I was a first-year PhD student but was forced to quit although hard-working day and night! I am disappointed, I am now 27 and did not create family, left my home country. Problems from the past in my family hugely affect my mental health. I have OCD and some other health issues.

Everyone admires my personality in presenting my work, however I am now shocked as I dreamt of doing good research to really help people and imprint a memory before leaving this earth. But I found it does not look like that. When I was a little girl, I used to tell my late mother: "I do not want to be an ordinary person, I want to add this world, to become an important person".

However, while writing now I would burst in tears and feel deeply alone. I suffered from complaining, so I would forget to speak and grew used to keeping every thing inside. I am afraid for my family as I feel responsible and I would like to make their lives better. Maybe the problem was that I did not do as well as the others? I thought I could do something new and meaningful, but I ended up being kicked out.

I would be grateful if someone tell me how can I overcome this harsh period?

  • 5
    You are not alone! This is a difficult type of work. Try searching the forum with the tag “emotional-responses”
    – Dawn
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 17:07
  • 1
    What country are you in? I don't know of many first-year PhD students who are already writing their thesis. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 21:29
  • Perhaps it make you feel better and help others if you offer a public evaluation of your ex-supervisor, see academia.stackexchange.com/a/115576/66782
    – Scientist
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 22:56
  • Why were you forced to quit? What would you like to achieve? Return to your position? Find a new one? Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 6:07
  • Now the HR and director of school want to me, I know I have to sign papers to terminate, I dont know, I am thinking about runaway and not sign any thing, I feel terrified, I still have to the end of the month and go. Please advices, I dont want to sign to something I forced from awful and racist supervisor, please advices.
    – user39171
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 13:39

4 Answers 4


You are not alone.

From my understanding of your post, you felt forced to quit after holding great expectations about yourself and in spite of making a significant effort for one year. If this is the correct interpretation, I believe your supervisor has failed miserably.

Unfortunately, modern day academia is not focused on human development and resources. It is mainly about politics and power, and increasingly infested with egoistic manipulators.

I suggest you do a great deal of self-assessment and seek professional help. Also focus on networking, improving transferable skills, and meeting capable change-driving individuals. Consider the following points:

  • I do not know which is your home country, and what is your family condition. But realistically assess whether spending 4-6 years on a PhD would really help your family in any meaningful way. Most young PhDs in my home country are either unemployed or underpaid, thinking they ought to have started working earlier.

  • Being successful is as relative as being lucky. Based on your description you seem to have joined an awful place for pursuing a degree, and was denied support from the beginning. Are you sure you would have fared any better in staying there for any longer? It seems to me you have spared yourself of years of lost time and internal pain.

  • Do understand that decision-makers and highly influential individuals are typically not academics. Seek to invest in your skills, contacts, and look deeper into the private sector and entrepreneurship.

  • As a 27-year old I think you are still very young, and I do not advise anyone to start worrying about "making a family" prior to 30s. But, of course, I do not know the social norm in your culture and your own life goals.

Breath deeply, don't look back, start afresh. You are free. Good luck!

  • 1
    I hope this isn't your intent, but it reads like "give up your lifelong dreams because someone has treated you badly".
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    Sorry @Buffy if my answer is too broad. From my understanding the OP dreams of making a difference and doing good research, helping others. Like so many others, she is probably not aware that the academia is not the only place to achieve that (nor it is some "default sphere" to get there) . Broadening horizons and changing perspectives is the main message. New decisions will surely ensue.
    – Scientist
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 17:54
  • 2
    Assigning blame isn't helpful for moving forward and you can't know the circumstances of this woman's situation well enough to make such a statement. Just to point out the unspoken other side, it's in everyone's best interest to fail a student after a year or two if it's clear they're not going to be successful in an academic program. Yes, this is painful for everyone, but that doesn't mean it's not the right decision. The perception of making some progress is not the same as making enough progress to be a successful researcher.
    – David
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 18:16
  • @David I assume the statement of blame you meant is that the supervisor must have failed her. I really don't see how it might look different, but perhaps you see something else. [Edit, after you edited yours: Oh yeah, I think we do disagree on how to tutor a PhD student and how "this woman" ought to have been treated.]
    – Scientist
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 18:19
  • 2
    @David Looks like this answer is helpful to someone. I really hope more PIs will realise that training and mentoring a PhD student doesn't equate with the making of a "successful researcher" , whatever that might mean.
    – Scientist
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 20:03

What you state here is something that many do indeed feel coming into academia. The image of research as being something greatly impactful on an individual level is a bit of an illusion. We only hear of the famous researchers, and not of any of the hundreds of thousands overshadowed in every field. Further, the process of research can actually alienate you from the fruits of your labor. Even if you do impactful work, you likely won't feel it or see it in a favorable amount of time. Those that seem to fare well in academia are those that are content with the reality of the dynamics involved, and enjoy what they really do.

I will say that from what you describe, however, your mentality towards work and life in general seem to be quite unhealthy. Indeed you have tragic circumstances that led to this, but its something you should work on with a therapist. The will and need to change the world for the better is definitely a common motivation, but not one that should be above all other reasons for a persuit, because its a goal that is almost by definition impossible to achieve to one's degree of personal satisfaction.

I doubly recommend therapy to help with loneliness, and making steps towards reaching out to friends and forming support groups, because the work load involved in grad school can be isolating. As a second year PhD student, I really recommend going out of your way to find people.


In most universities, there should be some supports for students. For example:

Meet with the office that is responsible for international student services and make sure you understand your right and your responsibility. If you student visa status will be terminated you may only have a short grace period before being considered as staying illegally.

Meet with the office that provides wellness and mental health support. If you can't find one, talk to the school clinic or your doctor for referral. You are under extreme stress and have no one to talk to. Having a meeting with the service provider will help you put things into perspective.

Let your family know if they have been supportive.

I am not sure what is so significant about being 27, many people received their doctorate much later than that. When it comes to learning and doing research, age really does not matter as much as, say, being a runway model. And if your original plan was to get a PhD and then get married by 27, then this plan is outdated, you'll need to weigh the options and revise it. Some plans work out some don't; as long as you have tried the best in your part, no shame in changing course.

Remember that circumstances come with a label of good/bad, fortunate/unfortunate, etc. mostly based on how we emotionally look at it. It seems you're currently drowning in self-pitying, anger, anxiety, and confusion. While I can't ask you to simple "snap out of it," you'll need to heed to our advice and put together a help network. That is the first step to healing.

Academia is just like any other features in this world, there are good and bad sides. I value your experience, but you should hold on to the judgment for now. If you're really good at what you do, the hands of one "unreasonable" supervisor cannot cover a student's brilliance. Don't let go of hopes.

Good luck! Try to sleep and eat. Schedule meetings as soon as possible.


I can tell you that a lot of PhD students also go through such frustrating experiences. Fundamentally there are 2 reasons for this 1. difference between expectation and reality 2. you are learning about research in your PhD, but you are not really knowledgeable to make extremely significant contributions

  1. Difference between expectation and reality: I think media tends to distort the nature of a PhD, its a lot of grunt work. And from the outside it seems that everybody who gets a PhD is a god. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of the time the work you do in your PhD is not going to be shake the world, but that is the nature of research. You stand on the shoulders of giants and make a small dent. Heres a good visual analogy: http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/. Its only over a lifetime of extremely long hours and thought do, the giants become giants.

  2. you are learning about research in your PhD, but you are not really knowledgeable to make extremely significant contributions: You will realize after a while that most of your initial experiments and hypothesis will fail. This is the nature of really pushing the boundary of a field. That doesn't mean you should give up on your goals. It can be kindof devastating. I had one time, when I lost 6 months of work, because a very finicky device that I had painstakingly made, stopped working because of some random unexpected reason.

You seem like you have high ambitions, but if you have high ambitions, you should also realize that you will also have larger failures than most people, and probably have to make more sacrifices.

As @Penguin_Knight mentioned remember to do the simple things like eating/sleeping/exercising well and keeping in touch with people. Personally, for me, these things have been what have carried me through the hard days.