First of all, I need to apologize for another PhD quitting tread. I’ve been reading tons and tons of similar posts over the past few months but nevertheless my story is quite different and not just another 2nd year blues. I’d very appreciate your suggestions and opinions. It is not going to be short but you might find it interesting anyway 🙂

Unlike many other people who go very straight up with their education, my path was very curvy and unpredictable: I am from a eastern European (non-EU) country where I began studying medicine at the age of 16 (right after 10 years of school). 6 years later I graduated with an MD in Preventive Medicine and Public Health. This was followed by a year of professional specialization in Epidemiology that I did in the same medical school. My diploma project was related to some specific infectious diseaseses. After I finished and became a Doctor of Epidemiology, I was still unsure if I really want to stay in epidemiology but I knew I want to continue with infectious diseases. At the same time I felt a huge urge to get out of the country and experience something new as well as challenge myself. That actual feeling of proving myself was the engine that drove me further and further later on. So, I set to find an internship somewhere working with those infectious diseases. It happened that I found a place in the prestigious university of one of the Middle Eastern countries. This internship was a lab-based research.. It was new and exciting. I saved some money, got a small scholarship and went for this adventure. I jumped into unknown world of biomedical research and academic lifestyle. It was not easy but I needed to prove myself that I can do it. I worked hard and was very interested to study everything I could in that lab. Initially planned 5 months became more that 1.5 years of at some point paid internship. I worked on the applied projects and I liked it as it was clear to me why I am doing it and what’s the goal of it. My PI appreciated my courage and dedication and as I was involved in many projects – I became a co-author of several papers. That experience convinced me that molecular biology and science are the things I want to do as it was interesting to discover so many things medical students are never taught. So, I decided to study molecular biology and I needed a new challenge. Europe seemed like a next step.

I applied for several universities and got accepted for MSc in molecular biology in a old and well known university of a rich European country. That was super hard-core and unexpected experience. The program was international and very very competitive. The work load was super high and things were extremely difficult. I was sitting on the lectures and panicking, as I could not understand what they are about. There was no language barrier. There were years of BSc in biology that I did not have… Nevertheless, I locked myself in the library and managed to stick to it despite enormous stress and anxiety. I passed all the exams with good grades and got very confident and proud of myself. I was very interested and really liked most of what I studied, so I guess it was the driving force. For my Msc thesis, I wanted to stay in the same area of infectious diseases, but there were no such labs in that university. I was searching for a lab worldwide doing this kind of research, sending lots and lots of emails and eventually I found a place in a lab in a good University of another even richer and more prestigious European country. More importantly the proposed project was in line with experiences in the Middle Eastern University so I was happy to continue doing applied research in that area. I had to arrange all the formalities and organize that external Msc thesis. Did that. Went on- spent 9 months working on the MSc thesis. Really liked that subject and technology I worked with. This work got even published and I am co-first author there. I wanted to stay in that area and do more applied projects and grow in that narrow field that would allow me to become an expert in that applied area of that disease. Asked the PI in that lab to stay as a PhD and told him that I want to continue working on the same applied topic. He agreed. However, when I started the PhD he convinced me that it’s not gonna be a good topic and talked me to accept a very vagus idea of a basic research that I was supposed to develop into something. I was not very sure, confused, very reluctant, but decided to try doing basic reasearch as I trusted my adviser and….. That was a beginning of a big mistake.

I am now 2 years into my PhD. The project got stuck and I have very little data on it. I tried hard to make some progress but faced tons of failed experiments. Than one day my PI came to me and said “ok, this stuff is not working, try that one” and gave another vague topic that I was not interested at all. It was so random, even more random that the initial idea. This together with the toxic environment in the lab led to a complete burn out. I have never felt that bad in my life. Anxiety and panic attacks and also realization that during last 7 years I was chasing a career dream I do not want to do anymore. I lost all the confidence and literally hate going to the lab and doing experiments. And because of that- I procrastinate a lot and do very little and even these things do not work. My PI is a very nice guy and he is trying to help but I am so mad at myself that I bought his argument in the beginning of my Phd and did not search for other options. I’ve lost all the motivation to continue doing this and realized that it is not he right path for me and I do not want to do research anymore at all. Moreover I see that those who finish struggle to find a job outside of academia anf those who manage – mostly go into pharma. I could’ve gone there 7 years ago, right after the medical school. In fact some of my friends did that and now have progressed in their carriers very high and they do not have a Phd.

All these years I was driven by the idea to prove myself I can go up higher and higher. And I know that I can- I just don’t see the point anymore. I feel like wasting another 2 years of doing something I do not like would be even more hurtful that quitting after 2years of PhD. I do not regret the master I did but regret starting the PhD without giving it a good thought (well, as many I suppose). My adviser will retire in 2 years, so I need to come up with a thesis on the subject I am not interested in almost no time. Moreover the environment in the lab became very toxic. All the people who were there during my MSc thesis left and the new ones are busy playing politics and fighting. I’m turning 30 in 6 months. If I quit it now- I would regret, if I do not quit- I will be miserable and extremely unhappy. And then finish (if) at 32 to start a new career again… This alone makes me extremely stressed.

On a good site – I realized that I’m quite good at presenting and teaching and I enjoy solving logical problems and thinking as well as talking about science and communicating with people in general. Lab work can be very isolating and depressing. So, I am trying to see if I can apply for some position in pharma, such as medical affairs but of course unfinished PhD is a shitty stain on my quite interesting and overall successful CV. I know that dropping out would ruin it but I feel completely drained and out of energy to continue doing this as this PhD has became something I never wanted to do and now I am stuck thinking what to do with it and with my life. I did not mention all the high expectations of my family and friends and that they would be disappointed. It is also ruining my relationship and I need to change something not to go crazy again. All these years I needed to challenge myself and prove that I CAN go one step higher. Now I know that I probably can do it, it is just so pointless and unpleasant.

I am sorry for such a long text. My question is: Shall I stay and do what my adviser pushes me to do without any passion and desire but hoping to get the title? I am not sure that I really need it as I will be MD, MSc and PhD with various backgrounds but almost no real work experience. Or shall I drop now and start searching for a new role (most likely in medical affairs of pharma or science communication). In the later case I’d be forced to leave EU. Thank you for your answers.

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