I'm an international student doing a PhD in California (UCR) for the past 4 years. This period of time has been nothing but nightmares. At least I got my masters last year, but immediately after I took a leave of absence which has lasted 10 months so far, and I don't want to go back to the same depressed and sickly state I was in. Let me explain: my department doesn't have a lot of funding for us, so I was always stressed about money and in debt, and selling my clothes to pay bills. 70% of my income went to rent. Obviously I had no money or energy to pursue other activities that could counteract the stress and depression (a good therapist, taking a fun class, going out, etc). I live in Riverside, which apart from the university, doesn't have anything to offer. I was extremely lonely, bored, drinking too much and suicidal. And I got sick from all that, to the point I had to get a small surgery. Obviously I couldn't focus on my actual studies in that state. I talked to my advisors about it, and at first they just said "oh no poor thing. Wish I could help. Just power through it." So I started talking about quitting. I hit rock bottom and just left the country and went back home to heal. Then, they started offering me small grants so I'd come back, and I said I would. In that time, I went to Germany to do a language course that my program will reimburse me for, and even met with my advisor in Berlin for an excursion (another excuse to get some funds for the trip). All that was great and I enjoyed it. They also offered me another grant for Fall quarter, so I wouldn't be so stressed about money. But I still have 2 more years to go. They have told me they really like my research and that I have so much potential, that I'm one of the best of the program, etc, to let me know they don't want me to leave. However, I don't have a clear idea of where my project is going. And I feel like my main advisor is not happy with some of my interests: he made a rude comment to me about liking feminism (he treated me like a child who doesn't know better). So, hating the place I live, afraid of going back there and not being able to turn the situation around, and having philosophical conflicts with advisors, I don't think it's worth it. But, how can I quit without angering them? And, even though I don't know if I'll apply to a different program any time soon...Can I ask for a letter of recommendation for the future?

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    First off, I am sorry to hear that you are having a hard time at UCR---I completed my own PhD there, and much of what you said resonates (yes, Riverside itself sucks, and there is not much to do, and funding was always dicey). It sounds to me like you have already made the decision to leave. If so, I wouldn't worry about "angering" your advisors, etc. Explain the situation to them (in as much detail as you are comfortable with), and the decision that you have made to leave the program. I can't imagine that they would hold it against you. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 14:46
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    On the other hand, if you aren't 100% on your decision to leave, talk to your advisor and your department. Be very clear about the fact that you are ready to walk. I would also make a point of talking to someone at campus health about your mental health---the services available there are not amazing and they tend to focus on undergraduates, but they are adequate. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 14:50
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's not a question.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 16:06
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    @DaveLRenfro Riverside is largely a bedroom community for the LA area (so there isn't actually much to do in Riverside---people commute into LA to have fun), and UCR itself is largely a commuter school (so there isn't much in the way of services for students surrounding the university, as students commute in every morning, and leave in the evening). There just isn't much in the area for a [graduate] student to do, and what there is is not easy to get to. What's left is mostly bars, and the question suggested that bars were a bad fit. And yes, the cost of living is a crime. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 19:08
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    :( I'm downgrading my assessment from "adequate". You might try to reach out to someone in Grad Division to see if they can help you to find off-campus services and/or funding to take advantage of those services. I was able to get really good services from Kaiser (thanks to my ex-wife's insurance, unfortunately) after my ex-wife filed for divorce during my second-to-last year. Also, because I don't want to clutter the site with way-too-local chatter, feel free to ping me in chat if there is anything else that I can do for you (I can't imagine that there's much... but the offer stands). Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


The situation you describe is serious, but you have plenty of way out.

First: do not let the sunken cost fallacy harm you. You spent 4 years in this program, but "Just power through it" is the usual bullshit from privileged people when they think they faced similar challenges in their past. This goes well with the paternalistic attitude your advisor showed you afterwards. It is not worthwhile to spend 2 years of your life in this crappy conditions. Said otherwise: if you manage to spend 2 years of your life in this conditions and you are "succesful", it means that you can spend 2 years of your life in ANY other way and being equally (if not more) succesful (define succesful any way you like) and HAPPIER.

So send your best regards to the advisor, propose them to further pursue your PhD fully remotely, if they say yes and you have a pinch for masochistic things go ahead, if they say no just thank them for their past support. checking if you can ask them a reference letter in the future is of no harm.

Best of luck, you already proved that you can endure enormous stress, unhappiness and insatisfaction, no need to further the pain, a PhD title is just three letters after/before (Dr.) a name, they are meaningless if the person carrying that name have been obliterated (or become a dull paternalistic person telling others to "power through difficulties" ... after years of you already doing that).

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    While I agree with much of what you have said, I have downvoted this answer, largely because of the tone of the second paragraph. While it is true that the advice given to graduate students is often "power through it", I don't see any reason to make the claim that this is "bullshit", said by "privileged people" who "think" they have gone through something similar in the past. You don't know what these people have gone through any more than they know what the asker has gone through. I see no reason to disparage these folk, and the answer is substantially the same if this snark is removed. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 16:04
  • Thank you for your thoughtful response! I agree that it is BS, and in this case, it definitely is coming from a privileged position.
    – Clara Viva
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 19:47
  • @XanderHenderson no decent human being that went through such a level of insatisfaction and unhappiness would in any way suggest another human being to do the same to pursue a 1% (or less) chance of staying in the academia. Said otherwise, if someone signals you that they are bearing a lot of suffering, and you think you suffered the same (or more) suffering and tell others to harden up, you are an asshole. I am no one to judge OP pain, and surely no one has the right to judge how much pain another person has to endure and "power through it". [1/2]
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 11:46
  • @XanderHenderson even people that went through savage conditions, where they bore unending degree of suffering and pain, like war or being refugees are not telling other "to strengthen up". Pain and suffering are highly subjective, although their causes are usually very objective [2/2].
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 11:49

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