Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"E": "I met with my family and was overwhelmed with the support and relief."

Today's story on leaving graduate school is from "E"; it has been edited for clarity and privacy.
Why did you leave? 
I came from a small undergrad school [in the South] and joined a medium sized grad school [in the Midwest] to do some synthetic organic research. My advisor was very hands-off and laid back, and didn't have me really working on anything until after my first year of classes were done. I began my initial research in my second year with the help of a [redacted] exchange student. Even though the research wasn't going well at all, I ended up becoming great friends with the guy. 
By the time he was ready to leave, we looked back at the number of failed reactions, out of service instruments, expired/impure reagents, and our dwindling hours spent in the lab. I realized after he left how bad it was. 
I started getting severely depressed before the two year mark. I wasn't hanging out with anyone. I wasn't talking to anyone. I was reading stories of suicide online. I met my roommate's friend and we stayed up all night talking about my situation. She told me to consider quitting and going back home. But as Vinylogous wrote, I thought "I've already put in 2 years, so it would be a waste of time to quit now". 
But things were getting worse. One night I went to the lab around midnight and recrystallized a large vial of KCN and sat there on the verge of tears. If things didn't get better, I was going to just end everything. I cannot tell you how close to suicide I was. I had failed everything and everyone. I would never have my dream job.  
Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden? 
I talked with my peers that had been there for 5, 6, 7 years. I could not handle this that long. I asked my advisor what I had to do to end with a master's. He replied "you're done when I say you're done". 
I took my bike home and started applying for every job I could find back home. I called everyone. I flew home for 3 days for two interviews. My friends and family were very supportive. When I got back to [the Midwest], I went in for a week and the depression came back. One night i went in again at midnight and cleaned up my desk and lab space.
I stayed home the next week. I didn't leave the apartment. A few days in, around 10AM, people were banging on the door. My lab partners, my advisor, and the police were all knocking and yelling for me to come out. I didn't answer the door. I packed all my stuff in boxes that night. A couple days later, I woke up early and put everything in my car. It was snowing, and absolutely miserable outside. As I was finishing, the 7th year student saw me and said "Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!" and in the snow I replied "Tell everyone I'm sorry. I'm going back to [my home]." 
I cried for most of the ride home. 13 hours later, I met with my family and was overwhelmed with the support and relief. I was going to get back on track. 
Where are you now? How does the decision look to you? 
Two years later, here I am. I work for a [large pharma] and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have a great salary, great pension, great friends, and I live close to the beach. Life could not be better for me. I am so glad I got out when I could. The depression was so real - each time you refer to quitting grad school in one of your posts I am reminded of my decision.
Thanks to "E" for their story. 

3 comments:

  1. "I asked my advisor what I had to do to end with a master's. He replied "you're done when I say you're done"."

    Wow, what a story. It almost brought me to tears. That above quote is just brutal - an advisor should be an advocate for their students, and should not act like that. Good for you for making the smart decision to leave and never look back.

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  2. Im beginning to think I should have had a nervous breakdown in Grad School.... I would have probably more likely to have a better job then the crap job I have as a PhD in academic science that I have right now.

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  3. Every time I read one of these submissions I am thankful to be in a field where people usually earn a master's before starting a PhD.

    It's also interesting to see the number of people that report developing issues with mental health. If people without per-existing issues have such problems while in grad school, what hope is there for people who start graduate school with a history of mental illness? A series with stories from such people would be interesting, though getting people to tell their stories (even anonymously) might be difficult.

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