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Previously I was working with professor A. During that time I feel lost: progress moved much slower than I expected and it's quite difficult to learn new skills required in the lab, which cannot intrigue my interest and push me to read paper at all. Also, lab environment makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes and there's a lack of funding in the lab currently. So I thought I may still need to tolerate these for one year until I formally start my project.

Based on these, I left the group and chose to work with another professor B with enough funding. And I can also start my project immediately. However, different accidents occurred that I forgot to take them into account before I made the decision. One of the most serious consequences is that I screwed up friendship with others. I regret my decision a lot now. This causes me in serious depression.

Was I too hasty and short-sighted then? Only considering to start my project as soon as possible while ignoring almost everything else. I didn't talk to my advisor in depth about these and members in the group.

I can't stop myself thinking on these everyday recently and can't focus on work. I'm always thinking if I persist on staying there for more time, it may be better. I don't know how to solve my issue. I think one of the biggest problem of me is that I did not evaluate myself carefully and correctly. A large part of decision was based on my illusion rather than facts.

Recently I searched online about changing advisor, and I found most of the reason people change is because their advisors are terrible. But this is not the case for me. Both advisors are nice and I'm interested in the research topic. The previous advisor has more communication with students. I'm even thinking go back to the previous advisor, but this may not be a good choice.

I don't know what I can do. Can anyone help?

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    Many people with depression think that changing their situation will improve the depression. Often it does not. In my (secondhand) experience, the best solution is to avoid making any more big changes until you have sought professional help and treated your depression.
    – Dawn
    Feb 21 at 3:07
  • Good wishes for your future. I hope you have at least one close friend you can chat with about these things. Our poor efforts here are likely to be pretty clumsy. We are not trained for such things and we know only the tiny bit about you from your post.
    – Boba Fit
    Feb 21 at 16:36
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    I have significant 1st hand experience in this area; in the case of real clinical depression it's a complicated thing but it doesn't just happen suddenly because of wrong decisions or circumstances. More likely if it's really depression - it simply makes everything seem awful, wrong, etc. while the worst of the episode lasts. I agree with Dawn - don't consider making further big decisions quickly. Try to seek some professional help if you have access, and a close friend may be helpful, you'll have to judge.
    – uhoh
    Feb 22 at 2:05
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    Thanks everyone. I will not make any big changes recently. I made an appointment with the mental health. I forgot to say that I screwed up my friendship with others because of my choice. That's also one thing caused my depression.
    – mollen
    Feb 22 at 16:08
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    hard question here: how can a change of your PhD affect friendship? if they were friends, they stay friends even when you are away (in anoher city/country/department) ... yes, it will be more difficult to meet them, but not impossible, if they were friends, they will be there ... if they were just PhD companions ... good that you find out they were so selfish to cut you out when you changed path. All the best, the world is full of people, do not stick to the "bad" one.
    – EarlGrey
    Feb 22 at 21:12

2 Answers 2

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First, feeling bad for a bit because you think you made a wrong decision (darn, I bought the Ferrari, when I shoulda, coulda, got the Lambo) isn't the same thing as Clinical Depression. For the former, you just work out a solution that fits, perhaps at some cost.

For the latter, however, professional medical help is probably warranted.

In either case, however, it is probably worth seeking at least short term advice from a professional to get a diagnosis and some suggestions for improvement even for the "simple" case.

For the simple case (Ferrari/Lambo) I can offer a few suggestions.

Sit down, perhaps with your significant other if appropriate. Make a list of your goals. Make a list of your options. For each option list how the contribute or not to your goals. For each, try to come up with alternative actions that help meet the goals better.

Don't assume that you have to get it perfectly right. Remember that you will have future decision points and opportunities to make directional changes in your career. Don't rule out big changes if they are feasible and support your goals. Don't assume you are stuck.

See who around you, both personal and professional can help you achieve your goals. Perhaps from another professor can help. Talk to those who have mentored you, perhaps.

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  • Thanks for the suggestion. I think the thing caused my depression is the break down of friendship with others. This would not happen if I didn't make the change.
    – mollen
    Feb 22 at 18:57
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I think your depression will fade if you take action on the problems. If I understand you correctly, you have two problems: which advisor you should work with, and what happened with your friends. For the first problem you can talk to the advisors directly (one or the other or both), or to some other trusted confidant, like another professor. As Buffy said, knowing what your goals are is a good starting point. Discuss your goals with the advisors or a another professor.

For the second problem, talk directly with your friends. Tell them you sense tension between you and you want to understand their point of view and explain why you did what you did.

My sense is that your depression is caused by perseverating on negative thoughts (Who is displeased with me? What are they thinking? What will the consequences be?) inside your head instead of taking action to solve the problems. I believe that both of your problems are solvable by thinking them through logically and talking with the people involved.

You didn't do what you did out of ill will. Many or most people make wrong decisions even when they do think carefully. Perhaps they miss some key fact or they lack some important insight that they only realize later. This is human. When that happens, you need to forgive yourself quickly and immediately move to problem-solving mode. List the possible solutions and start working on them. If it turns out that you offended someone, apologize and tell them you want to restore the relationship. The faster you take action, the faster these problems will be behind you. Don't allow your perseverating brain to trap you in inaction.

Some strategies that can help your depression: (1) You're stuck in a loop of repeating negative thoughts. Visualize yourself stepping out of the loop. (2) Don't believe everything your anxious and depressed mind is telling you. Shift to the part of your mind that knows that almost all problems are solvable! Say to yourself, "These are only feelings. They're not reality. I can take action to change my reality."

The problems you've described are solvable. I believe they will be behind you within the next two weeks.

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  • But third underlying problem, before any of the switching is: “feel lost” and “can’t read any papers at all”.
    – Dawn
    Feb 23 at 14:37
  • Thanks Eggy. The advisor problem is fine, I can talk to them and I just began to do it. But talking to friends is really much more difficult, and this is the thing affects me most now. As you mentioned, I guess I unintentionally offended them although I don't have that meaning at all. They try to avoid me and even hate me. So I guess they refuse to talk to me and listen to me. What's worse is that they will spread these to more people and new grads coming in the department and let more people misunderstand me. I also don't have a chance to talk to them during these months. It's really hard.
    – mollen
    Feb 23 at 15:55
  • And yes I'm stuck in a loop of repeating negative thoughts. In recent weeks, whenever I try to start to work, I will think of others' negative thoughts on me and then I will be full of guilty, regret. Also I will worry more people will know details about me that I don't want other people know. I even think that go back to the previous advisor may solve these, but this is unknown and may make things even worse. It's hard to shift my mind to the positive part, but I will try my best.
    – mollen
    Feb 23 at 16:14
  • “feel lost” and “can’t read any papers at all” aren't problems anymore. This was a problem because I had the wrong thought and didn't correct myself before.
    – mollen
    Feb 23 at 16:17

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