I am a current PhD student who just finished my third year in a Computational Biology program at a respected university, and I am looking for some advice. Basically, I am trying to decide whether or not I should stay in grad school.
I have finished all my coursework and my qualifying exams, and according to previously graduated students in my lab, I will most likely require 3 more years to graduate. If I left now, I would leave with my masters.
I have had thoughts about leaving my PhD throughout the years. But I have seriously been thinking about leaving the program for the past 6 months. When I first felt like quitting 6 months ago, I decided to sit on the feeling for a while because I realized that it will definitely affect my life long term. I also know that almost all PhD students want to quit sometime during their PhD, so it’s hard for me to know whether it actually would be the right decision. On a general level, I am doing well. I received my own grant and have made research progress. However, I have lately reached a point in my work where I am feeling stuck. This has increased my work load and pressure significantly, which has made me really push to think about whether the work is actually worth it, especially if I don’t want to do this in the future.
I started my PhD straight out of my bachelors degree, and I soon after realized what research actually is. I am a highly creative person who loves to dance, draw, design, teach, and cook. I do like science, but I wouldn’t say that research is my passion. I have overall become very apathetic to research, as I feel like it squashes my creativity. My favorite part of research has been creating PowerPoints and presenting work. I feel that if I left and got a job in a different field that allowed me to be more creative, I would be much happier. My current work life has triggered mild depressive symptoms and panic attacks, for which I am now seeing a therapist.
As my project is at a critical point but in a competitive topic, I am facing intense pressure to work constantly. If I don’t take time for myself, my mental health deteriorates. When I do take time for myself, I do not work as long hours and cannot meet the high expectations. This cycle has not allowed me to take a step back and think about what I would like to do instead of a PhD in this field. I unfortunately feel like I wouldn’t be able to look for jobs seriously while I am in my current lab. I have thought about taking a break from my PhD, but I know that this will not go over well with my PI. Therefore, I don’t want to bring it up unless I’m fairly certain about leaving the program.
I know that if I left, I would be leaving a big opportunity behind, as I have already dedicated 3 years and am working under a well respected professor. However, I don’t feel that losing my mental health over a degree is worth it, even in the long run. To be completely honest, I am scared to stay because of how it will affect me mentally, and I am scared to leave because I am afraid that I may not be able to switch careers as easily as I thought. Plus, there may be no guarantee that my next job won’t induce this amount of stress, and I don’t want to regret my decision of leaving for the rest of my life.
I would like to hear advice from people who actually have left their PhDs. It would even be better to hear from those who quit and changed their field or those who quit a PhD in a related field. Is it a good idea for me to stick around, or should I move on and do something new?
Thanks for reading. Sincerely, Confused PhD student