TL;DR: Young graduate student in his first year of a PhD program who has lost a passion for the academic world. Seriously considering quitting but don't know what to do. Science background.
I'm 21-25, with a Science background, B.Sc in Physics. Took a year off between Undergrad and Grad school and worked full time as a research scientist. Theoretical background (most of my work has consisted of modelling). Strong quantitative and computer skills. Excel in presentation/project focused environments.
I am currently finishing the second semester of my first year in a PhD program at a top tier US school in an engineering program. I have a full scholarship that pays for all of my tuition and a living stipend (typical graduate student stipend ~$1800 a month after taxes, so quite enough to live off of). I'm not a US citizen (from Canada), so I'm here on a student VISA, so if I decide to stop I have 2 weeks to leave the country. I cannot hold any other employment in the US while here on my VISA. My PhD consists of ~1.5 years of combined coursework and research, followed by a qualifier at the end of that period (research based), then into your thesis (doesn't have to be related to what your qualifier research was on).
Current Academic Situation
I came first semester ready to start a new life...(first time moving away from home- did my undergrad where I was born). I did very well first semester (3.9/4.0 GPA) and research was on track (mostly lit. review). By the end of first semester however, I noticed that I was losing interest very quickly in both my coursework and research - it started to become very hard to get myself through to work on a daily basis. Went home Christmas break for a few weeks and came back to start my second semester and immediately noticed a big change. I started to struggle in my classes and fall behind on research. It wasn't that the material was too difficult, I just had no motivation to do it. No excuses here - just didn't really want to do it so I didn't. I reached the end of the semester and realized just how far behind I was. I am likely going to hit ~C average this semester (A last) and am drastically behind on research. I had weekly-biweekly meetings with my supervisor all semester, but I sort of hid just how bad things were going. Had a long meeting last week where I basically came clean on everything (said I was struggling in classes, behind on research) and the supervisor was very supportive. The supervisor believed in my potential and suggested I speak to a school counsellor and emphasized that this kind of thing was common for doctoral students.
I come from a family where both my parents have PhDs. Although my parents have always been supportive and open to my life, I feel as though they would be very disappointed if I quit and this pressure is very real to me. I have tried to have the conversation with them and their attitude is mostly: "just put your head down and work through it, it's just a phase". Quite frankly most people seem to think it's a "phase" when I tell them. Outside of school my life is great. I'm not unhappy or depressed, I have hobbies, friends, I work out - it's just school that makes me feel this way. I just don't like the academic world at all any more. I HATE classes (always have) and where in the past research has been the saving grace keeping me interested in school, it now is losing a lot of it's appeal.
Basically, I feel no passion or drive for what I am doing any more. This for me is a huge problem. I'm not the kind of person who lacks passion in life. Quite the opposite in fact. Right now I have no such drive for school. I have a long term long distance relationship with someone from home that is incredibly happy and stable. They visited here many times since I moved and we are doing great. I would be lying if I said it wasn't a factor in me wanting to quit. (Having my partner move here is a lot more complicated). The relationship has been incredibly supportive and is very aware of my current situation and has maintained a very neutral stance, trying to play devils advocate wherever possible and trying to make sure it doesn't influence the decision. I should state that I am pretty sure if I had to choose between school and the relationship, I would choose the relationship immediately with no regrets.
I have just reached a point where I find myself doing just about anything else but school work. I'll get groceries, clean the apartment, watch TV etc... before doing any work. I'm trying to stick around for a couple of months for the summer (to see if not having classes changes anything) but since talking to my supervisor I'm already having doubts about even that. At this point, I feel like moving home and getting any job would make me happier than what I am doing.
I have a few thousand dollars in the bank (enough to get me home /move out etc...) and zero debt. If I move back home, I can likely live with my parents for the first month to get back, then I'd be looking for a job and moving in with my partner. I realize having no debt puts me ahead of a lot of people and I'm not particularly concerned about the situation financially - I'm very lucky to have what I have and am aware of this.
So what's the deal? I know I have this amazing opportunity. I'm at a top tier school on a full scholarship. I wake up every day and get to work with the top minds in my field doing important research. I'm doing something a very small % of the population ever gets a chance at and yet still I have no motivation to do it. I'm not sure if I'm doing it for me any more, or I'm doing it so I don't let down other people in my life. My parents, mentors, friends, all the people who keep telling me how amazing this opportunity is. The more I look back, the more I realize that Grad school was what I did because I basically just didn't have another plan.
What would I like to do
I'd love to find a job. I don't need to make a lot of money to be happy - I live off of 22k a year right now and am perfectly comfortable. Money isn't a major motivator for me. Working in the financial sector, doing quantitative risk analysis, banking, DoD, just about anything sounds more appealing than school to me. I know I'm smart and I've got a strong quantitative background combined with very good personal skills. I'm great with people and one of the things I HATE about the academic world is how under-used that part of my skill set feels.
I have no idea what to do. I want to quit, but I haven't. Maybe I shouldn't? I've been looking into options, but quite frankly I'd much prefer to have some kind of plan before quitting - at the very least this pays my living right now. I'd love advice from anyone. Someone who's been in this situation, someone who hasn't It doesn't matter.
I know that what I am doing does not make me happy. But I don't know what will. Please help.
Update two years later
I chose to leave school, and came home. My relationship fell apart but I found a decent job working for a tech startup and did that for about 1.5 years - I saved some money and took some time off and now I'm doing full time analytics consulting work for a website - It's working out well so far and I enjoy the freedom of it (work from home) etc. Though I do often wonder about what would have happened if I stayed, I don't regret it.