I’ve just moved to Canada for PhD studies at one of its best universities. One day during my master studies, I felt that I wanted to live the international student experience and decided to move to Canada which is far away from my home country (at least 16 hours by flight!). But before moving to Canada, I thought I needed to save some money as such I decided to work and save money. I worked at a good and well-known company with very good salary and benefits, my boss really liked me. I left the job after a year and everyone there was shocked because I was so good at it. I have to mention that during my work there, I also met my boyfriend whom I love very much!

Despite the fact that I met my significant other, had a great job and stable life, I went on my way and moved to Canada. After only one month in Canada, I discovered a few things.

1) It feels bad to be away from my family and friends, although I used to live away from my family during the past few years, the increased distance makes it worse.

2) I've been thinking of going back to my home country since I arrived.

3) I miss my boyfriend very badly although we talk everyday.

4) I had a great job with very good salary and now I get less than half of my previous salary.

5) My social life here sucks, I’m working on it but things are moving very very slow!

6) The main concern: I joined a small research group; only 2 PhD students and 2 masters students and no Post docs. The supervisor is very busy (we booked a meeting and he has never showed up in time! In a best case scenario he is late by an hour), he doesn’t show any interest in guiding me or helping me define my PhD project, I thought he might be busy but after taking to the students it seems that he’s always like this. He never seems to have time and I need to chase him down to talk about research and ensure things move forward. Even one of his masters students said that if I wanna have a good PhD, I must find a co-supervisor because he’s not organized! Besides, it seems that the supervisor does not have available projects as of now and he is currently away for the next two months.

I feel like I’m sinking and made the biggest mistake of my life! I'm no longer sure I want to continue my PhD studies! I only think about going back home. I don’t know what to do. Should I look for job back home? Stay? Ask the previous company to hire me back?

I’m afraid and nervous and have no one to consult!! Please help me cause I feel like I’m wasting time here while being unhappy and very far away from my loved ones :( ?

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  • How long do you live in Canada so far? 1 week, 1 month, 3 month? – Iris Jun 8 at 9:01
  • Have you thought about attending school much closer to home? I assume there are good schools nearer. – jmh Jun 9 at 20:56
  • change advisor ASAP @lala – SSimon Jun 10 at 4:51
  • @SSimon thank you! I'm considering changing my supervisor. – LALA Jun 10 at 22:20
  • @jmh I'm also considering a closer good school while looking for alternatives. Thank you! – LALA Jun 10 at 22:23

First and foremost your mental/physical health is the most important thing. I was in your situation as well, and did my studies away from home. Here are my thoughts hope it can help you:

  1. Temporary break: It might be the case that you are just exhausted yourself. What about a short break? You could have a honest conversation with your supervisor and take a break.

  2. PhD is not a silver bullet to all of your life problems: I see in your question that you are suggesting that "you are wasting time" or "bad social life". So is it the PhD or you? Are you organized and keep room for your social interactions? Or the PhD itself is stressing out to a point that you need to stick to your desk. You need to take control of your life, with or without PhD, we all have personal traits that might be good or bad; but this is what is life about. You need to learn and grow and create a life you want to be in.

  3. Supervisor Issue: Based on your question, I doubt that it is your supervisor, but if you feel the need; you can always have a discussion with the head of your research group about your supervisor.

  4. Schedule your Holidays: It seems your boyfriend is not with you and this is sad to you, so you could always schedule your holidays around the year.

  5. Do Exercise: This is important, to keep you motivated; keep yourself in shape; go for a walk, go to your university gym. This will help you in physically and mentally.

  6. Leaving PhD: After all these, if you still think you don't like research and/or PhD; then leave your PhD; it is your life and journey.

  • this should be cannon answer, – SSimon Jun 10 at 6:29
  • why not add chaning advisor? – SSimon Jun 10 at 6:29
  • Thanks for your advice. I know that pursuing a PhD is not easy and might be hard and challenging. I cannot allow myself to have a temporary break since I've just joined the research group. I'm doing exercise and attending social events. For my supervisor issues; there's no head of research so I only have my supervisor to talk to, He's super nice but is not good as a guide for PhD students. That's why I'm considering looking for another research group. – LALA Jun 10 at 22:26
  • @LALA If you were a second/third year PhD student that says well, I want to change my research group; then I would understand that maybe it is based on some experience. However, because you just got started, it is hard to believe that you are making a good choice by changing your research group. You see what I'm saying here?. Also, little break could be traveling outside the city you are in during the weekend. Anyhow, I would be honest and at least talk to the head of the research department about this. Hope my comments could help you. Best of luck. – Seyed Jun 11 at 1:54

You need to fundamentally evaluate why you are doing a PhD and if you think the end goal is worth it.

If your only reason to get a PhD is "I wanna live the international student experience", then you have already achieved your goal. As you have discovered, "the international student experience" is often very isolating. It takes at least one year to build a new social circle, and unlike undergraduate studies, a PhD is more like a job and you're unlikely to find your friend group in your lab. That said, most of the time this is a temporary condition: keep working on making new friends and finding new places to go, and you will start feeling more at home in your new city. Consider how long can you hold out for those changes. For another month? Six months? A year? Until you graduate?

Ideally, your goal is that you really, really want to become a researcher. Now is the time where you get to see up close how that works out. Observe your advisor (and his colleagues, since he is apparently a less than ideal specimen), and imagine yourself in their place. Does that appeal to you? Can you see yourself doing what they do, five to ten years down the road? Also remember that academia is quite international and if you choose this career you will likely have to go through multiple international moves again in the future. Do you have a closely-held dream that makes it all seem worthwhile?

You also note that you are unhappy about the lower salary. It depends on what field you are in, but in most fields a PhD doesn't increase your earning power much compared to a master's, and may even reduce it if you choose to work at a university. Get a PhD because you love what you do, not because you want to earn more.

After pondering these questions, you should have a good idea of why you are "doing this to yourself", i.e. getting a PhD. Being able to tell yourself "I chose to do this, and I continue choosing to do this because I am getting something I want out of it" helps a lot. On the other hand, if you're only doing this because it seemed like a good idea at the time, you might want to write this PhD off as a failed experiment. (Or rather a successful experiment with negative results.)

Assuming you have some reasons and want to continue, there is a second question: should you persevere with this PhD. Your advisor's lack of involvement is frankly concerning. You should heed your colleagues' advice and look for ways to work around him. Explore your options actively: Find another professor at your uni to co-supervise, find your own project that you can manage with limited help, or if nothing seems to work out consider finding a different PhD position, maybe even in your home country or somewhere only a day trip away.

  • Thanks for your advice. I know exactly why I'm doing PhD and my ultimate goals are well-defined but it's only hard for me to be away from the family specially that I'm quite disappointed about my supervisor and his research.. – LALA Jun 10 at 22:19
  • Yes, I've had an uninterested advisor in the past and it is very demoralizing. If you can find an engaged co-supervisor or even a new primary supervisor, that can totally change your experience. It seems like you aren't yet committed to a project from what you wrote above, so you should be fairly unconstrained for finding something to work on with a different prof. – nengel Jun 11 at 4:15

We can't advise you on what you should do, but we can talk about some of the issues.

Homesickness This is real issue. There's no telling when it would spring up or what triggers it. However, it does get better over time. It comes from losing immediate connection with friends and family. It can help for you to find new people you have affinity with (religious, cultural, ethnic, hobbies, etc).

Supervisor An inattentive supervisor can stifle a PhD. At this early phase, you are exploring the problem space. You need to find out the limits to the state of the art and carve out a niche big enough to spend a few years researching yet small enough to complete. You'd want to gain credit for something novel, so you don't want it to be something that someone else is just about to publish.

It really helps to communicate with established experts in the general field. They will know where the unknowns are, and they should have a fair idea of what others are working on. Ideally, your supervisor would be such an expert. However, you can also ask to join research labs / teams during their regular discussions, or even just gather a few others in your position (not necessarily from your supervisor's small research group) and look up recent conference proceedings to browse through their "further work" sections.

In later stages of your PhD, it can also help to have co-supervisors or mentors who can coach you through papers and conferences, as well as the final write-up. You don't need to switch supervisors, but if your supervisor is inattentive, you will need to seek alternative assistence.

These are simply practical tips. The first thing you need to do, though, is to decide whether you still want to pursue a PhD. The opening paragraph of your question indicates that this was your ambition - so you're 'living your dream'! The thing to ask yourself is whether this is still your dream.

One more point: going back. It's a common experience among students studying abroad and ex-pats alike that in a sense, there's no 'going back' after several years away. You will be changed by your new environment, language and culture, and your friends and family will also have changed in the interim. Even the company that employed you would have filled the vacancy you left. Special consideration is also needed about how to nurture long distance relationships. This isn't to say that it's all uphill, but it's important to recognise that studying abroad (PhD or otherwise) is a potentially life-changing endeavour.

You sound like a resourceful person, so you're probably going to be able to work out a lot of the immediate issues yourself, and you're probably going to land on your feet whether you continue with your PhD or return now. It's the longer-term issues that can easily be overlooked during this emotionally-charged initial phase.

It seems (simply said) like everything is bad in Canada and everything is good in your hone country. So you should go back. A PhD is a huge commitment of time and energy, one does it out of passion for research and the field - it does not make sense to do a PhD when you hate it.

It is not a character flaw not to have a PhD.

  • 5
    It appears OP has just started a PhD and just moved to Canada. A lot of resources have gone into this endeavor. Just telling them to quit (basically because they are homesick and there are some issues that might be fixable) seems not like good advice. It might be the right decision to quit, but OP should not make a rash decision now. – Roland Jun 8 at 6:53
  • I didn't say Canada is bad, there's nothing wrong about Canada. I'm taking specifically about my situation. – LALA Jun 10 at 22:17

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