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. Would love some advice from anyone.
So, as the title says I'm thinking about leaving my Doctoral program. I'll give you the rundown of my situation. I'll be withholding specifics to try and keep anonymity, but I'll try and give the best information as I can. This will likely be very long.
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
As I said, I am currently finishing my second semester. 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 - I will just about kill myself trying for things I love to do/want. I have incredible drive when I want something, but when I don't...I don't. 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. I hate being away and If I moved back home, we would likely move in together almost immediately. Moving here is a lot more complicated because unless we are married (probably too soon), a work/student visa is needed to be here on a permanent basis, and that would severely limit options available. 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.
Basically 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. (Obviously more money isn't bad, but it isn't important in what I do, I only want to make enough to not be very worried about my financial situation). 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.
(Thanks for anyone who took the time to look at this. I really appreciate your time and input)