1. Why did you leave?
So a little background first. I graduated from [small prestigious college] in Chemistry with a strong desire to go into theory. I was awarded a [redacted] Fellowship to study for a year in [European country X] in [redacted], and I deferred my admission to [University of West Coast]. While in [European country X], I applied for and was selected for a 3-year [redacted] fellowship.
While in [European country X] I had changed my focus, or rather, grown disillusioned with electronic structure theory. So when I arrived at [University of West Coast], I wanted to join the lab of [Professor D], instead of [Professor G]. [Professor D] resisted, saying he already had accepted the three students he had funding for. Me, being an idiot, said, "Well, I have an [fellowship], so you don't need to fund me." I did not realize that he was saying "no."
At [University of West Coast], theoretical chemistry students are expected to take graduate quantum mechanics in the physics department. So I did. The problem sets were incredibly difficult. Midway through the second semester I discovered that most of my fellow students had copies of the answer keys, handed down from previous years. Stupid me: I thought I was supposed to do the work myself. This was a further disillusionment.
At the beginning of second semester, we got four new [redacted] machines, two of which had to be set up headless because we didn't have room for 4 new stations. I took this on and executed it competently. I got no acknowledgement or thanks for this, except that I was selected to be the lab sysadmin. Later that month, when there was a planned outage, I came in on the Saturday to supervise the restart of all the machines. Everything booted okay, but there was a network outage due to a router in a locked cupboard we could not access. I decided to go home until this was sorted out. [Professor D] called me to chew me out because the group website was down.
This is all background. The best part is later.
2. Your thought process in leaving? Was it deliberate (over a period of time) or sudden?
Despite all that I was still interested and excited about doing theory. We were each assigned a project to present at group meeting; my date was in [the middle of the year]. I had worked as a programmer at a [larger corporate organization], so I knew a bit about software development and planning. I planned out a development schedule, leaving extra weeks for troubleshooting and debugging, and two full months to run my (small) problem. I explained my development plan at a group meeting [at the beginning of the year].
"Not good enough," said [Professor D]. "I want to see a prototype by Monday."
So I knocked together a prototype over the weekend. It only had to be a proof of concept, so I wrote it in [redacted computer language], but it worked. I enjoyed the work, even though I did not like the artificially-imposed deadline.
On Monday I brought my code in to show [Professor D]. He was away, on a planned trip. He returned Wednesday evening. Thursday morning I walked into his office and quit.
I believe that if he thinks about it at all, he thinks that it was because I couldn't "hack it". In a sense that's true: I respected myself too much to be willing to continue with a toxic boss and unpleasant workplace environment. I had worked in the real world, briefly, and earned good money and had decent working conditions and a 40-hour work week.
I mooned around [University of West Coast] for a couple weeks, looking for someone who might take me in, but I couldn't find anyone who wanted me (no surprise, in retrospect). So I withdrew from my grad program and gave up the [redacted] fellowship.
I started working as a contract programmer for a previous client and tripled my income.
3. Where are you now?
Happily married, with three children, with [12+] years of self-employment as a programmer, owning a nice house which is 3/4 paid off. If I had stayed in the academic track, I would have a chance of being tenured now. Of my cohort of [small prestigious college] alumni, I know of one who is now tenured faculty at a top tier institution; some who are tenured at lower-tier institutions; and many who, after completing grad school, are now doing work that does not use their lab/research experience and does not require a Ph.D.
4. Are you happy after leaving? How does the decision look to you now?
Very happy having left. I think it was the right decision, especially considering that the chance of getting a tenure-track position at that time (entered grad school [post-1995]) had already fallen precipitously.Thanks to "Sam" for their story.