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I don't really want a degree. I just want to get married, and have weekends and evenings off, and chill out and play board games, and have nice conversations with friends, and have time to exercise and eat good food, and partake in hobbies, and read books and play computer games and watch movies and write a novel or two. Stuff I used to do as a kid, that I can't do as a grad student.

I like my research, and I like my advisor, but I feel like I work a lot harder than my friends in industry, and I'll be putting my life on hold for at least the next two years, while I'm finishing classes and qualifying exams. Frankly I don't feel like I can survive the next year, and just the thought of staying here for the next few months makes me depressed.

The problem is if I wasn't a PhD student, I'd just be another fat ugly loser with no social status, and nobody would love me or think I was valuable. I wouldn't be taken as seriously when it came time to apply for jobs, and people would think I was stupid or at least not any better than someone with a bachelor's degree. At least now I can apply for internships and get interviews. And because I am a PhD student at a top school, people assume I'm smart, which also helps me find dates, even though I'm obese, wear glasses, and dress poorly. It puts me in a different "league" and if I quit I'd have to go back to dating losers who only want me because they can't find any other girlfriends.

Also if I quit my PhD, I would never be able to come back, and what if my new job ended up sucking, or I couldn't even get a job? I do like my work, and I'm glad I get to do such interesting stuff, I just wish there was less of it.

closed as off-topic by Cape Code, gerrit, Bob Brown, Ben Crowell, ff524 Feb 22 '15 at 8:48

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

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  • 82
    You are not a fat loser – Olórin Feb 17 '15 at 9:08
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    "I feel like I work a lot harder than my friends in industry" - Maybe you do. Maybe that's not too bad after all. If you learn how to deal with this kind of stressful episodes, this will give you a strong advantage in any carreer you may be into now or later. But maybe you work too much. Maybe you can do something about the workload. Are you really forced/required to work so much? Or is it your own ambition that drives you to strive for the best you can do? Did you talk to your advisor about the workload you feel is too much? Some people also have a hard time when it comes to say "no"... – JimmyB Feb 17 '15 at 10:18
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    If you quit the PhD and do all the things you mention in your first paragraph, you will be more stressed than you were with the PhD. Doing all those things is sold to us as a normal life, but I think the truth is you'll always feel like you're neglecting parts of your life and that there are things you should be doing. Before you decide to quit, consider that maybe the PhD isn't the problem. Maybe this is an anxiety you would experience whatever occupation you choose. – Peter Feb 17 '15 at 14:19
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    One practical solution I found to lack of exercise while studying for a PhD: I rigged a book stand on the handlebars of a stationary exercise bike. That way, I could get an hour of reading academic papers and an hour of aerobic exercise in one hour of elapsed time. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 17 '15 at 17:37
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    Random, probably useless suggestion. Consider learning dancing. Dancing is really good exercise, is social, and is fun. This may or may not be a useful suggestion, depending on your location. Dance classes themselves can be fun, though at some point you'll want to venture to actual dances. Consider it. NOTE: this suggestion has nothing to do with academia, but as others have noted, the question isn't really about academia either. – Faheem Mitha Feb 17 '15 at 21:56

19 Answers 19

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I don't really want a degree.

There are many good reasons to get a PhD. Probably lots of people get say, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees, because they just want a degree, but the number of people who get a PhD just for the sake of getting a degree is (in my opinion) lower (for example, you might want to teach at the university level, see answers here). This is partly because a PhD is in some sense harder and more time-consuming that bachelor's/masters degree, but also that the degree isn't really the point of a PhD, see for example, this answer here by Pete L. Clark. To very briefly summarize, a PhD is a way to 'learn how to learn' and the stuff that you learn is a lot less important than the process of obtaining said knowledge. So your statement that you 'don't really want a degree' worries me a bit. I mean, the degree is not the point, and wanting a PhD is not at all the same as wanting a degree in general. Why did you apply to PhD programs? What was your motivation? What are your goals?

I just want to get married, and have weekends and evenings off, and chill out and play board games, and have nice conversations with friends, and have time to exercise and eat good food, and partake in hobbies, and read books and play computer games and watch movies and write a novel or two.

Don't we all! Anyway, you know, you can do these things as a graduate student. This is easier/harder depending on your exact circumstances/stage of graduate career, but certainly doable. I recently graduated (with my PhD in mathematics), but in my graduate department on Friday nights a lot of us hung out at the grad student bar and then repaired to the department lounge to play boardgames often to the early hours of the morning. Some of us came in to work over the weekends, but not all of us. Anyway, even while physically in the department, we would visit each other's offices and goof off fairly regularly. Okay, for us goofing off also often involved talking about mathematics, so it wasn't entirely a waste of our time. In any case, chilling out and nice conversations with friends occurred throughout the workweek as well. In the first few years of graduate school, I did a really good job of eating right and reading and such, since my time was a lot more structured, and I was able to plan relatively well. Much of my department were regulars at the gym, and quite a few of us were spotted running on the jogging track (some of us were/are pretty good at this stuff: for example, one of did quite well in the Houston marathon and a current student is doing some awesome Crossfit things these days). During major exams, or thesis-writing, or trying to get a paper out, these things got a bit harder of course. Aside from fitness, many of us did well with hobbies. Some of us were hardcore gamers – we even had an informal Magic the Gathering tournament periodically among the grad students; others enjoyed cooking – the rest of us enjoyed the food they would bring in to share; I enjoyed jigsaw puzzles – for a while we did jigsaws in my office, where others in the dept would drop by to puzzle for a bit when they needed a break from work; one of us was in a band, others in in/formal choirs and such; I and some others were involved to various extents in students organizations; and so on. Some number of us got married while in graduate school (not me personally), and one of the students in my cohort had a child as well. How did we do all this stuff? We had an advantage in being mathematics graduate students, since we are not tied to a lab as our counterparts in the rest of the STEM fields, and we had the advantage of being in a department with supportive faculty (who sometimes joined us for weekly boardgames and graduate student bar hangouts) and awesome fellow students.

The most important part of the above list though, were the awesome fellow students. I was in a small department, so it was natural for us all to hang out together, but perhaps you're in a large department where this is harder. Try to find some fun fellow students. They are possibly feeling much of the same things that you are, and if they are in your department they possibly share your interests. If you don't know too many people (if this is your first or second year in the program), organize something – a movie night at your home, a potluck, or a boardgame night. You might be surprised at how many of your fellow students also want to find someone to chill with.

The second most important thing is time management and prioritization. Figure out what's important to you, and then figure out a way to do it. You might have to be very disciplined and focused during the workday so you can run in the evenings, or play boardgames every weekend. But, if there's one thing I learned in grad school, it's that the number of hours you work is not as important as the quality of work you are getting done. You might end up spending less time overall on work, but if you're happier in general, you will probably do better work in the smaller amount of time. For example, I absolutely need some time every week that I can be at home by myself watching TV, probably with multiple cats napping on me. This might seem like wasted time to the outside observer, but really it's time that I need to recharge so that I can get actual work done at other times. That's just the way I work.

I like my research, and I like my advisor,

That's really great. I mean this sincerely. The opposite is sadly far too common.

but I feel like I work a lot harder than my friends in industry, and I'll be putting my life on hold for at least the next two years, while I'm finishing classes and qualifying exams.

Well, to be frank, it is possible that you are working harder than your contemporaries and that you are putting your life on hold, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Lots of people have lots of life-changing stuff happen in their mid-20s. For example, it seemed to me for a while that everyone that I knew in my age group was getting engaged, married, or having kids. I decided to count in 2013 and here is what I found

  • 51 people I know got married i.e. about 1 wedding per week.
  • 31 people I know got engaged i.e. about 2.5 engagements per month.
  • 19 people I know had a baby i.e. about 1.5 babies per month.

(The count is with multiplicity, that is, if two people I know independently get married, I counted two weddings. There were no twins/multiple births that I'm aware of.) That's pretty intense!

These are all cool people and I wish them all the luck, but I don't want to be getting married and having kids just because all my friends seem to be (I mean, what an odd story to tell your grandkids someday).

Again, yes a PhD is hard work, hard work that doesn't ever get compensated for in any 'real' way. But the point of the PhD is not some eventual reward, the point of the PhD is really just the process of the PhD. Most likely I will never make the same amount of money as my friends with MBAs; they will probably have fancier job titles than me, and depending on where we are in the world, they might get more respect and power as well. But (forgive me) a PhD craves not these things. If you want prestige, power and such things, a PhD is not the right way to go at all.

If you're getting a PhD chances are that you have somewhat different priorities than the average person (which is fine, just as the average person's goals are also just fine). My friends who are younger than me have much more seeming grown-up lives true, but they are on a different track than me, and it doesn't really make sense to compare.

Frankly I don't feel like I can survive the next year, and just the thought of staying here for the next few months makes me depressed.

This is concerning. Please consider talking to someone directly. It's great that you asked AC.SE this question, but we are after all strangers on the internet. Talk to someone you know and trust. Your university probably has a counseling center. Talk to your advisor/mentor.

Graduate students are often discouraged and depressed (I was no exception, see here), for example, see this article. The 'usual' discouragement often passes, but it is not uncommon for us to have undiagnosed mental/emotional health issues. A trained professional is a much better person to talk to about these things, and I hope you will consider doing so.

The problem is if I wasn't a PhD student, I'd just be another fat ugly loser with no social status, and nobody would love me or think I was valuable.

This seems very unlikely to me. From just this question itself I see that you enjoy reading, and playing boardgames and video games, and enjoy good food and hanging out with friends; from this I see that you have hobbies and interests, and enjoy people. You asked this question, from which I gather that you can be introspective and that you are giving actual sincere thought to what you want to do with your life. This is all from this one question. The poster of this question seems like an interesting person to me.

Some of us are fat and some of us are less than conventionally attractive. Each of these things comes with barriers that one has to overcome. Conventionally attractive folks have their own set of hoops to jump through too. Yes, there do exist people in the world who think 'this person is overweight/stick-thin/different race than me/unattractive/the opposite gender/something else and therefore I do not value them', and those people can go f* themselves. There are enough of the rest of us too though.

I wouldn't be taken as seriously when it came time to apply for jobs, and people would think I was stupid or at least not any better than someone with a bachelor's degree.

That's kind of a judgmental statement about people with bachelor's degrees. Anyway, all of this depends on what kinds of jobs you're applying for. There are some jobs where having a PhD would actually hinder you (see here).

At least now I can apply for internships and get interviews. And because I am a PhD student at a top school, people assume I'm smart,

This is also a worrying statement. It's possible that I'm misinterpreting your statement, but in case I'm not, please look up imposter syndrome, it's distressingly common in academia; in short, this is a phenomenon where despite much evidence to the contrary, someone is convinced that they do not deserve the success that they have achieved (also see this question).

which also helps me find dates, even though I'm obese, wear glasses, and dress poorly.

If you think that wearing glasses is hurting your ability to date, you could wear contacts. Similarly you could try to dress better (I recommend the show 'What Not to Wear'), or try to lose weight.

It puts me in a different "league" and if I quit I'd have to go back to dating losers who only want me because they can't find any other girlfriends.

The people I know that are single do not all look alike, or dress alike, or all have poor vision. There isn't much that's common to them than the fact that they are single. You seem to be saying that if there were two individuals who were identical in every way except that one is in a PhD program that the grad student version would get more dates – I simply do not buy this. I might be willing to accept that this would be a true of a man, but I absolutely do not buy it for women.

If you think someone is dating you just because they can't find another girlfriend, please dump them. Similarly, if you think someone is dating you just because you are a PhD student, please dump them just as fast.

Also if I quit my PhD, I would never be able to come back,

I know this guy who was a PhD student in my department (mathematics) in the 60s, didn't finish, left with his master's and was teaching in community college. He kept doing math on his own time though, and he came up with something cool, enough that a faculty member he had been in touch with got him back into our program and he eventually got his PhD in 2011. He is an inspiration. (See here for more such stories). So, yeah, I disagree with this statement.

and what if my new job ended up sucking, or I couldn't even get a job?

Yeah, it's possible. But it's possible that you couldn't get a job with a PhD. Or that the earth is destroyed tomorrow to make way for an interstellar bypass. But worrying about this will not help us in any way.

I do like my work, and I'm glad I get to do such interesting stuff, I just wish there was less of it.

You know, reading your question, it really seems to me that it's not that there's too much work, but more that there isn't as much fun non-work in your life right now. I would really suggest trying to build a social circle among your fellow graduate students, not only for having people to do fun things with, but also for people in similar situations to talk to. I know that for me it was really helpful to talk to my fellow students about my doubts and concerns, because we were all in the same boat. It sounds like you are very concerned about dating, so for what it's worth, lots of graduate students I know dated other graduate students.

While on the subject of dating, please consider whether you're giving too much thought to it. It is nice to have a partner that you can talk to, who will support you and care for you when needed, but finding such a person doesn't need to be take over your life. I strongly believe that successful relationships are composed of people that are also happy on their own and in their own skins. Perhaps it might be worthwhile to work on your own happiness for a while before seeking out a partner, particular since when having self-esteem concerns it is very easy to find oneself in abusive and/or unbalanced relationships.

I would also recommend that you give some serious thought to what you value most in your life and what you want to do with it. What are you looking for? What is your dream job? It will probably help to talk to someone directly about such things too. You said that you like your advisor, so they might be a good person to talk to. Most of us that have been through graduate school have dealt with these things to some extent.

Depending on this self-examination, you might decide that a PhD is not for you. This is fine. Or, you might decide to stick with it. This is fine too. With the caveat that you're doing it for the right reasons. Some of us hang on to PhD programs with this notion that 'quitting is bad'. That's a poor reason to stay in a PhD program. On the other hand, if you truly enjoy doing what you're doing, and you want to keep doing it for the rest of your life, that's a great reason to hang in there. If you want to stay in the program so that some hypothetical someone might deign to date you, that's a poor reason to stick around, and also such a person clearly isn't worth your time.

Getting a PhD can be hard work, probably harder work than your contemporaries are doing in industry (I speculate, I've never had a job in the real world). It is rewarding in its own way though, to some people. This isn't a value judgment. Math makes me feel like a complete idiot almost all the time. The remaining 0.01% of the time is pretty good though, and that's enough for me. Mostly this makes me a masochist I think, but that works for me. But it makes perfect sense for it to not work for everyone, and honestly these other folks are probably better adjusted anyway.

Lastly, your last paragraph makes me think that you're worried that you're making irreversible decisions. You're not. If you choose to leave your PhD program now, you can still come back to get a PhD (probably somewhere else). If you started your PhD with the goal of being in the academic world, but decide later that you want to be in industry, you can still do that. If you want to start back from scratch and work in sociology (say), you can still do that too. These things might require some work, but they are all still possible.

Best of luck in your decision-making! I'd like to reiterate, pretty much all of us wanted to quit at some point, and pretty much all of us wondered why we were doing it. You're not alone!

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    Fantastic answer for anyone doing a PhD. – Ander Biguri Feb 19 '15 at 10:07
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    This is the longest SE answer I dared read to the end. Good Job. – Mindwin Feb 19 '15 at 13:40
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    Another example: A friend of mine started Ph.d. in mathematics, left after 2 years with a Masters degree, worked as a programmer in the same city for a couple years, decided he wanted to come back, and is now starting up right where he left off. He got married in the mean time! – Steven Gubkin Feb 19 '15 at 17:05
  • @Aru (I speculate, I've never had a job in the real world) You are not alone! – AlFagera Feb 4 '16 at 10:11
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I cannot answer your question right now. So, take this as a friendly advice from someone on the Internet. It may be wrong, of course.

I think you should not quit your PhD. Not right now. There will be time for that, maybe. But a lot of stuff is going on, and from your message your work is the only thing you seem to like and that gives you self esteem. So, two thoughts.

Growth mindset. Please don't be fixated that you are like you are and there is no solution to that. You can do many things. You are smart, you can lose weight, you can dress better. These are not easy things, but you can accomplish them. So, maybe, think of eating healthier. Of being a little more careful on your health and body. This alone will make you feel better.

Seek counsel. There are people, more competent and talented than a stranger on the Internet, that can help you. Find one, it's the best way you can spend your money. Counselors are great, they can help you find solutions you thought they were impossible. I used them many times, I never regret it. There's no shame in that, remember.

In my very humble opinion, you need to clear your mind about what are the burdens in your life, then decide if you want to quit your PhD. It may be the problem, it may be not. Good luck Jennifer!

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    +1 to all this, but especially the suggestion of a counsellor; I found that extremely helpful during my PhD. In case (as I did) you find the practicalities of finding a counsellor at all intimidating, it’s worth knowing that many universities have a counselling service or similar as part of their health services, and can offer counsellors extremely experienced in these sort of situations. Again, good luck with getting through this, and working out what you really want! – PLL Feb 17 '15 at 14:24
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    I'd like to repeat my comment directed at the OP - You've already accomplished something great if you have a Graduate degree and are a full year into a PH. D. If you're not hearing that from the people around you they are wrong. – Zibbobz Feb 18 '15 at 20:14
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"I like my research, and I like my advisor"

You might be surprised how rare these things can be, there's a lot of people in industry who have neither of those things and pretty much feel the same way while also being bored out of their minds 99% of the time.

I can understand your feelings about social status but you're probably overestimating their social effects vs the social effects of your own perception of yourself. You got into a PHD program in a top school, you say people "assume" you're smart as if you don't believe that yourself but it's extremely unlikely you got where you are by being anything other than actually very smart. When you're surrounded by very bright people all the time it's easy to underestimate yourself.

As for your perception of yourself: I've felt the same way and in your shoes I would have regarded any kind reassurance from nice internet people as a simple phatic gesture since it's just what nice people do when someone is feeling crap about themselves but suffice to say, it's important to realise that your own judgement of yourself is probably not 100% reliable and is likely heavily skewed towards the negative.

Personally I found the best way to deal with feeling crap about myself was to pick the things I felt most negative about myself and to try to do at least one thing to improve each each week, feeling like you're not going anywhere can make it worse.

You sound burned out and for that the same generic advice probably applies:

It really really sounds like you may need to sort out your work-life balance a little, better to work 40-50 hours a week and be able to finish than work 80 and burn out half way. If it's crushing you to not be able to write that novel and leaving you unable to do the PHD it's essential that you get time to write the novel. If you feel the PHD is damaging your health then it's essential that you get the time to tend to your own health.

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(I feel this is borderline out-of-scope, but I decide to answer this anyway half-expecting the question to be closed soon)

I don't really want a degree. I just want to get married, and have weekends and evenings off, and chill out and play board games, and have nice conversations with friends, and have time to exercise and eat good food, and partake in hobbies, and read books and play computer games and watch movies and write a novel or two. Stuff I used to do as a kid, that I can't do as a grad student.

If that's actually how you feel, this is strike 1 that you should almost certainly quit. However, make sure that you are not falling prey to the "the grass is always greener on the other side" effect. There are plenty of things you also can't do working in industry because you'll have no time. (writing a novel might be one of those things)

I like my research, and I like my advisor, but I feel like I work a lot harder than my friends in industry, and I'll be putting my life on hold for at least the next two years, while I'm finishing classes and qualifying exams. Frankly I don't feel like I can survive the next year, and just the thought of staying here for the next few months makes me depressed.

If you feel you can't survive next year, this is strike 2 that you should get out. But again, make sure that you have make correct assumptions about life on the other side. Many people in industry definitely work at least as hard as I do in academia.

The problem is if I wasn't a PhD student, I'd just be another fat ugly loser with no social status, and nobody would love me or think I was valuable. I wouldn't be taken as seriously when it came time to apply for jobs, and people would think I was stupid or at least not any better than someone with a bachelor's degree. At least now I can apply for internships and get interviews. And because I am a PhD student at a top school, people assume I'm smart, which also helps me find dates, even though I'm obese, wear glasses, and dress poorly. It puts me in a different "league" and if I quit I'd have to go back to dating losers who only want me because they can't find any other girlfriends.

That's a really concerning paragraph, which makes me feel that you maybe want to seek out professional help. You seem to have a habit of putting yourself and others into buckets of "valuable" and "less valuable" people, based on quite superficial distinctions (looks, whether somebody has an advanced degree or not, losers, etc.). As a sidenote, I am close to 100% sure that you don't get more or better dates because you are a grad student, but (if at all) because you feel better about yourself as a grad student. This is strike 1 that you maybe should indeed stay in grad school.

Also if I quit my PhD, I would never be able to come back, and what if my new job ended up sucking, or I couldn't even get a job? I do like my work, and I'm glad I get to do such interesting stuff, I just wish there was less of it.

Is there no way to turn down your workload a bit without giving up grad student status entirely?

10

I think that if you don't feel like that sometimes in your PhD, it means that you are not doing it "properly". Its a hard thing, specially personally talking. It gets into your life and makes you feel like you can't anymore sometimes.

But cheer up, if it makes it better, everybody doing a PhD feels like that sometimes; it's part of the job. In my university there are several courses every year just for grad students to help us cope with this kind of feelings.

Actually, not long ago a guy came to our uni. He wrote a book (and some Nature papers) called "the 7 secrets of successful PhD students" (http://www.ithinkwell.com.au/). I recommend you look at it. There are 2 main ideas that may help you deal with it, and deal with it happily:

1.- There is more chance you fail kindergarten than grad school. If you make it to the end, you'll pass. So the problem here will be perseverance, if you get there, you'll make it.

2.- Treat it like a job! Go to uni, work (and work hard), but when you get out, its not PhD time anymore. Play video-games, read, go out for a beer (or 7!) and write that novel. Define a strict line between PhD time and free time.

My advice as PhD student. You can. Of course you can. You are not a loser. You definitely can deal with the PhD and the workload. If you are unhappy with your life, change it, and get out of the PhD, but if you like it and it's just workload pressure that makes you feel bad, keep with it, because it's probably going to be worth it.

7

I do not know the law of your country but, e.g., in Italy is possible suspend the PhD. Ask freely to your supervisor, if he/she is a person, as I hope, that not only observes the professional side of things, but also (and especially) the human, you have chance to find an agreement.

Try to explain, to your supervisor, your situation with this words. And remember: your life is the only and too much important to hear the thoughts of the people who do not believe in you.

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    Even in the USA, it is possible to take a medical or personal leave of absence. It's best to do this while still in grad school (preferably in the early years) because these leaves become more difficult when you are in the early years of tenure-track. – RoboKaren Feb 18 '15 at 15:00
6

I want to just address one aspect of the question, which is:

I just want to get married, and have weekends and evenings off, and chill out and play board games, and have nice conversations with friends, and have time to exercise and eat good food, and partake in hobbies, and read books and play computer games and watch movies and write a novel or two. Stuff I used to do as a kid, that I can't do as a grad student.

I did everything on this list on a regular basis while a PhD student in a top-level program. (Except for the married bit, I only did that once.) This is kind of piling on at this point, but if you are in a program in which you need to put in 80-hour work weeks to be successful, you are in the wrong program. There's always going to be other people who work insanely hard, but unless your entire life revolves around an all-encompassing need to be the best scientist of them all, you shouldn't. Work hard during the day, and at the end of it go home and have a life.

Edit: Misread this the first time. I read tons of novels but wrote zero.

5

If you are miserable, but stick to your situation, seeing other possibilities as even worse, you may be suffering Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Moreover, one of he key dangers of PhD in academic career in general is that we tie our academic success (grant, paper, fellowship) with sense of own value. Many people are afraid to "give up" (as it hits their sense of identity) even if they would be happy to pursue other options.

See:

I cannot recommend on weigthing your choices (on the one hand you like your research, on the other - you would like to have more social life). But don't tie your sense of value to your academic status.

  • All grad students are miserable, though. The pay is low, the hours are long, there is a lot of pressure. You do it because it is an investment in you. It is like climbing Everest--if you are unable to continue, your chances of survival go way, way down. Nobody is going to rescue your graduate career except you. Syndromes and psychological hooey aside, either determine you are going to do it, whatever the cost, or leave. – B B Feb 19 '15 at 18:46
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    It could also be the emotional fallacy of sunken costs or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment – mathreadler Jan 7 '16 at 21:49
4

You can quit if you like. Life isn't that bad on the "outside" (I quit my first degree), and if you're good at what you do you can get a job. You'll get much better opportunities if you finish your PhD though. You can get married and have kids and watch movies either way, the question is what will you be doing with your life when you're not doing these things.

It seems to me that you are going through an emotional low period, and you may have self-esteem issues which make it difficult for you to overcome them. Which is quite common. Most PhD students think of quitting at some point. You can talk to your counseling service, they are equipped to help you. (Admittedly sometimes they can be useless, but it's worth having a chat.)

Also if you're upset about being fat, you can get in shape. (It has nothing to do with whether or not you quit your PhD.) I used to be a fat college dropout working in IT with no friends and no girlfriends.. but you make gradual changes and improve. It takes time but it's worth it. Momentum is key, you need to make gradual changes to your lifestyle and as you move forward it becomes easier as you become more motivated. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTuElM6T50w

4

Take advantage of the university facilities to improve your physical condition. That will help with the perception of pressure, improve your social options and self esteem, and relieve some stress. I started martial arts training 26 years ago with a university club because I needed exercise and the club fit my schedule. Throughout my post-acadamia careers the practice of martial arts has remained a near constant.

A PhD is a three year program. It is transient, finish it. (Corrected per comments below)

Industry is not necessarily less stressful. My careers outside of acadamia, in more than one industry, have always involved a certain amount of 24x7 work. While acadamia is not without its stress, the stress of not getting published is not in the same league as the stress of not getting the 2 million dollar bid that your company needs to survive the next six months.

  • 1
    PhD over here is 4 or 5 years of work after completed MSc. Not uncommon with people ending up becoming full professors who have taken 7 or even more years or so completing their PhD. – mathreadler Jan 7 '16 at 21:11
  • Even if it were three years, three years when you're 22 is different than three years when you're 50. Besides opportunity cost, people, like your potential employers, place greater emphasis on what you do with those three years earlier than later. – Chan-Ho Suh Feb 7 '17 at 17:56
3

There is already a lot of good advice here, so I'll keep mine short.

It's hard to get into a PhD program, and it's easy to get out. You can quit any time, but it will be very hard to get back into a program if you change your mind later.

It sounds as though you like the work but you don't like the workload.

Instead of just quitting, why not try dialing down your commitment just a little bit first?

You mentioned not being happy about your weight (I assume you are saying you are not happy, and not that you just think other people are not happy). Why don't you set aside some time each day, a half hour or so, and go for a walk? It will improve your health, might improve your self-image, and it will give you time to think. Think of it like a "trial quitting."

During that time, think about what you really want out of life, and whether a PhD will help you get there. Maybe you will decide that it won't, but then you will be making the decision from a calm, thoughtful place, and not from a feeling of being trapped.

If you think you might want the PhD, but that the effort to get it is too much, you should know that every PhD student goes through this (speaking for myself and the people I went to grad school with).

This might be hard to understand while you are in the middle of it, but the truth is that we tend to make things seem more important than they really are. We have high expectations for ourselves, and in a PhD program, it is easy to feed into other's expectations as well and make ourselves miserable. If you can reach an understanding that it is all just expectations - none of it is real - it might help you.

My other advice (after you take daily thinking walks for a week or so) is to talk to your advisor before you quit. He or she might have some ideas of ways that you can make the workload more manageable. Your advisor probably went through a similar crisis, and probably helped many of their former students go through them as well, and so they will probably also be able to give you some advice.

2

Before making any decisions, it may be worthwhile to see if you can stay with your PhD, doing research with the supervisor you like, while fixing some of the things that cause you problems. You say you do not have any weekends or evenings. This is something i recognize but it may not be all due to your PhD program.

This happens when the work is (or feels) important, ambitions are high, and both your own and your supervisor's expectations are unrealistic. I've had the same problem at two separate jobs. My friend had it worse: he had a job for 3 days a week while in reality he worked full time and quite a few times through the night. A tell-tale sign is when work and leisure mix in a bad way, like working (because it needs to be done by Monday) while watching television (because you are allowed to take micro-breaks, it's the weekend!).

This can be fixed. Your university maybe has courses and/or counselors to help you with time management. If your workload is insane, it helps to get a clear picture of it, so that your supervisor also understands that a more realistic plan needs to be made. The people i know who are efficient and good at work/life balance: 1) spend time planning their work, that is, prioritizing tasks and writing down how much time each will take 2) stick to their plans 3) communicate plans and any changes in plans with their supervisors, co-workers and/or bosses.

My friend now has a far more responsible job, works full time and he even has the evenings off.

2

Whenever you feel down, compare what you have achieved in a certain period.

E.g. Were you happy before starting PHD, was your life as beautiful as you think it would be after quitting PHD.

You quit PHD or not, one thing you should always remember,

Always be grateful, never compare yourself with people better then you, but think about people who are in worse situation then yours.

2

The problem is if I wasn't a PhD student, I'd just be another fat ugly loser with no social status, and nobody would love me or think I was valuable.

That's concerning in two ways.

  1. Proving you're cool to other people is often listed as a bad motivation for doing a PhD — it's not strong enough. Good motivations are closer to "you care about your research" --- and you do! And that's so great — so few people have that!
  2. Thinking of yourself as a loser is a negative attitude which is (to some extent) a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In fact, a PhD might be helpful to prove to yourself your worth. OTOH, you "shouldn't" need to get a PhD to prove to yourself you're worth. I would indeed seek psychological counsel. If you have a good advisor you might also talk to him/her - lots of PhD student have motivation crises.

  1. There are lots of reasons for low self-worth. One which also increases your workload and is probably common among PhD students is perfectionism --- "maintaining standards that are unrealistically high and impossible to attain".
  2. You might regret quitting, especially if that's just due to depression or something else.

Generally, if you enter a PhD, getting a PhD or not is not a question of ability/intelligence, but of motivation - it's not a battle against your topic, but against yourself.

And because I am a PhD student at a top school, people assume I'm smart

What do you think? It sounds like you don't agree (you say "assume"). But you're at a top school, so you might be a victim of impostor syndrome (thinking others overestimated you). I think it's endemic between PhD students.

Also, BTW, if you're working a lot it's probably also because you're at a top school, and research is a career profession — a bit like running for an election, being a top manager, etc. None of those jobs are easy or would take less effort. For me, realizing this was very scary, since I've avoided such jobs on purpose - but I decided to stick with it, and right now I'm happy I did.

2

I'm glad that I finished my PhD.

Why?

Because I had very similar thoughts as you describe them, and (after very hard struggles) managed to grow as a person.

I now have a clearer view on my priorities, and I know where I don't compromise. I make the rules for my life now.

Currently I work as a postdoc and ultimately I determine my workload. I will not accept any workload that undermines my life quality. I now communicate this clearly and politely to the head of my lab. On the other hand, I will spend a considerable amount of time to furthering my career, and will pursue the goals that I chose. I now communicate this clearly and in a friendly manner to my partner.

The point is that these are all subjective decisions, that know one can answer for me. Having been on the fringe of quitting the program, and going through a process of evaluating all my life decisions, has brought me into a very fortunate position, I find in retrospect.

  • 1
    That's not an answer. – Cape Code Feb 19 '15 at 1:49
  • Maybe you are right Cape Code - however, if the question is "should I quit my PhD program" no-one can answer this for another person. However, I came out strengthened from a similar situation, and maybe this perspective is valuable to others. – benroth Feb 19 '15 at 5:06
2

There are quite a few very nice answers, so I'll just make a minor point.

When I was in grad school, I also sometimes felt I'd fallen into this hole in which I have to work very hard and that if I fail and quit I'd be a disappointment and a failure. It's not the same as in your case but, well, similar. I also considered quitting, and was stuck with my research for long(ish) periods of time.

The reason I'm telling you this is not to moralize and say "Ah, but I managed to pull through and so can you, don't worry be happy". The point is that even after getting the PhD, occasionally in my life I've felt the same way, i.e. I was worried I'm going to end up as a big (non-fat) loser with a PhD, and that people mighty pity me for having let my academic training go to waste and not amounting to anything.

Which is to say, what you're feeling is not really about quitting or keeping up the Ph.D. at all.

And of course: You're not a big fat loser damn it. I could find objective justification to this in your own question, but you really should think about positive things you've done and even if it's not convincing you emotionally, start by making a mental argument for your not really being a loser. Maybe just someone with supposedly-simplistic/childish desires? Probably even not that. Also, read about Impostor Syndrome.

1

Is your ultimate life goal to be a tenured professor working 60-80 hours a week? If no, then you don't really gain anything by staying in your program.

A lot of the answers provided imply that staying in your program should be the default option. I don't really know if that's how you should approach your decision because it really depends on whether you're committed to the academic life.

The fact that you were smart enough to both get into and do well in a top-tier PhD program and quit when you realized that path wasn't for you will signal to interviewers that you're intelligent and great at cost-benefit analyses, so I wouldn't worry about no longer being able to get interviews if I were you. All else being equal, I would hire someone who quit a PhD program over someone who stuck it out.

0

To add to the excellent advice posted by many others, I just want to focus on one particular aspect of your post:

The problem is if I wasn't a PhD student, I'd just be another fat ugly loser with no social status, and nobody would love me or think I was valuable... I'm obese, wear glasses, and dress poorly.

Question: Why do you feel like a fat loser?

I have felt like a loser at various points in my life. Mostly, I feel this way when things are going badly and I feel that they are out of my control. It seems to me that you feel that many things in your life are out of your control. In particular, your obesity seems to be an extremely discouraging situation.

How do you deal with things that seem out of control? I found the following so-called Serenity Prayer helpful:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

You have to accept the things that you can't change—such as who you are today, the situation you are in—yet work towards making it better.

In addition, I would strongly encourage you to find someone whom you can trust to talk regularly with; this can be a friend / mentor / religious leader / counselor. When I was a PhD student and dealing with depression, it was extremely helpful to see a counselor about once a week. This was a perk provided free-of-charge by the student health services at my university, and was conveniently located a short walk from my office.

Finally, with regard to the issue of obesity, while I am not an expert in that area, I empathize with you because this can be a very frustrating issue for many. It is just so hard and discouraging. Worse still, there are so many different viewpoints about what is the right types of foods to eat, from veganism to paleo to really crazy ones like the hCG diet (don't try it!). Personally, I feel that the book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes seems to me to be the right scientifically based explanation as to why many people today in the US are fat. I would suggest that you do your own research to find out what is causing you to be obese, so that you can figure out what you want to do about it. By doing this, you won't feel like you are a victim to your circumstances but that you are able to overcome them. If you can become a healthier person, this would improve your self-image and your general sense of well-being.

Good luck! Hang in there!

-1

I would like to point out that 99% of the people out there don't give a darn about your being in a PhD program versus "only" having a bachelor's degree. The only people who care would be employer's looking for a PhD person to fill a specific position and snooty people like you are projecting yourself to be, by thinking that being in a PhD program actually gets people to like you more. At best, being in the PhD program might give you more confidence which is what attracts people.

I will also point out that while you may believe you "work a lot harder than your friends in industry", I can guarantee you that you are almost certainly wrong in that regard. New grads tend to have to work their butts off to get noticed in their early years. They are making money, so they do have more opportunities to have fun experiences than a college student just scraping by, but that doesn't mean they have more time or are under less stress. But I suppose that also depends on the type of job and degree your friends have and their own ambition levels.

With regards to: "I just want to...." and not having time to do it has nothing to do with being in a PhD program. It is what happens when people transition from being a child with no responsibilities to anyone but their self to actually growing up and being a responsible adult where they not only have obligations to their self but to others also. If you think being in a PhD program leaves you no time for the fun stuff you like to do, wait until you get married and have children. You will long for all the free time you have right now in your PhD program.

Finally, part of the reason people prefer to employ people with college degrees is not just because of the education. Many jobs that require a degree can be adequately learned and performed by someone without a degree. One of the key reasons that employers like people with a college degree is that it shows that the person is not a quitter. Almost everyone goes through a phase or phases in their college career where they just want to chuck it all in and quit. Many people do just that. However, those who persevere and finish their degree demonstrates a high degree of willpower and the ability to do what needs to be done whether they want to do it or not. Employers want that kind of person because there will be many times on the job where people will want to chuck it all in and quit. Employers want people who will persevere, not those who quit.

I am of the opinion, you made a commitment to get a PhD. So get the PhD. Don't quit. Quitting easily becomes habit forming. I also think you are falling prey to the grass is greener syndrome.

  • 1
    Apparently I need 125 reputation to vote this down for being a possible danger to mental health… The "you made a commitment so just do it" mentality has its place, but is also potentially dangerous. – Ricky Feb 28 '15 at 17:15
  • 1
    I tried to down vote for you Ricky but it wouldn't let me:( I am quite surprised that this post is in the negative, since it is the most truthful and useful response out of all of them. The OP's perception of "everyone else" is so far from the truth and nobody was pointing that out to her until this post. As for your thinking this is "potentially dangerous", did you miss the "this is reality tone" of the first several paragraphs and then the last paragraph starts with "I am of the opinion". Certainly not telling the OP what to do or even saying this is the right choice. That was on purpose. – Dunk Feb 28 '15 at 18:40

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