable, even if your supervisor is considered the top of her field. Unfortunately, it is also very common. When I had issues previously, I consulted with the students union and postgrad coordinator to understand the postgrad system and how best I could move forward with whatever little I had. I also got myself a mentor whom I chat with about my results and gave me encouragement when my supervisors were seriously damaging me. I finished my PhD, despite being burnt so badly. I would have preferred to change supervisors but my uni system plus me being in late candidature did not allow this. I hope this encourages you. Yeah, so as Tudor_Queen said, you are not alone.

Have a think about this deeply and make the right decision for you. Whatever your decision is, know that it is yours and no one has the right to criticise you whether you want to stay or not. No one knows you better than you. All the best.
posted
05-Dec-17, 01:00
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 1 week ago
Mental health is getting quite a lot of publicity right now and probably not before time. The problem is that outside the small sphere of people sympathetic to the mental health problems of others is a vast, and I do believe it is overwhelmingly vast, silent mass of people who think this is all snowflake millenial bullshit and that people are jumping on the bandwagon.

To be honest I really don't know what the solution to that is.

My suggestion here is really about considering what you can control yourself. I believe that every single person has moments in their lives when they go off the rails mentally and that we have a culture of mass denial about it. In my experience it comes down to a feeling of lack of control over your life and a feeling of worthlessness and pointlessness about everything. I think this is down to people living a lifestyle which is not compatible with who they really are. It might therefore help you if you get some quiet time and ask yourself who you really are and what your life would look like in an ideal world. In my case, the PhD taught me that I pathogically hate working alongside other people. I therefore run my own business now with no intention of ever hiring staff. That means I have to accept that I am trading away the possibility of higher earnings in order to get my freedom. It might help you to go through a similar process.
posted
06-Dec-17, 10:09
edited about 3 seconds later
Avatar for strawberrygirl
posted about 1 week ago
Hi Gigi - does your university offer counselling services? If so I'd recommend going to see them for an appointment before speaking to any other academics. What your supervisor has said is unfair and is missing the point. In my experience the counsellors in the counselling services tend to be good at supporting students who are struggling with these sorts of issues.
posted
11-Dec-17, 09:34
edited about 16 seconds later
by GiGi
Avatar for GiGi
posted about 4 days ago
Quote From Tudor_Queen:
Hi Gigi, Sorry to hear about this. It sounds like terrible treatment and is no wonder you have been feeling so bad. One thing came to mind when I was reading this. Is there an academic you trust and could talk to confidentially? It might be helpful to get some advice and leadership from someone in the department perhaps. They may have suggestions that could help, eg getting another supervisor on board or attending meetings with you so that this sort of abuse cannot happen, or maybe something more drastic like changing supervisors completely (even at this late stage this is what I personally would do...). Know that you are not alone. Please try find someone who may be able to assist rather than quitting - as you are quite near the end by the sounds of it, and why should you have to quit because of someone else's unprofessional and bullying behaviour. All the best and hope this is a tiny bit helpful. Tudor


Hi Tudor, thanks so much for your message and advice. I spoke to another academic about everything, and he offered to speak to my supervisor to try and get her to understand - unfortunately it sounds like she still doesn’t see what she’s doing wrong! She’s on annual leave now so I won’t see her until after Christmas, but I’m quite worried about what the situation will be like when she returns.
Thanks again- Gigi
posted
11-Dec-17, 09:43
edited about 26 seconds later
by GiGi
Avatar for GiGi
posted about 4 days ago
Quote From tru:
Hi, GiGi,

So sorry to hear you had to cope with this when you just came back from sick leave.

I agree with Tudor_Queen that you should speak to an experienced and trusted academic about this. Do you have a second supervisor or postgrad coordinator you can talk to? If not, do you have someone who can be a mentor and help you? Do you also have a students union who may have someone who knows the postgrad academic system in your uni?

I know you are at the verge of leaving. But, are you far off from finishing the minimum experiments required to start writing up your PhD? If you are near, can you quickly finish and go? If you are far and cannot take it anymore, could you either write up as master or look at changing PhD supervisor rather than quit completely.... .



Hi tru, thank you for your support and advice, I appreciate it and it’s good to know I’m not alone. I’m not a huge way off from finishing, I should finish the minimum experiments I need by summer next year. I hadn’t thought of contacting the students union so that may be a way forward - I spoke to another academic who has always been supportive and he tried to get my supervisor to understand how she was affecting me, but unfortunately it hasn’t been successful. I’m not sure changing supervisors would be a possibility as I can’t think of anyone in my Institute who has the same expertise. I’m hoping things will improve in the new year but if they don’t I’m not sure what I’ll do.

Thanks so much again.
posted
12-Dec-17, 11:58
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 3 days ago
Hi, GiGi,

Since you know that you can finish the minimum experiments by next year, can you do a thorough listing of the experiments and tick them off quickly till you finish and get out of the lab. Then write up your thesis. Talk to your trusted academic and students union from time to time to make sure you are on the right track.

Do you think you will have enough strength to pull through the last mile? You are not far, and should be able to pull through with enough resolution. It is very hard, but not impossible.

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