Podcast #128: We chat with Kent C Dodds about why he loves React and discuss what life was like in the dark days before Git. Listen now.
6 of 6 corrected spelling

The big questions here are:

  1. Do you really enjoy your research? If not, why not change that? Hiding in the seeming safe bubble is even riskier. 29-year-old is too young to not make a change.
  2. If you don't have the resources to make a change, can you borrow them from others?

Your situation resonates with me. For the past 6 years, I exhausted my energy to get a Ph.D. Although I got a postdoc position after graduation, I pondered for several weeks and realized this was not the life I wanted. So I say sorry to that offer and now making a career change, away from academia.

Previous posts have given some suggestions: leave academia, transfer school, change for another boss, work more effectively with the boss, etc. These are all possible solutions. But the missing piece is: what's your passion and your life goal? PhDs tend to narrowly focused on the research area and are blind to the bigger picture. Try to think beyond your current dilemma. When you started your journey 4 years ago, you only have a very vague goal. Now it's time to reset your goal and make it as smart as possible.

With the ultimate goal in mind, let's hack the realistic bottleneck, money. This may be the only question that this post is about. I am also an international student. I understand how money is important for a student coming from a developing country, and this is also why so many poor students have to tolerate an abusive professor. But I have to say, you have overpaid your price to get a Ph.D. It's not worth that.

Many people don't know the difference between a tough boss and an abusive boss, see this. Be aware of that the abusive person is eating your energy. Try your best to stay away from that. You may play communication tricks to ease the tension. But you are always vulnerable and psychological unsafe. It's definitely not a productive environment. If your goal is not clear, he will always try to push your bottom line, because the cost is on you, not him. It is a zero sum game. Remember, a good relationship is a shared journey. Effort from only one side is not enough.

So money, as well as visa restriction, are actually where the abusive power come from. This explains why American students have a much higher drop-off rate at school. There's no reason to suffer the abuse. School is a place where you are supposed to gain energy, not lose. You exchange your time and money for potentially more valuable skills and knowledge. But it is not worth to damage your mental health.

Now we pin down the problem. It's time to invest your courage to make a change. Don't be afraid to abandon the Ph.D. degree. You can imagine that, if you continue your academic career for the next 10 years, you may still live under your professor's shadow. So forget the Ph.D. thing.

As long as you enroll in school, the F1 status is secured. Change to a nice advisor to have the signature for the extension. Now, money. If it's too embarrassing to ask parents or friends for the "activation energy" money, why not do it in the American way! Get a student loan. 0% APR credit cards are a fast path.

Say goodbye to the 1980s paper. Transfer to a master program instead. Find a way to leverage your current skills. Enroll the hottest and most useful classes, which can best equip you for good paying jobs and pay off your debt. If you earn enough and can have more choices, that's the time you may reconsider your Ph.D. dream.

The world is changing at an accelerated pace. You should periodically reevaluate your situation and adjust your goal. So you never lose the big picture. Work hard, spirit up and good luck!

One final note: I can feel that you are reluctant to change, partially due to sunk cost and path dependence. But these are the least important things to consider when you are making a long-term rational decision. I would recommend everyone reading this article: Life is too short for bullshit.