Leading up to graduate school, I was experiencing signs of clinical depression but decided to continue to pursue the degree regardless. In my second year, my health was heavily impacting my work. At this time, I had sought help from many healthcare providers so that I could manage the depression and succeed in school. I would receive emails about meetings from my laboratory and for a while I had conflicts due to appointments, which started the questions: "Why do you go to the doctor so often?" I was afraid to share my experience because my adviser had mentioned several times of a previous student, also a female, that was pressured into taking a "medical leave" in hopes that she would not return to the laboratory and finish her degree.
My symptoms worsened drastically. Knowing that depression was covered within the university as an illness that could qualify for special accommodations, I confronted the chair of our department, who was an understanding and approachable person. I explained that I felt that my adviser had a history of not being understanding towards persons with health issues. The chair was overwhelmingly understanding, commending me for taking action for health purposes, but when the matter was handed to my adviser the results weren't optimal.
Over the course of the next few months, I had support from my adviser, but slowly I was seeing signs that my decision to shed light on mental health issues backfired. I found that I was being closely scrutinized, my work was put into question with the argument that my "mind wasn't working right" and therefore my results often deemed erroneous. It even went so far that my medications and doctors were topics of conversation in any hopes that I could convince my adviser that I was doing all that I could and I needed some accommodation for trying to deal with major depression.
Soon, it was time for qualifying exams. When I initially spoke with the chair, I was offered the option to postpone my exam if necessary. My adviser felt differently gave me two options: take the exam as scheduled or leave the university. We settled on taking a medical leave for a semester. It was also around this time that I was awarded a large fellowship to cover the rest of my degree and I was advised to return the money and leave academia. During this time, I researched all possibilities for switching labs and even switching universities but for some reason I decided to stick it out in my former lab.
When I returned, it was evident that my adviser's mind was made and regardless of my progress I was still viewed as not competent to work, even though I felt as though I was. I continued to work and was surprised to find that even though I have a full external fellowship for the duration of my doctoral studies, he would not support me in his lab.
I've teetered for months on taking a master's. I'd be arguably more employable and would probably be much happier. However, I have full funding and I earnestly want to do research. I am unwilling to work excessive hours that sacrifice my ability to see friends and visit with my family. I value having a balanced life.
Eventually, I found a research area that interested me and a new adviser who is overwhelmingly supportive. I know my degree will take longer, but I think I'll be much happier in the end.Thanks to WN for their story.