I'm sure you've seen a dozen variations on this question in this forum, but here's mine:
I've just finished my first year in a top US PhD program in the physical sciences, which I never dreamed I would be admitted to (ok, that's not true; I dreamed about it quite a lot!). It's gone all right, I guess--I wrote some code for my lab, got As in classes (although grades are utterly beside the point). But I'm not sure it's working out, or that I can make it work out. I'm not sure I have what it takes.
I mean, I can hold my own in technical conversations with senior coworkers--even (tactfully) point out flaws in their methods, suggest new approaches, pitch new experiments, and things like that. I've often heard "yeah, good idea!", only for nothing to ever come of it. What's that about? Are they being merely polite? Or am I supposed to be more "enterprising," somehow (whatever that means)? Is it my personality? I'm sometimes told that I need to be more aggressive or self-assured or something like that, but I don't really know what that means (other than "act like more of a jerk"), and don't feel comfortable trying to artificially change my personality in that way. What's wrong with saying "sorry?"
It seems like I'm missing something fundamental, maybe socially. It's been extraordinarily hard for me to get into the flow and be part of the team. Some other students walk into a room where people are discussing a project, make some goofy offhand comment, and get a coauthorship. On the other hand, I'm somehow having a hard time even figuring out who I report to, or if I have a me-project, or how to answer my questions about things like reporting and project ownership. There is something going on that I'm deaf to. I don't get it. Students at $PRESTIGIOUS_INSTITUTION aren't supposed to have this problem.
I also haven't really made any friends here. I'm on the shy side, but this isn't like me. I never knew I was so socially inept. If I'd been able to make friends, I wouldn't be bothering you kind people.
On top of it all, I'm no longer very sure that I believe in my subfield. It's not what I want to think about anymore when I go home. But I'm too old now to throw away the last couple years and start over.
I feel like I've wasted my year. Like I'll never, ever, ever be able to get a thesis together. Is all this the "bad fit" that people talk about when it comes to picking a lab? Am I just incompetent? Do I like reading about science more than I like doing it? Who do I even talk to about this? What do I say, and how do I get answers? Am I just completely trounced? Why don't I go take a job in industry and >quadruple my salary?
Maybe it's as simple as "you're fine; this is normal. Get some sleep and go join a club to find friends. Then you'll get less unhappy, and your work situation will improve." I just don't know.
I know there are no clear answers here, but maybe others have had similar experiences. Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this kind of question, or if there are rules around asking imprecise questions or ones that are similar to previous ones. I also know that it's borderline impossible to infer my actual experiences or mental state from this kind of limited view, so there's no easy way for you to judge what's really going on. But I thought I'd try. Thanks.