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I am afraid I am not capable to do this job and I am really struggling. I feel suffocated in the whole environment. I believe his intention is good (to communicate), though it might not be specific for me but for his project certainly (important).

As I don't have the background knowledge of the project, most of the night I would stay up to do research but it took me so long time to achieve very little. The stress and work overtime strongly affect me and my partner (she have many health issues, most of the time she is ok to look after herself but she is very fragile).
We both are struggling with our own issues. Apparently my work situation definitely not ideal (for us).

I have been seriously thinking to quit. My financial is ok. So far I can't think for the future. I know it won't be good for my CV (which will make me to have more than a year gap of unemployment after my PhD if I quit this job).

I worked in research areas only in my whole life. I tried to look for normal job but no success. I also don't know if postdoc is suitable for me.

Wow, I don't understand how other people can say it take them 4-5 months to settle in... I feel like I got throw into a pool and need to learn to swim immediately.

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    Have you brought up your concerns to your advisor? It's likely that he can help to adjust the situation. In particular, he could help you understand the background more efficiently (e.g., by answering questions) and adjust the frequency of meetings. They could even change the scope of your topic. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 5:48
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    He knows I don't have any background of that project. He said he don't mind that and he wants that actually (bring up different points of view). He is quite intimidating to talk to sometimes, he speaks blunt and direct which is nothing wrong with it in his position. He also expressed I am wasting his time sometimes as I don't have any input to the project. I can't change the project as this is what he hired me for.
    – okapi208
    Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 6:15
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    It often helps to share your concerns with a fellow postdoc at your institution. They may be able to provide another perspective to your situation, or they may have more knowledge about your supervisor. If you're unsure who you would be comfortable to trust discussing with, try someone unrelated to your supervisor (so no conflict of interest), but preferably in the same department so they're aware of your supervisor and how things generally work for postdocs in your department. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 13:38
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    Whether you decide to stay in this postdoc position or not, I suggest resisting the temptation to pull all-nighters or almost-all-nighters. Quite apart from the effect on your personal wellbeing, it impairs your cognitive function so much that you end up achieving less than you would if you restricted yourself to normal working hours. Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 17:26
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    In what area did you do your PhD, and how many papers did you publish? In what area are you working now? Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 18:47

2 Answers 2

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Feeling overwhelmed when adjusting to a new project and environment is not uncommon, and it takes time to adapt and gain expertise. However, considering the stress and impact on your personal life, it's important to assess if this postdoc aligns with your long-term goals.

Remember that a postdoc is often a steppingstone to a faculty position, providing an opportunity to work independently and demonstrate your abilities beyond your PhD advisor's influence. Completing a postdoc in a different research area is valuable for showcasing your adaptability and ability to publish outside your comfort zone.

Discuss your concerns with your supervisor, seeking their guidance and support. They may be able to provide clarity and assistance. Seeking advice from mentors and colleagues who have faced similar challenges can also provide valuable insights.

Finally, remember that quitting doesn't necessarily mean failure. Prioritize your well-being and explore alternative options that better suit your needs and goals. Assess your situation carefully and make an informed decision will lead you to a more fulfilling path. Remember, it's important to prioritize your own growth and happiness.

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Getting started on a postdoc in a different environment, with a different supervisor after a successful PhD can feel overwhelming and intimidating and it is certainly not uncommon to doubt yourself. I think many of us have been there. That being said, this shouldn't be so all consuming that you walk around with a knot in your stomach. That is a sign that other things are going on.

Don't give up and call it quits before you take a breath and try to break things down to see where your struggles are and try some things to improve the situation.

Clearly there's your situation at home which seems to be adding to the stresses of this new job in a new town. Try to craft some time in your life where you really are off work for real without feeling guilty for not working. Even if it's two evenings and a weekend morning or afternoon where you can be physically and mentally present with your partner 100%.

Then there's the job itself. You probably need to adjust to how your supervisor is communicating. In an ideal world they would also communicate with you in a way that works best for you, but even people who are really good at doing this may need some time to figure that out - and perhaps this is just what your supervisor is like. Can you talk to some other lab members to ask what the best approach is to communicate with him? Do you feel comfortable to tell your supervisor directly that you need to adjust to his direct way of communication? Can you ask what he thinks you need to focus on first to be successful in this project?

One way or another, you need to find a way to handle this. As long as you can hold on to the view that he has good intentions and both of your best interests in mind, that's a good point of departure and a place you can always return to. If you don't understand him, simply rephrase it at the end of a conversation: so if I can summarize then I need to do X? This is the best way to prevent misunderstandings.

Then there's you and this project. Good for you for changing topics. This can make you feel like a beginner all over again - not the best feeling in the world. Remind yourself of why you made this choice (hopefully there was a really good reason for picking this postdoc as this may be the incentive you need to keep going). Ask yourself what you could do more or differently. I don't just mean 'work harder' but also 'work smarter' (i.e. are you putting your energy where it matters). It sounds like you are happy behind the bench, but make sure that you indeed take the time to focus on the larger theory and concepts - otherwise you may not be doing the right experiments. Are you reading the right papers? Are you taking initiative to find out where the difficulties are that your PI things you are underestimating (maybe not the best motivational speech but useful information)? Are you asking enough questions and talking to other people who may have bits of useful information? Use the weekly meetings with your PI to ask questions, bounce ideas off of him and try to see where he sees this project going.

Hopefully in time, your confidence and mastery of the subject will grow and you can take this project your own direction. You have a PhD, so you should have the skills to master this topic as well. If not, well, then maybe this particular postdoc or an academic career is really not for you. But let's not jump to that conclusion just yet.

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    I would like to emphasis the find your own time. Even if your goal is to learn, trying to learn when you are stressed out means you won't be as creative and will make it harder to view the problems from another angle (which you probably need to understand the theory). Commented Jun 25, 2023 at 11:23
  • If you've reached a point where you have trouble communicating with your advisor, you might want to ask a third party to be present just to help the two of you understand each other.
    – BioBrains
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 11:14

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