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TLDR: zero interest in the topic, bad relationships with supervisors and colleagues, I think I'm not suitable for this, thus, I must leave.

Hello all, I would like to ask for some advice from people out there, since I am not getting good feedback from people here.

So I'm an international student, 1.5 years into a 3-year PhD in a field I thought was related to my MSc. I work closely with my co-supervisor, who has an "extremely efficient" mindset: you get it or you don't. So, if I ask for feedback, he becomes frustrated and pissed because I don't understand what he wants or I am wasting his time (according to him, I "waste his time with useless questions"). So, I avoid talking to him and try to be as independent as possible. My main supervisor is god-like: famous, none present, sarcastic, and what he says must be done.

Since 8 months ago, I've been thinking about quitting the PhD. I decided to give it a try since, apparently, it's a very normal thought and there are good perks: I got an excellent fully-funded scholarship, got to work with a very famous professor, attended two conferences with full papers already (going to another next month), and I am working on my first journal.

Still, I noticed that my motivation just reached near zero. Simply put, I don't like the research topic and the lab environment. Regarding the research, it is completely different from what I imagined: I find it boring, old, and completely useless for me since I know I will not do any of this in the future. Besides, honestly, I don't want to pursue an academic career. Regarding the environment, I can tell that everybody gets along, however, I am kind of the weirdo no one talks to (I am kind of a hippie, whereas the rest are all very serious guys).

Yes, maybe I am isolating myself from the rest. But the thing is, I feel everyone is brainwashed by the supervisors: my fellow PhDs tell me I should do everything they say and shut up. Unfortunately, I am the kind of guy that disagrees easily and criticizes everything, and I can tell they don't like that (my colleagues and my supervisors). The reason I disagree though is that I just don't like the way things work: it's old and the famous supervisor wants it to be that way. My co-supervisor once told me "Stop doing wonderful things, this is not the way things work here." And that destroyed me.

Honestly, since I don't care about this topic, I am not willing to do whatever it takes to please these supervisors and relate to people who support them.

Right now, I sustain myself working on side projects. Recently, some friends from another lab (kind of hippies like me) that are doing things I really (really!) enjoy told me "Man, you are very good at what we do, you should be here instead of there." That wasn't funny to me.

So, a solution is quitting the PhD. BUT, there is still a very big problem, and probably what scares me to death: this PhD involves a lot of people from many prestigious universities and famous researchers. So, quitting is not just leaving my lab, but also the entire project. Quitting is killing, entirely, my academic career.

Have you or someone close to you ever faced something like this? What have they done? Maybe I am a crybaby?

Thank you!

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  • By '1.5 years into a *3-year PhD*', are you implying not in the States (or Canada)? Jul 20, 2023 at 2:26
  • solution is quitting the PhD ... Would that be a solution or a fixated mindset? Jul 20, 2023 at 2:33
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    You say "Besides, honestly, I don't want to pursue an academic career." and then worry that quitting is "killing, entirely my academic career." - Which is it?
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 20, 2023 at 18:33

2 Answers 2

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there is still a very big problem, ... Quitting is killing, entirely, my academic career.

I don't want to pursue an academic career.

It seems that your "big problem" is actually your goal and you can achieve it by quitting.

Also, prestige and fame of your colleagues matters little to you in the long term and would not stop you from getting a PhD somewhere else at a later date.

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PhD goes beyond staying put in academia.
The process shapes lot of things in how the person thinks/reasons/acts in later life (well, ideally). This is often underated and undervalued.

... solution is quitting the PhD
... universities and famous researchers. So, quitting is not just leaving my lab, but also the entire project
... Quitting is killing, entirely, my academic career
... "Stop doing wonderful things, this is not the way things work here." And that destroyed me
... I don't care about this topic
... I am not willing to do whatever it takes to please these supervisors

So many variables.

Perhaps, what you need is a reflective problem statement approach.

Regarding quitting, just before you quit, or move to the other lab, you might also want to consider a resilient mode (which might require well-being program support).

  • 2 conference outputs, practically 3 outputs
  • 1 journal manuscript lurking around
  • halfway through
  • one can forecast possibility of 2 journal outputs before or just at the onset of the writing up stage
  • move on to write up. Be done and dusted with.
  • move on to the next thing in life.

Alongside the resilient mode, you'll have to

  • shift from easily disagreeing and criticizes everything. Learn to consider (rationale for) other views and engage open-minded without ass-licking
  • have that difficult (personality and research approach) conversation with your supervisors, respectfully so.

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