New PhD - to quit or not to quit?

posted
04-Sep-19, 13:21
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
So some background information... I recently graduated from a UK Russell group university with a 1st class. I had a funded PhD offer and I took it because it was the best option at that point in terms of financial means (literally one of the highest stipend you can get in the world for a PhD). I just started this week but I am already having regrets..

TLDR: new PhD, bad PI, mediocre uni, do I stay or quit?

1. The university - This uni is decidedly mediocre, both in terms of rankings and reputation. It was never known for their research either. And there are a hell lot of administrative bullshit, though maybe it's the same everywhere.

2. The supervisor - This is my main concern. She is a relatively new PI - she had her first PhD student three years back. She is a nice person, but an 'incompetent' PI, according to the lab members who were very straight forward to me. The papers she published are in low IF journals, and the students published even lower. When I discussed my potential PhD thesis with her, she basically listed all the ongoing projects in the lab as chapters of my thesis, despite them having very little connection and I fail to see how it can make a coherent thesis. She also doesn't expect me to have my own experiments and to just work on other people's projects (I'm pretty sure I can argue about this, I just don't see it as a good sign from a PI). She pushes projects on the students (a MPhil student has 7 ongoing projects), and doesn't believe in pilot studies (so they wasted a lot of animals in the past). She's also slightly forgetful - the projects she wanted me to do now has nothing to do with the project I agreed to prior to my application (but I am not sure whether this is normal) and this kinda annoys me because I read up during the summer for a completely different subject.
posted
05-Sep-19, 09:15
edited about 25 seconds later
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
She's pushy - she tends to ask you to submit your report/lit review within five days out of the blue, and not read it until you pressure her. One PhD broke down the other day because when she finally read his lit review after one month, she gave no feedback on the content but lectured him for half an hour over the lack of diaeresis over the word 'naive'. The lab is at least three years old now, but there is still no established protocol for western blot (which I thought is a pretty essential and basic lab technique), is this normal?????

3. The project - Put it simply, I don't believe in the research, not the one I agreed to prior the application and not the ones she threw upon me now.

4. The lab environment - Everyone in the lab was very welcoming and nice but no one actually likes what they are doing. They told me flat out that they're just here for the money and nobody wants to stay in academia (there are 15 people in the lab!). Also, due to the stress, half of them have routine therapy session with the uni's counselling service. The whole atmosphere is just not academic. I've had experience in a lab where they talked about their research over lunch because they wanted to and I learned so much just by listening. So I'm worried that this is not the most conducive lab to do research in. Besides there were cases where samples in a locked fridge were thrown away by someone in the lab out of spite/fun..

5. The city - This is not really a major concern but it sort of piles upon my frustration. It's a very fast-paced city away from home and I'm having a serious case of culture shock. I also don't speak the language, which makes it more isolating.
posted
05-Sep-19, 09:15
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
To be honest I might be over-dramatic and most of the stuff are what the other lab members told me. They might be exaggerating because they are under stress and experiencing burnout. I chose this PhD simply because it pays well, without doing much research into what it entails exactly, and I never thought it could be this bad. It's a PhD after all, I could still learn new skills, publish stuff, and get a degree at the end. But now I am reconsidering whether I want to spend four years doing research I don't believe in and publish in mediocre journals. I could live with that if I am really here for the money, but my previous lab experience was really good and I really want to stay in academia. Can I get a good post-doc/RA job if my PhD pubs are bad?

Right now there is very little at stake (except for the PI's wrath, I am her only PhD in two years) - I am only three days in. I could quit and take a gap year, reapply somewhere else, maybe do a Masters until I feel like I'm truly ready for a PhD. But I might be relying too much on what the lab members told me and it made me far too biased and unable to respect the PI. Gap year could potentially become a black hole in my resume.

Any advice? Are my concerns legitimate? Do I run while I still can or should I stop paying attention to the lab gossip? I appreciate any brutal but honest advice.
posted
05-Sep-19, 09:56
edited about 3 seconds later
Avatar for Dr_Crabby
posted about 2 months ago
My advice would be that if you feel like this so early on - run before you waste anymore time. I am interested and passionate about my research and I have still wanted to run a million times over the past few years. If the project is one you don't have any interest in it will make pushing through the difficult times so much more difficult and by then you might have invested too much which makes the decision to quit even harder.

Just my opinion though.
posted
05-Sep-19, 16:39
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From Dr_Crabby:
My advice would be that if you feel like this so early on - run before you waste anymore time. I am interested and passionate about my research and I have still wanted to run a million times over the past few years. If the project is one you don't have any interest in it will make pushing through the difficult times so much more difficult and by then you might have invested too much which makes the decision to quit even harder.

Just my opinion though.


Thank you for your reply! Looking back I think I pretty much decided to run already. What I need now is a something to fall back on (working? Masters?) and the application stress is killing me again..
posted
05-Sep-19, 16:58
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 2 months ago
Quote From dummythings:
To be honest I might be over-dramatic and most of the stuff are what the other lab members told me. They might be exaggerating because they are under stress and experiencing burnout.

I am only three days in.

But I might be relying too much on what the lab members told me and it made me far too biased.


Honestly I was reading your post and thinking that you should quit, until you said you are three days in. Every job has a settling in period and if you quit at the first sign of trouble you will have problems in life. Also PhD students are literally the worst sources you can find. I think most PhD students during their PhD do not recommend doing a PhD, as it is probably the most stressful part of their life. I would give it at least 1-3 months before leaving.

Though you don't have to quit immediately if you want to leave. You can still turn up do some work and collect the money while looking for other jobs.
posted
05-Sep-19, 20:09
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 2 months ago
dummythings, you asked for brutal feedback and here it is.

Your attitude is appalling.

You mention that you graduated from a Russell Group university. Presumably you mentioned this because you feel that this is something special? Unless you came from Oxford or Cambridge you have come from nowhere special. There is a sense of entitlement from your post which should be a serious concern to you if you wish to be successful at anything.

That PI you have just discredited has a string of published material and a full time permanent job which she undoubtedly has had to fight very hard to get. I am presuming you have neither of these things and so it's very odd that you feel capable of having a go at her career choices.

Let me give you some advice. Lose the attitude immediately. Forget league tables and impact factors, get your arse in gear and start proving your worth. The clock is ticking on your PhD already and you appear to have spent most of the first week engaged in idle gossip and social status nonsense. Finally, you appear to be easily manipulated. Stop believing everything your idiotic lab colleagues say, keep your counsel and start making up your own mind about things.

If you were in my lab, I'd be taking you for a coffee and a very serious chat about your attitude. I'd be failing you if I didn't at least try and talk some sense into you.

You did ask for brutal and honest....
posted
06-Sep-19, 05:46
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
Hi pm133,

I did ask for brutal and honest opinions, and I appreciate your reply.

I mentioned the university thing as a background of something else that happened, which I decided to no mention after all (but of course forgetting to delete it). Anyway I experienced the university first-hand, I know how shit it is, so don't expect any sense of entitlement from that end. Mind you, I did decide to come here after contemplating for the whole summer, I'm only having second thoughts when the PI gave me a different project and I started joining the lab members for lunch.

I have always thought that a reliable PI that you can fall back on and a good lab environment are as important as the research topic itself. And I'd appreciate a coffee and a chat too, but unfortunately there's no one more senior than that first PhD student - no Postdoc, no RA, no one who's worked in the lab for more than three years. First-time supervisor and first PhD student might not always have the best experience, and his resentment towards that rocky start might have led to that general atmosphere in the lab. I have no one else to ask for advice - hence posting in a forum like this. Your reply did remind me that the PI is after all, a PI, and has much more experience than me and I need to view his words with more respect.

Also, since you mentioned ignoring impact factors - how important/unimportant are they actually? Does it really not matter if I publish low?

Thanks!
posted
06-Sep-19, 05:50
edited about 6 minutes later
Avatar for dummythings
posted about 2 months ago
I would give it at least 1-3 months before leaving.

Though you don't have to quit immediately if you want to leave. You can still turn up do some work and collect the money while looking for other jobs.


Thanks for your reply! I probably didn't make it clear but I did not intend to leave as in tomorrow - I plan to stay at least until the end of the year. But yeah, I should make sure that I'm not relying too much on the lab gossip and check it out for myself before I make a decision.

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