I chose my current PhD position because of funding limitation and the reputation of my institute last year. After a year, it's a disaster, because I have no interest in my PhD project. I haven't read any papers in my personal time since I started my PhD. I'm not interested in what my labmates are doing whenever they are presenting. Though my project works perfectly fine, I just don't care about it.

Many rumors prevail in our lab regarding our supervisor; for example not supportive to graduating PhD students. Therefore, the morale and atmosphere in our laboratory has been strange. Yet, I've managed to maintain a moderate relationship with him. I have worked as a summer student in several labs and understand that no lab is free of anecdotes from the supervisor.

My only concern is that my passion in science will decay with my project. A year ago, I still had the lust to ask infinite questions in the summer lab, but I'm like a dying whale on the beach today. I feel very sad, because my family and my friends have great expectation from me.

I would like to change labs or start from a master's degree level again, but I'm not sure if it is feasible, especially since my supervisor is rather special. Please help me and give me some suggestions.

  • 1
    Can you elaborate on why your supervisor is rather special? What is it that would prevent you from transferring to a master's program?
    – deckeresq
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:06
  • Is there some kind of graduate program advisor in your school? Or any counseling services for students? I think it will help you by considering their suggestions regarding this complicated issue.
    – user168
    Jul 27, 2017 at 1:40
  • 1
    1. No publication and no reference in general 2. Chaotic supervision 3. there are ~20 scientists in the lab working on projects in different fields 4. Insufficient knowledge in our individual projects 5. Amazingly powerful who sits in committee of several funding bodies and editorial boards of several journals
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:12
  • Sometimes I feel I'm too thick. I enrolled in a bioinformatics program. But I showed up 200 times more frequently in vascular biology department seminars and journal clubs.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:47
  • Sounds a bit like marriage. You start with a lot of passion but eventually the day-to-day grind of reality makes it less exciting. Welcome to the human condition. No reason to get a divorce. Love can remain even after passion fades. If you love science -- stick to it. In any event, the real fun in life begins after your Ph.D., when you have more ability to pursue your own interests. The best way to rekindle your passion might be to grind through your current program and finish it as soon as possible. Just my opinion of course -- you need to make your own decision. Jul 27, 2017 at 23:06

5 Answers 5


I'm afraid to say that I think you've worked this one out for yourself.

Completing a PhD requires passion and determination to get over the finish line. I remember someone once saying to me that they had done two PhDs but hadn't written either up... So they had actually not done a PhD at all. The point is that in a lot of ways, the writing up and creating a thesis is the hardest part because it requires so much time, energy, and dedication. If you don't feel like you have that for your subject then I would really consider your options.

As for your family (and friends)- they don't love you because you're on a PhD programme, that doesn't even come into it. More than anything in this world, they want you to be happy doing what makes you happy and I'm sure if they read your post just now they would tell you to stop and find something you really want to do.

Right now, it may be best to have a sit down with your supervisor and discuss how you're feeling and see if there is a way for you both to move forward that suits you both.

  • Thank you. I'll talk to him. Probably I have nothing to lose because if the worst case scenario is leaving. But I wish to settle everything in less than a month. Do you think I should seek a secondary/ co-supervisor? I'm just afraid that I'll find another shit....
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:20

There are so many factors involved that it's difficult to give a precise and helpful answer.

Firstly, what you are feeling is not rare at all as a PhD student. Because of how the scientific career is designed, labs have to focus on paper production, and in too many cases students are seen (and feel) as "resources to produce papers for the lab".

Supervisors are often very busy or absent from the lab for many reasons and they don't meet often enough with students, know their research in detail, or give them appropriate and individual credit and encouragement.

Successfully completing a PhD consists in dealing with that too, apart from publishing papers. And I am not justifying it, because I personally think that things could be easily improved, but unfortunately we have to deal with how things are.

I suggest you start taking more care of yourself and rely less on your professor and your group. A good book is this one: https://www.amazon.com/Research-Chicago-Writing-Editing-Publishing/dp/022623973X/

If the situation is intolerable but you still want to be in research, try to change to another lab, even though that's always risky. If research by itself does not drive you, then try in industry.

Lastly, even if your family sacrificed so you could study a PhD, this doesn't mean you have to live the life they want you to live. Your life is yours and you are the one having to deal with it. If you don't live your life, you'll always be frustrated, bitter, and angry.

From Asian colleagues I know that in many Asian cultures family pressure for their kid to get educated, successful, and rich, is tremendous and linked to "honor" and "betrayal". If this is your case, you might need to have a small family talk too...

  • You are right. I'm Asian so I do feel very stressful when I first exposed to Western culture. To be honest, I love my colleagues and friends in the campus. The only thing that doesn't feel right is my science because I don't feel the drive to work in my current lab.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:22
  • I do feel ashamed because an Indian colleague reminded me that I'm indeed super fortunate to have a fully funded position in a prestigious institute. Million people from his country would like to take my place. He also reminded me that PhD is not about doing something I like but on developing an unique skills. He asked me to stay.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:25
  • 1. My answer to him is that I don't even enjoy what I'm doing so how is it possible for me to develop skills instead? 2. I'm the only one who works on this field in my whole department. Nobody ever teaches me anything or give a critical suggestion on whether my work is okay in the fields. 3. My skills is not qualified.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:26
  • Then, he asked me how could I justify that I'll not just leave another PhD? I'm so depressed now.....
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:30

Have you considered that you may be suffering from a clinical depression? What you have described surely sounds like it. Sometimes people think that they are depressed because of their circumstances while in fact it's the other way around. At any rate I would have talked to a mental health professional before quitting.

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/04/phd-students-face-significant-mental-health-challenges Here is an article in Science about this. It's important to know that you are not alone with this kind of struggle and help may be available.

One key message for scientific trainees that are struggling with these types of challenges, write co-authors Katia Levecque and Frederik Anseel of Ghent University in an email to Science Careers, is that “you are not alone.” Beyond that, the authors encourage Ph.D. students to appreciate how important it is to take care of themselves. “Mental health problems can develop into serious threats to one’s wellbeing and career, and can have detrimental consequences in the long-term,” they write. So, if you’re struggling, it’s important to “[s]eek professional help or seek help in your personal environment, even if you think it’s probably a temporary thing.”

  • Thank you. May be because my family has depression history. I would say I'm pretty happy outside the lab with my friends. Just the feeling is not right when I reach the lab because I have been stagnated for a year.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:32
  • I wish you all the best! Jul 29, 2017 at 16:42

Have you considered graduating with an MPhil after one year? You can then have a break or do research projects elsewhere, perhaps in industry, before coming back to a PhD.

  • I do consider it because anyway I'll have nothing to do in the next year. But do you think I should apply to other program while I'm still on my PhD. Some people recommended me to do so but I just think that it is unethical....
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:40

I think you should try to answer clearly to yourself what is the source of your problem. Is it a project per se? Or this is a non-supportive supervisor? Or you became less excited with the field of research in general? Or this is about Phd in general and you will prefer to switch to the industry. Otherwise, you might take the actions that might only do things worse or in best case will not help.

Try to see whether you feel excited with other projects. But keep in mind that the grass is always greener on the other side. Probably once you start other project you will fast become bored with it as well. If you reach firm conclusion that this is about the project per se, talk with your supervisor about the problem and ask him/her how he/she can help. Maybe it is possible to change the topic or to add additional directions. If this does not work, I do not think that this inconceivable to start the PhD from the beginning. Probably, you can do that in a neighboring lab. Suffering several more years is probably not a solution. Then, if you decide to continue to a postdoc all your experience will be in a field that does not interest you. What you will do then?

  • Thank you. I try to normalize all the environmental factor for example supervisors and rumors. I would say it is rather on the field itself. I don't care anything about the field. I'm thinking of doing a master again at another institute. In the meantime, I'll do lab rotation and investigation to see if I may fit into the field and people in the lab. In that case, undoubtedly it is difficult to justify that I'll not quit again. The bad decision is probably due to the fact that I was anxious about I'll have nothing to do after I graduated.
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:37
  • Therefore, when I got this prestigious offer, I just accepted without careful consideration....
    – LungLungLi
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:38

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