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Quitting Grad School without a M.S.
July 24, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Should I quit grad school? Or would it be "the worst mistake of my life" as many feel and/or have told me. Should I suck it up/grow up? Or is it as bad as it seems?

I have been wondering for a long time about whether or not quitting my Master's of Biochemistry program is the best decision for me. I am a 23 year old female student.

I had told my PI from the beginning that I wasn’t really sure if this was program for me as I had never had any research experience and I didn’t realize how intensive it would be. My passions lie more closely to physiology, anatomy, and nutrition. My PI always seemed to be decently understanding of the situation though he kept telling me that I would make a great phd and that I would love it. I had the potential to be his best student yet, which is saying something since he has “ridiculous expectations.”

I joined my lab late November last year right after some tragic personal issues had occured. It made me emotional at work for awhile so I decided to let my new PI know what had happened so he'd have an understanding that I really wasn't crying just because PCR happened to not work out my first try. Since I was new to the area and didn't have friends and because I told him about what had happened to me, he decided he was going to be my friend. While it was somewhat nice at first to have a lot of attention from my PI (it was easy to ask him about my project and to get his view on many things etc), things began to get weird when I realized how much time we were having more personal-type conversations. We would talk for maybe 10-20 hours a week in his office about my life growing up and our opinions on different things. I kept mentioning how I thought these conversations were maybe not appropriate for the workplace and that I felt uncomfortable being distracted from my work. He said it was no big deal and that I seemed like I needed to talk to him so he was willing to postpone his duties for my benefit but that maybe we should go out sometime and talk about things away from the workplace.

The first time he asked me out for drinks and dinner I felt extremely awkward and wasn't' sure how to respond. I sat in the lab office for 3 hours trying to figure out whether or not I should go and eventually I told him that I would, after his assurance that this was normal behavior and partially because I felt like I owed him. We only went out twice and it was a little awkward but ok. It was when I started to turn down his offers to go out or to come to his house for games (other members of the lab would be there as well) that things began to get weird. He accused me of manipulating him one time when I didn’t show up for a game day. Granted, I didn’t call him to tell him I wasn’t coming but it was also because I had taken a nap that went too long and because I had 3 finals the upcoming week. I tried to ignore this as his typical somewhat controlling personality and maybe some cultural differences (He is from Eastern Europe).

Eventually, we were going to a convention about an hour away and he insisted that he drive his own car, while a PhD student in our lab drove his own. He then insisted that I come with him, as he needed a conversation companion for the drive, while the rest of the lab rode with the PhD student. I felt so controlled by the situation that I decided to go to the chair about the situation. Things eventually got worked out and we had an understanding that would hopefully help us communicate. That was 2 months ago.

I am now in a situation where I don’t feel like anything has changed. After the meeting with the chair, he put a new project on me which was supposed to be my last project before I could write my master’s thesis. However, 1.5 months into working on it I’ve been told that its more along the lines of a PhD project and that I could maybe turn it into one eventually if I would like. The whole situations just makes me feel manipulated like he’s continually trying to get me to stay and making decisions for me. Especially since he has the reputation of keeping people in his lab way past their intended graduation date. And, while I could attempt to switch labs, I've already decided this isn't a field that I really want to be in so I'd rather not start up something completely new in a field that I really dislike, especially in an area I don't have a support network. (My current lab is more microbiology related whereas all other labs in the dept are more genetics)

There are too many examples to really go into and I’ve already typed too much. Basically, this guy has me thinking that if I were to quit, I would have no future in pretty much anything. I wouldn’t have recommendations or it would be difficult to appeal to either any sort of employment or a future school if I apply (I have some dreams of maybe being a doctor but still uncertain). I can’t shadow/volunteer/explore new possibilities without quitting because my PI wont’ let me alter my hours (I HAVE to be there at least 9-5). If I were to quit, my parents would let me move back home and figure myself out though. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology and Pre-med with a minor in Chemistry and I’ve completed my graduate courses with a 3.8 GPA.

Basically, am I overreacting because I think I’m in a bad situation or due to my dislike of the material that I am studying/researching? How much of this seems normal? Should I stay one more year and get my Master’s? Or should I quit? Will I still be ok if I quit grad school and can’t ask my PI for a letter of recommendation? If you’d like any more information, just ask. This is my first post and any objective advice would be overly fantastic.
posted by anonymous to Education (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Basically, am I overreacting because I think I’m in a bad situation or due to my dislike of the material that I am studying/researching?

Well, only going by what you wrote here, I see you wrote 2 sentences about your dislike of the material and several long paragraphs about the inappropriate and bizarre behaviors of your PI. I totally believe you that you don't like the material but I'm just saying based on that it seems like when you think about what is upsetting you, your focus goes to what the PI is doing. However, I would not say you are "overreacting" at all. The PI sounds like he is creating an extremely stressful and unpleasant environment for you.

Is there any way that you could stay in your program but get completely away from this guy?
posted by cairdeas at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Quit to do what? If you want to do something completely different, quitting won't be "the worst mistake" of your life. I can't tell if it's only the interpersonal dynamics or the subject mater itself that is the problem, and I suspect even you don't know for sure.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2012


And, while I could attempt to switch labs, I've already decided this isn't a field that I really want to be in so I'd rather not start up something completely new in a field that I really dislike, especially in an area I don't have a support network. (My current lab is more microbiology related whereas all other labs in the dept are more genetics)

You need to get out of this guy's lab, period. And if you don't want to be in microbiology, and you don't want to be in genetics either, AND you have a support network which would support you until you make your next step, GO! RUN AWAY FAST!

This isn't quitting grad school, it's getting away from someone you really shouldn't be around at all.

Also, leaving grad school is the best decision I ever made. Go now.

And contact the mods to anonymize this question, because within 2 minutes I was able to figure out exactly what school you're talking about.
posted by The Michael The at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Basically, this guy has me thinking that if I were to quit, I would have no future in pretty much anything

You are only 23. This is patently wrong. Plenty of people begin their careers later in life than this and are fine.

I think it really depends on your goals, which it sounds like you yourself are unsure of. Do you want to be a research scientist or a professor? You mention becoming a doctor--do you need a MS to get into med school? Yes, your PI sounds super-skeezy and I'm not at all surprised that the lab situation is muddying the waters for you, but if at all possible, try to untangle the two issues. Or is your desire to leave completely due to the aforementioned skeeziness of the PI? If I were you, I'd probably hunker down, avoid the PI as much as possible, and make an appointment with a therapist to talk things over.
posted by smirkette at 11:41 AM on July 24, 2012


Basically, this guy has me thinking that if I were to quit, I would have no future in pretty much anything.

Which is gross manipulation, not reality. You still have undergraduate references, after all. Starting over without a letter of recommendation from your PI would be a longer and harder path, but it would not be impossible.

Basically, am I overreacting because I think I’m in a bad situation or due to my dislike of the material that I am studying/researching?

You are in a bad situation. You're not overreacting. It's impossible to tell from the outside whether it's the situation or the material that's the larger problem.

How much of this seems normal?

None of it. I experienced a significant personal loss while I was in graduate school, which affected my ability to do my work. My supervisor suggested that I go to the campus counseling services, modified my thesis schedule to a lighter workload, and helped me apply for an extension. She demonstrated concern without trying to be a surrogate friend and definitely did not engage in any kind of controlling behavior.

Should I stay one more year and get my Master’s? Or should I quit?

It seems like a shame not to finish your Master's program, but that's no reason to stay in a toxic supervisory relationship. Can you finish the program without working with your current PI?

Will I still be ok if I quit grad school and can’t ask my PI for a letter of recommendation?

Yes. You absolutely will be.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I suppose the material question here is: What will you do if you quit?

Finish up whatever it is you're doing currently and speak to your department head about a leave of absence. Site the inappropriate relationship with your PI (which you've already discussed with him/her) and kind of tee it up for a formal complaint.

You've left the door open, should you change your mind, but you don't ever have to go back if you don't want to.

If you dislike the subject and you don't have a good rapport with your PI, and/or your colleagues, then dump the program.

Now, start thinking about what it is you'd like to do. Is it medical school? A masters in another area? Selling all your possessions and following Phish? Whatever it is, do it.

Life is too damn short and your youth should be spent doing stupid, but fun stuff.

Husbunny dropped out of his program ABD, and he was still picked up for a PhD program in a completely different discipline. Smart, academic folks will always be able to get into a program. For the record Husbunny dropped out of that program too. He's happy in the workforce. So there's that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2012


Basically, this guy has me thinking that if I were to quit, I would have no future in pretty much anything. I wouldn’t have recommendations or it would be difficult to appeal to either any sort of employment or a future school if I apply (I have some dreams of maybe being a doctor but still uncertain).

Uh, these are lying lies he is telling you to control you. You absolutely have more options given your background and excellent GPA. He is abusing your trust in him. Get away from him as soon as possible--there's no sunk cost in the time you've put in because he's effectively made his recommendation worthless to you. Having a controlling advisor who tries to isolate you is going to damage your career because people will think you are sleeping with him. You need to start over no matter what, so you may as well start now. You can still get a MS in biology later if that is what you decide you want.

Quit, take time to assess your options, and start over. If you haven't already, make an effort to network with other research groups, just to see what options are out there. Most graduate programs have a program advisor; go talk to him or her. Visit the campus career center. Visit other programs.

To answer your explicit questions: Is it normal to be sexually harassed by your PI? Uh, does it matter?. It's not okay that he's doing this to you. You are not overreacting, and this is not your fault. Yes, you will be fine, even without his recommendation. There are a lot of jobs and programs out there, especially for someone with your interests and credentials. Don't commit to the mill of graduate school just yet; there's plenty of time and opportunity for that if you want it later.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:58 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Basically, this guy has me thinking that if I were to quit, I would have no future in pretty much anything.

Figure out to what extent that's him and the things he says, versus to what extent it might be you and what you're hearing. Other people are quick to criticize your PI, but my personal feeling is that it's really hard to draw conclusions about someone (your PI) based solely on what a third person (you) writes in a short Internet post. So my conservative objective assessment would be that based on your question, it sounds like you have some personal issues you are working through, and it also sounds like—for whatever reason(s)—the dynamic between you and your PI is a poor match.

What we can tell you, definitively, is that if you decide to walk away from your program, and if you do end up regretting that decision as "the worst mistake of [your] life," then you will have lived a pretty goddamn golden-chariot life. I don't mean to sound callous, just honest. Life has some bad stuff it can throw. If you feel that this is or would be rock-bottom, then you lack perspective, both on your field specifically and on your life generally. And if somebody else is knowingly trying to make you feel that way, then that person is a bad mentor or advisor because it shows either that he/she is trying to manipulate you or that he utterly lacks perspective himself.

More specifically, I agree with the second comment in this thread. Your focus seems to be on a single person, and you seem to be extrapolating that problem to the larger context of your entire academic career. I would suggest that you sit down with someone new and give real, hard consideration to brainstorming the question, "If I decide once-and-for-all that I cannot work further with my current PI, what are my options?" Other people at your school, other campuses, other schools, other fields, quitting entirely...consider everything. What exists? Then you'll be in a much better position to get your bearings.
posted by red clover at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


It was trivially easy to figure out who your PI is. Anyway, sounds like your PI acts inappropriately in a way that makes you very uncomfortable. Counting on his recommendation is useless because he can always withhold it in a fit of pique over something else ridiculous. It's like cooperating with a blackmail.

Since you don't want to switch labs to the other available choices (a perfectly rational decision given your explanation), I think you should quit. "Worst mistake of your life?" Hardly. You can always go back to grad school somewhere else (somewhere better) later.

Your university has a student ombudsman that you can talk to if you want in-person advice. You may also find it helpful to talk to officers of the graduate student assembly.
posted by grouse at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your situation in your current lab is an absolute toxic nightmare from hell that you need to get out of immediately. Please please please make this your top priority and do whatever you can to get out NOW. Your PI is indeed manipulating you, being totally unprofessional, and you need to get away from it.

In a situation like yours, it's really hard to know whether you hate research and shouldn't be in grad school, or whether you just hate grad school because your crazy-ass advisor is ruining your life. The best way to tell is to switch into a different lab that isn't a toxic waste dump and see if you like things better there. But you don't have to put in the time to try that if you don't want to. You will be absolutely fine if you just quit, regroup, and figure out what you want to do next. Getting a good recommendation from your advisor is not at all necessary, it's not even that useful except for research jobs.
posted by medusa at 12:10 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know much about the ins and outs of advanced degrees or how much a PI's recommendation is worth, so I will stick to the sexual harrassment issue in this response.

The first fact to face is that you are not going to get a good recommendation unless you sleep with your PI. He's one of those creeps who puts on a good act, but the more you learn the slimier you'll discover he is.

In your shoes, the first thing I would do is document everything relating to his sexual harassment. Get witnesses, print e-mails, etc.

Then I would consult a lawyer. I would have the lawyer go to your school and explain to the chairman that you plan to quit the program you are currently in because of the sexual harassment of your PI. Therefore, your school's inability to protect you from a predatory employee has cost you X dollars, where X is the amount of money you have spent on this degree to date. Either they can refund you this money (either in cash or by letting you take classes towards another degree for free) or you will slap them with a lawsuit for that amount plus court costs and punitive damages.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:10 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The OP had a full scholarship. I am doubtful that you would get some sort of good outcome by getting a lawyer, but you'll have to ask a qualified lawyer to be sure.
posted by grouse at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2012


Basically, am I overreacting because I think I’m in a bad situation or due to my dislike of the material that I am studying/researching?
No, you're not overreacting. Inappropriate interactions aside, research-wise, communication-wise, goal-wise you and your PI are a poor match and are not on the same page.

How much of this seems normal?
This doesn't match my grad experience at all, nor that of anyone I know so not normal to me... but you don't need a ton of reasons to quit if that's what you want to do. It doesn't sound like you want to be in this program - do you want to be in this field? Do you want to be at a different school? How else could you pursue this potential dream of being a doctor? Before you quit, you need to figure out what you do want to do. Does your university have a counseling center, a career center -- seek out the support they provide.

Should I stay one more year and get my Master’s? Or should I quit? Will I still be ok if I quit grad school and can’t ask my PI for a letter of recommendation?
I quit, but with my MA. I've successfuly gotten into other, comparable PhD programs without my advisor's recommendation, and I came from a top school and I'm employable. So it's not the end of the world - I'm not working in my academic field at all, but I could still sell the skills (research, writing) and so can you.

But don't just quit thinking that life will magically improve. You need a plan. The reason that I suggest at least starting to figure this out before quitting is because you need not burn every bridge and sit at your parents' for months trying to pick up the pieces -- that's depressing. You will probably feel better if you are proactive and controlling your life.
posted by sm1tten at 12:20 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are not overreacting. Your PI's behavior is clearly sexual harassment and totally inappropriate. It sound like it is time to take this to someone outside the department. Every university has an office for these types of issues. I don't know if it would come under Academic Affairs or what, but if you approach one of those administrative offices, you will be pointed in the right direction.

You won't ruin your life if you quit (or temporarily withdraw, if that is an option), but it sounds like your desire to quit is mostly motivated by your PI's harassment, not because you no longer are interested in pursuing this career path. You have a right to your education and you have a right to feel safe and supported, not pressured and controlled. Your university should be able to make this a far better situation for you, but if nothing truly changes, even after going above your Chair's head, could you possibly transfer into another program? I know it's off-cycle for admission, so I think that would look something like temporarily withdrawing from your program, applying to other programs, and doing something else while waiting for the admission decisions. True, a break like that would mean it would take longer to get your MA and possibly pursue your PhD, but it just might provide the breathing space you need to evaluate your options calmly, over time, rather than rushing into a decision while you are under all this pressure and dealing with this distressing situation. I'm not sure how common or feasible that is in your field, but it's something I would strongly consider. Regardless of what other people think, make the decisions that is best for you, and good luck!
posted by katemcd at 12:37 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Go see a counsellor or harassment advisor or human rights advisor at your university. Your student union might also have someone who can help or there may be a legal clinic. Ask them about help with what seems like sexual harassment. There are many layers to your problem. 1. How to get away from this guy. 2. How to get away from his lab. 3. Whether to stay in the program. 4. Whether to transfer to another program (at this or another school). 5. Whether to do a masters. Other than #1 and #2, the other decisions can be made *after*. Right now, you need to take steps to get yourself feeling safe. Your PI should not be putting you in this situation. Once you've figured out how to handle this guy, you may find that your feelings about everything else shift.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:51 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nthing that this is harrassment. I'm not going to track down your program, but if they have a reasonably substantive graduate program structure, there may be a process for reporting the situation such that (a) the PI will be monitored (hopefully with other students too!) and (b) your departure, whether to another lab or another program, will be made as painless as possible. You say that you talked to the chair, but nobody yanked you the heck out of there, so perhaps that wasn't the right outlet -- is there somebody whose primary responsibility is to the student population instead? At minimum, they might put a supporting statement in your file for later. It's even possible that you could, say, take the qualifying exams and be granted a Master's Degree without finishing a thesis, depending on your school's policies.

I did a Ph.D. in a biological field, and I think that you wouldn't be set way back if you got out now -- you have undergrad recommendations, and also those from your graduate school classes. You can explain that you decided to change fields, or that you had a toxic advisor problem with no fallback match, blah blah. The degree to which an explanation would even be needed would depend on where you were headed next -- i.e., a med school might not really care, and another grad school might be sympathetic to your issues, etc., especially if changing fields.

Totally sorry for your situation, and hoping you find a good direction for escape soon!
posted by acm at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2012


You must:

1. Get this question anonymized.
2. Get help from your school's counseling office or office of equal opportunity or whatever it's called where you are. Bring a timeline (similar to what you have above, but with more dates and names) when you go to the appointment.

BTW, it doesn't matter if it's "normal;" it's wrong and you shouldn't put up with it.
posted by SMPA at 12:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am in medicine and I have sat on admissions committees.

Ideally, you'd want to have a letter of rec from your PI, but it's absolutely not a deal breaker. Second best would be a positive letter from someone else in your program who is not your PI. If there is absolutely no one you have worked with in your program who can give you a positive letter of rec, that's a drawback, but again, not a deal breaker. People understand that sometimes graduate programs get started and it turns out not to be the thing for you, for many possible reasons.

In the admissions committee, this is what I suspect would happen:
"She was in a graduate program, and I notice she did not complete the program and doesn't have a letter from the PI she worked with. That might be a red flag."
"She does have glowing letters from all her other work, though." or "She does have this great letter from someone else in her lab, though, maybe she and the PI just didn't get along."
"The rest of her application looks stellar - we can ask her what happened in the master's program in her interview."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even without what looks like sexual harrassment, you were never that enthused about this but your PI was pressuring you because he thinks you could be his best student yet. Get the hell away from this man. What you want and need is of zero interest to this man. This is either about his professional ego ("my best student") or some weird sexual/emotional/personal thing or both. No good can come of it.
posted by Michele in California at 1:02 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


you were never that enthused about this but your PI was pressuring you because he thinks you could be his best student yet. Get the hell away from this man.

Yes, and the detail the OP gave about it makes it sound like one of the classic things that manipulative people will say to you.

I had the potential to be his best student yet, which is saying something since he has “ridiculous expectations.”

I think PUAs actually have a term for this tactic. Making the girl "qualify" herself, I think they call it. You will feel pressured to do things you don't really want to do because he gets you worried about measuring up to his "ridiculous expectations" and living up to being his "best student yet." And then, if you don't, as with the games night, he can then say that you manipulated or tricked him in some way.

It is unbelievable that these people can still flourish in academia and get away to this extent with sexual harassment of students in their young 20's.
posted by cairdeas at 1:13 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't have a comment on the overall situation you are in (other people seem to have that covered), but I can tell you that I dropped out of grad school 14 years ago and have never regretted the decision for a moment. I leave it off my CV and no one asks about it.
posted by looli at 1:32 PM on July 24, 2012


Totally agree that your PI's behavior is completely inappropriate, and likely violates several of your university's policies.

Whatever you do, do not think that you are jeopardizing your future, either in academia or outside of it. Even if you do leave, at 23 there are plenty of opportunities out there for you. I didn't even enter grad school until 25, and left without completing after 6 years. I then started a career in an entirely different field. Life will take you in a lot of different directions, but right now your priority is getting yourself to a place where you are not being manipulated by someone with institutional power over you. After that, you should find that many other decisions will become a whole lot clearer to you.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:05 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think what happened is that you tried something and found out you don't like it. You're passions are elsewhere, and you will find yourself happier when you are pursuing your passions.

My sister applied to MBA school just after her divorce. She got in, accepted, and then immediately freaked out. She wasn't ready. So she ended up declining the offer and reapplied the next year. Now she's a successful business woman living her dream in Switzerland.

If you take a moment to pretend that you've quit your program, how do you feel? Pay attention if you feel of ruch of freedom and joy.
posted by huckit at 3:43 PM on July 24, 2012


I quit graduate school in molecular genetics. I didn't like molecular genetics; I wanted to study ecology. Moving labs was the only option I saw, so I moved to a new university, and started back at the bottom. It was a mistake for me, as I felt so demoted, plus my new advisor was a rat. The first advisor had been a different kind of rat. I left the second program too, worked at a dot-com during the end of the heyday, and then went to law school. Loooooooved it. Never ever looked back. Once I found what I loved, the experience I had in grad school became life experience, and has been very pleasant to look back on. But I'm sure glad I'm not still living that life.

You're 23. Your life will not be over if you leave, and you will be delighted at how much stress goes away once you're somewhere else, even if it takes you a few years to figure out where to go next.
posted by Capri at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is thunderingly obvious that this is sexual harassment. You have taken it to the chair and received no meaningful support. Next step is to lawyer up, no messing around.

But also, yes, feel free to quit. It doesn't look like you'll get anything out of a program that's run by and for harassers. There is, as has been pointed out, no reason to expect he'd give you a good recommendation, he can effectively say whatever he feels like saying about you (legal urban legends aside), including that you're "manipulative".

He has no business requiring you to incorporate him into your personal time, nor to require you to get into a car with him, which is just scary. He brazenly exploited your personal tragedy, as well as your youth and inexperience, to make you feel complicit in his exploitation of your emotions. He is clearly planning to require you to sleep with him, though even if this were purely emotional and about him getting his kicks controlling you, that would be just as bad.

People like this always make out that pleasing them is the only way you can survive. In most cases that's not true. Even if he gave you the worst recommendation in the world you could recover from that, acknowledging that it might take time and be costly (and you'll learn good lessons even from that). There's always another program, always another PI. There is rarely anything to be gained from staying in toxic situations, which by definition take away more than they give.

Run, Bambi, run. Run like the wind, my friend.
posted by tel3path at 3:53 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, I'm a career counselor at a university that also serves graduate students, like yourself.

We have several health sciences (life sciences, school of medicine, etc.) programs, like the one you are in.

If someone, like you, came into my office for a counseling appointment presenting with a problem of "needing to find other career options", and laid out a story like you just did, I'd:

Send you to student health for a counseling appointment.

Tell you about the role of our ombuds office, where you can have a confidential conversation about what meets the definition of sexual harassment, and can explore your options.

Have a conversation about how students positively frame their experience of leaving a life sciences program in their application material (if they included it at all) and successfully got into our medical school. (Even when they didn't have their PI's recommendation. It's easy, actually. You get letters either from faculty in the sciences classes you took, or will take to pass pre-reqs, if any are outstanding for you.

Let you know that it is your option to go, and we can discuss how you can explore career options, just in case you weren't sure medical school was definitely what you wanted to do).

I'm pretty sure your career counseling services can do that as well for you. Many universities actually now have graduate career counselors. Yours may as well (I don't know your institution). I hope so.

The point is, please reach out to your community - student health, etc. - for support - even if you're leaving, it seems clear that this toxic PI's got you so scrambled you don't know if you're coming, or going, or that it was okay for you to leave yesterday. You don't have to do anything about him - that's not your responsibility. You just need to take care of yourself. If this was a degree you were interested in pursing, I'd say switch labs. If it was not toxic, I'd say stay there while you explore other career options. But it's toxic, and I believe you when you say you aren't interested in the science in the other labs. It's okay to leave. It is so okay to leave, in terms of your future personal and professional wellbeing, you really just wouldn't believe it.
posted by anitanita at 3:54 PM on July 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


A master's degree is valuable and you've already put in a year of time. It would be a shame for you to give up future earnings potential (b/c you really don't know where life will take you and a Master's could indeed open doors)... because some guy harassed you. Sadly, I think that's a choice that I could see a woman making sooner than I could see a man making the same choice.

If I were you, I'd simply get the ombuds office to intervene to facilitate switching you to a new lab. Coast through the next year and get out with the degree. It would be a real shame to be bullied into not getting a degree, and your education being derailed.

It would be one thing if you really hated the subject matter, but it sounds like you're just lukewarm about it. It would be better to stick through one more year of it, and if you can get into a new lab, you might actually have a positive and enriching experience. Don't let some douchebag derail your education and earnings potential.
posted by kellybird at 5:23 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agree with kellybird. This weird bully PI is not your whole school, not the whole Master's program, not the whole world of graduate study in biochem. He's just one guy in a lab. It's not the end of the world to drop out of graduate school, but if switching labs and doing one more year of work will get you the degree, and if you would be ok with doing that if it weren't for your PI, then don't let him be the reason you drop out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:43 PM on July 24, 2012


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