I'm a Ph. D. student just entering my third year. Last winter, I submitted a proposal for a major fellowship/grant in my field, and last Friday my advisor told me that I had been offered funding. However, for quite a long while, I've been debating with myself about mastering out, and haven't yet brought it up with my advisor.
I have until this Thursday (and preferably sooner) to accept or decline the funding.
The grant is extremely competitive - only about 10% of proposals are accepted. It would be three years worth of funding guaranteed, and (if things go according to plan), I would get three papers out of it - enough for most or all of my dissertation. My advisor has never even heard of someone turning it down. However, there are several concerns making it a very difficult decision.
First, I based the proposal in part on experience I planned to gain from the project I was working on at the time - what was originally intended to be my candidacy project. (Candidacy at my school is basically "Write a paper, submit it to a journal, and give a talk on your research to your committee.") However, I was struggling with the project, priorities changed, and that project was moved to the back burner while a different one, intended to get me to a paper and candidacy much faster, became my primary focus. The feedback on the proposal is only available to the PI currently, so my advisor can see it but I can't, and according to her the proposal was accepted in part because of this experience that I fully intended to have, but now still don't. (I was completely transparent that the work was still very much in progress, but still...) So I'd essentially have to start off delayed and make up for lost time.
Second, my advisor has concerns about my productivity and ability to stay on schedule, and If I'm being honest, her concerns are entirely justified. Ideally, I would already have scheduled or even finished my candidacy exam by now. However, due to schedule slip on my part, that hasn't happened yet. My advisor wants a first draft of my paper by mid-August, a deadline I'm worried I can't make, and has set a hard deadline for the exam of December this year. (To further complicate things, my department's grad student handbook says the candidacy exam can happen any time in the first three years, but my advisor claims that the handbook is incorrect - the deadline is two and a half years unless extenuating circumstances justify an extension.)
I've really been struggling to make progress on my work - I have to struggle against some kind of mental barrier to even start working, have a hard time staying focused, and when I do manage to get work done, I tunnel-vision on certain tasks while neglecting others. I've been going to the university counseling center, but it hasn't helped much, and if anything I've been getting worse recently. So if I don't find a way to improve, there's a real risk that I miss the candidacy deadline, or make that deadline but run out of time for the Ph. D. If that happens, the grant money would basically end up wasted when it could have gone to someone else.
Furthermore, I honestly don't even really like my proposal in the first place. It was a rewrite and improvement of a proposal I submitted elsewhere, and while it's a big improvement over that version, I really only wrote and submitted it because I couldn't think of a better idea to propose instead, and my advisor wanted me to submit something. A part of me was honestly hoping for it to be rejected.
In large part because of these issues, I've been thinking for a while about mastering out. (I'm not sure how long, really, but at least 6 months). However, I don't have any sort of plan B (I often feel like I never even had a plan A) and don't know if there are any careers in my field that aren't either research or teaching. I also worry I won't really be able to transfer my skills to another field - I'm not a good programmer, just a barely adequate one, and my field is pretty much pure research. Since the work on my candidacy project would probably become a large part of my master's degree anyway, I've been trying to focus on getting the work done while I learn enough to make a decision - but declining the fellowship while staying in the Ph. D. program would be pure insanity.
In short, I now have to make a decision I haven't felt comfortable even discussing with my advisor by this Thursday. I have no idea what to do; please give me advice.