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Should I Leave My PhD Program?

Should I Leave My PhD Program? - Biology Forum

Should I Leave My PhD Program? - Biology Forums. Ask questions and discuss the study of Biology. If you have Biology questions from your homework ask them here!


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Old 04-26-2012, 04:28 PM
Pipette Filler
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Unhappy Should I Leave My PhD Program?



Hello All

I've been struggling for a long time in my molecular biology PhD program. Not struggling academically per say, but more emotionally, and I don't know if I have the motivation or if it is in my best interest to continue. I came to this program straight out of undergrad not really knowing what I was getting myself into. At the time I loved cell and molecular biology (I still do) and I wanted to know more. I loved doing research because it seemed like there was an endless possibility of questions and problems that I could potentially answer, so I applied for PhD programs and received a few fully funded acceptance letters! I picked a large State University with a diverse molecular biology department because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to study and started my new life. The first year was awesome! I was extremely successful in my classes, loved being a TA, and learned a ton. Things began to go downhill the moment the summer began and I officially joined a lab. Classes were over, there were no undergraduates to TA, and every waking moment of my time was suppose to be dedicated to research. I hated it. It was lonely and repetitive. I felt like my project was going no where and I didn't know what to do to fix it. I tried to talk to my adviser, but he assured me things would work out fine and that research takes a long time so I believed him and went on with my studies. Now, almost two years later, nothing has changed except the fact that I am absolutely certain I don't want to do research!

Being a TA for various undergraduate classes and learning new things at seminars and in classes has kept me going over the past two years. I decided about a year ago I wanted a career in science writing, communication, or education so, without the knowledge of my adviser, I began filling my free time outside the lab pursing experience in these areas. I started writing biology content for on online homework help and test prep site, volunteering on the weekends at a local science museum, and attending campus seminars on how to best teach science to undergraduates. These experiences have made me even more certain that my talents lie in teaching and communicating science much more than actually doing the science myself. I have been told by many of my students how good of a teacher I am and every time I present at journal club or a seminar I am always complimented on my presentation. These are the things that I that not only make me happy, but that I actually feel successful doing. Research makes me feel like a complete and utter failure.

Recently an opportunity came up to help design curriculum over the summer for undergraduate cell biology teaching labs on campus. The position seemed like it was tailored exactly to me. I knew the professors running it and had already taught the class they were trying to change. Unfortunately when I asked my adviser if I could apply and if he would right a recommendation for me he flatly refused and told me my main focus in graduate school is to do research and nothing else. I explained to him how when I graduated I wanted to work in education or communication and how getting experiences in these areas would be extremely beneficial, yet he still refused. I left his office sobbing and extremely angry. He basically told me I my data was worthless and I should focus on trying to make something of my research before even thinking about the future. I've asked him for help with my project about a million times, and every time he says he will and then never does. All he does is compare me to students in his lab that have been successful and say "well if they can do it, why can't you?". I tried reasoning with him about the summer position the next day when I was more calm, but nothing has changed. Now he is ignoring me and I feel even more isolated, depressed, and worthless than I did before. I don't know what to do.

I know getting a PhD will be beneficial to my career, but is it worth it? Everyone keeps telling me to stay (parents, relatives, friends), but I feel as though if at least one person told me to leave because it wasn't worth all the pain I was going through I would. I don't know if I'm ready for all the risk and uncertainty associated with leaving my program and trying to find a job.

Added to this is the fact that my boyfriend lives four hours away and I miss him terribly all the time. We see each only about every two weeks on the weekends. He has a great job where he lives and I would never ask him to give that up for me, especially since I don't even know if I want to stay here. I just wish I could move on with my life and be happy.
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