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I am a fourth year neurodivergent doctoral candidate with an accepted Master's (both in Experimental Psychology) and have posted a decent amount on here. Hopefully, this post means that I can stop playing "whack a mole" with every concern of mine. I have reviewed my patterns of worries, concerns, etc. and now realize that it all stems from mistrust in the process itself. For example, I have a history of calling and/or emailing the office manager at my Ph.D program multiple times to verify information. Sometimes, I would do so on numerous occasions and she would point out if I called multiple times.

At this point, I have not done additional research project work independently at all between the MA and Ph.D levels respectively outside of my Master's thesis (from 2020) and follow up projects both my Master's thesis and Ph.D doctoral qualifier project that were shut down pre-emptively (see old posts for more details). I have adjunct teaching experience and will be a full-time instructor at a SLAC this coming academic year regardless though.

After some deep introspection, I truly realize that the academic process was not suited for me at all. Given that this coming year is my last year and I proposed my dissertation, I have every intent on finishing. However, even though the idea of additional projects would normally excite me, I get intrusive thoughts from so much as even reading a journal article related to my dissertation or other research projects I could do (e.g., I may think of or hear my abusive first Ph.D advisor).

I also have a major passion for advocacy, which was part of the reason that I even got a fellowship for this coming year as well. I have been told that I could publish my higher education advocacy interests in a journal, but watching how brutal and political the process gets is truly awful and painful to the point I have avoided it.

I feel some guilt because my current advisor is incredible and amazing. However, the visceral reactions I get each time I open an article, read, or write is just overwhelming. I truly wish that I just went to work in industry with my Master's even if I fought an uphill battle by only having research assistantship experience. I did not take a teaching assistantship my second year since I was misled into thinking it was full blown teaching a class, which I was not ready for at all. I did not realize that not pursuing an additional research assistantship would have looked bad at all. Therefore, I only finished my MA with what may as well have been the equivalent of an undergraduate honor's thesis experience (e.g., just research assistantship with the main thesis project and follow up project). At the Ph.D level, I did some of the Ph.D program's equivalents of Master's courses my first year before I was done with classes my second year in the program. I worked on my qualifiers project, but it was something where my advisor said I should work full work days on nothing but that one project despite how low maintenance it really was at the time. I know how to read Python code, but eventually dropped it since I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with learning a ton of material that was not directly applicable to what I was doing (i.e., once I knew how to read code, it was easy to just have Chat GPT generate code and paste it into programs. There is also a tech representative who codes for others).

Does anyone have any advice for learning to trust the process again? Especially after the number of times I thought I was ok and/or trusted someone's advice stating they were happy with my progress only to find my professional progress in each of my programs was not ideal towards the end?

I am aware there was a post similar to mine on this stack exchange, but it does not quite encompass the nature of my specific request at all.

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    "I also have a major passion for advocacy [...] but watching how brutal and political the process gets is truly awful and painful to the point I have avoided it." A revolution is not a garden party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery. (Mao Zedong)
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 14, 2023 at 8:38

2 Answers 2

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I am also neurodivergent (I have nonverbal learning disabilities). I didn't have the sorts of problems you are experiencing when I got my PhD (way back in 1999, in psychometrics) but I had problems of my own (like getting lost on campus!).

I salute you for persevering, But I think this sort of question might better be asked of a therapist than of this group.

Most universities have some sort of help available, either in a general sort of "mental health" facility or in services for students with disabilities. Have you investigated those?

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(Not really an answer, but comments do not allow me to write a large paragraph, so here I go)

First of all, I'm sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. I can't help though but point out that, based on this and other questions from you, maybe you are idealizing industry. For the way you talk, it seems you think the work load in industry is lighter and more neurodivergent-friendly. I know a lot of people in academia tend to think of industry as an "easier and highest paid job", and I'm afraid you are having this fake mental concept too. Don't listen to people that talks about "the lazy software engineer at google that works 2 hours per day and gets paid 100K per year". You say

once I knew how to read code, it was easy to just have Chat GPT generate code and paste it into programs.

For Pete's sake, why are you doing this? Being able to understand some Python codes is not enough to find a job out there. Asking ChatGPT to do your coding sessions/exercises is the worst you can do if you really want to learn to think in the right way, to be able to define the problems you face in real life and create a plan to tackle them. Also, if you rely on those chatbots to do your work, you don't really know if you would like the kind of life you will have if you ever find a job as a programmer/data scientist!

You ask

Does anyone have any advice for learning to trust the process again? Especially after the number of times I thought I was ok and/or trusted someone's advice stating they were happy with my progress only to find out I was not?

You should start by trusting yourself. I don't want to lecture you (and I really understand some of your struggles, I myself face almost daily intrusive thoughts), but, as you may already know, shaping your opinions in life based on what others think (example: asking whether your advisor is happy with your work before even asking yourself first why you enjoy that work, why it is valuable for you, your present and future life) simply does not work. I support Peter Flom's opinion and highly advice you to find mental health support. I also would like to invite you to enjoy your time left in your PhD program; if you are sure you have enough to graduate next year, take the following months as a light training time, learn new stuff that may be useful for you, and when you have a calmer mood, think about the next steeps. But please don't think that everything's peachy in industry. It may be a promising future career path, but not a solution to all your struggles.

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  • I appreciate your response. I should also note that I am not thinking the workload in industry is easier at all. I did think it would be more accommodating though.
    – zzmondo1
    Aug 15, 2023 at 22:59
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    I would say that industry, in general, is LESS accommodating to us neurodivergent folk than academia is. Nonprofit research places can be pretty good, too. But the corporate world is, I think, the most hostile and least accommodating.
    – Peter Flom
    Aug 15, 2023 at 23:02
  • First comment was sent too early but that is ok. I have actually considered non profit research. The only issue is that I now see I don't have "hard skills" expected of such positions like extensive programming language experience. I can use Excel and SPSS for regression related stuff but nothing beyond that that's notable. I also wanted to reply to @Amelian too by stating that my last question about whether advisors were happy with my progress was frustrating because I would later find out they had concerns that were NEVER expressed in review forms. First post was edited to reflect that.
    – zzmondo1
    Aug 16, 2023 at 0:44
  • @zzmondo1 I can relate to that, and yes, it's discouraging. When I started my undergrad I had a professor (an algebraist) who enjoys saying things like "statistics is not real mathematics", or "programming is boring and ugly". That almost stopped me from investing time in learning stats and programming! Professors sometimes say things to seem interesting or to shut our mouths, that's why I always take their advice and positive comments with a grain of salt. And they are less interested in our future than we may think.
    – Amelian
    Aug 16, 2023 at 1:17
  • @Amelian I have certainly learned the hard way that advisors do not and universities do not by extension care for a lot of individuals. I always asked them if they were happy with my progress in the sense of whether they thought I was making adequate progress towards goals they were well aware of at the time (e.g., Master's program knew I wanted to do a Ph.D but was hands off and did not feed forward information like I thought advisors should do, but dont. My first Ph.D advisor knew I wanted to into industry but doubted me based on social skills, not for the reasons you all mentioned here).
    – zzmondo1
    Aug 16, 2023 at 1:44

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