I was an undergrad at [large public university] and [a famous chemist] was scheduled to give a seminar. I managed to get myself on his schedule so that I could try to set myself up to join his group after I graduated. He was great and agreed that he would take me.
When I joined his group, he assigned me to a project I wasn't so excited about. It was a weird time when he had no postdocs. My first assignment was to synthesize a class of compounds that a senior person on the project had failed to make. As [they were] the only person I could go to for advice, needless to say, my syntheses all failed and I was pretty depressed. In order to talk to my PI, I literally had to make an appointment with [a number of layers of admins] to see him. After finally talking to him, he encouraged me to stay in and even found me opportunities to do more teaching (my passion), but I knew I didn't have the background to figure out the synthesis on my own.
I left (after successfully passing my 2nd year written and oral exams) and struggled to find a job in industry as a BS chemist. I finally did and was making [consumer product coatings] for a small company when I painfully discovered my allergy to isocyanates.
I had already begun the process to finish a MS at [another, smaller public university] and switched to their PhD program. My new PI was AWESOME even though he made me take the ACS organic exam before he would accept me. He gave me to a postdoc to work under at first and an easy project to get my feet wet. I graduated in 4 years with 5 pubs, 2 first author, and 3 more in progress.
I am now an assistant professor at a PUI and didn't do a postdoc. My advice is to find the right advisor and to realize that the right timing is everything.Thanks to CD for their story. Readers, if you're interested in sharing your story of staying or leaving graduate school in chemistry, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.