I am a 2nd-year (starting 3rd year) international PhD student at a top-10 electrical engineering program in the US. I've started this program right after BS without giving it much thought because I was very successful in my class and I though I was going to get an MS anyway (and I want to do it abroad), why don't do it as part of a PhD program? In this way, I'd be funded and if I liked it I'd go on, otherwise quit. I should also mention that I hadn't decided whether to pursue an academic career or industry back then. (Although I decided on industry during my first year seeing what kind of a life the professors have.)
So, at the beginning I chose a well-explored research topic in mixed-signal circuit design thinking it would increase my options in the industry. Ever since I started, things got harder and harder. Last year, I was able to spend some off-time (working out regularly etc) but this year I can't even do that. I don't think I ever really loved research, I was rather okay with it. Although I've had times when I felt really down and questioned the purpose of doing a PhD (especially after having a bad meeting with my advisors), I was fairly optimistic and hard-working for my PhD until recently when one of my advisors suggested that I could leave with MS (if I wanted to). He told me that although I was hard-working, he wasn't able to see the PhD motivation in me so far and maybe quitting with an MS would be a good option. At first, I though it might have been a weird way to test my motivation or even motivate me, but a few weeks later he asked what I think about what he had said before. He said he wasn't playing any games about what he had said, and we had another talk about my options of leaving. In a way, it was just like this: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1652
Ever since then, my motivation towards PhD dropped and I started to care less. In fact, I also relieved a great deal. I feel closer to quitting than staying as quitting seems much much easier and relieving. But I fear it might be just a case of "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence". And as I have no real work experience in the industry (except for a summer internship where I wasn't given any real responsibilities), I can't make a fair comparison. Right now, I realize I focus on the bad things about PhD such as the following:
Treatment of the professors: Feel no real respect from them. They are usually condescending and mocking.
The fact that virtually no collaboration or team work happens in my research. I am kind of the only one doing my stuff in my group and there is usually no one to help. When I am stuck at understanding something, the response of my advisors is usually "Go, figure it out!"
The fact that you can never not think about research. You can't ever turn the switch off. Constant thought of research at the back of your head, and the guilt when not working. I assume this wouldn't be the case in industry (99% of the time). I've started to value work/life balance more and more recently.
As my self confidence dropped drastically since I started here (thanks to occasional statements of my advisors about their lack of confidence with me taking quals), I've started to fear the quals I need to take in the next semester. Even taking the quals started to seem like a huge barrier I need to overcome.
I've talked to my friends about my situation. Some supported, some discouraged. Some suggested changing advisors or go to another university. Changing advisors do not seem like a feasible option as there are only a few other professors working in circuits at my university. So changing advisors would probably pull me back 1-2 years. Going to another university would cost even more time as I could only start in Fall 2015.
So, considering all of the above, what do you recommend? Those who quit or went through similar situations, how did you decide what to do? If I'm going to work in the industry anyways, does it really worth another 4 miserable years I'd spent in PhD program?
Thanks in advance for reading and all your comments