Should I Quit Grad School?

should you quit graduate school if

you're thinking about it stick around

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what's up everybody my name is dr. J

Phoenix Singh and I want to welcome you

to this special edition of navigating

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the social media accounts below so today

we're going to be talking about one of

the most serious things that you may

ever have thought of in your life which

is whether or not you should stop your

graduate school journey and pursue a

different path in life this is something

where we've all been there we have all

felt helpless and hopeless and

frustrated and almost like we're

wandering aimlessly in the wilderness

when it comes to doing our doctoral

project and writing up our doctoral

dissertation it is a lengthy process you

by the time that you get to the end of

it we'll have pivoted so many times in

terms of the topic area that you're

focusing on your exact project probably

your relationship with other people in

your doctoral cohort with your

supervisor with your department maybe

with the University at large where you

are it is a long and winding road as

they say and it can be one that has so

many obstacles along the way that you

may be thinking that this just isn't for

you I can tell you from my personal

experience in terms of when I was doing

my first doctorate I definitely had

these thoughts

doing a doctorate is unlike anything

that you will do in your entire life it

is a personal and academic Mount Everest

everything that you learned in your

undergraduate studies or even in master

studies will apply to such a small

extent that you may even forgot that you

went through those studies in the first


it is truly a different beast it is a it

serves a gatekeeping function unlike

anything else you have to prove yourself

in a way that I have found after you

actually get the doctorate no one puts

that much pressure on you there's still

a lot of it but nothing like for your

doctoral project the reason I say that

is again that gatekeeping function right

and the stress that you can feel because

of that can really take a toll on you I

want you to remember as we start this

conversation that people are going to

judge you no matter what you do in life

and this puts a lot of pressure on you

from family and friends and your cohort

and your university but more than

anything pressure that we have placed on

ourselves in terms of what we expect

from our life all of us during our

adolescent years and usually you know

these days people talk about adolescents

going all the way up to your late 20s

and most doctorates they start in their

20s or in their 30s I obviously have a

lot of friends who did their doctorates

when they were older my one friend his

name's pal he got his doctorate in his

mid-70s so pal I love you to death if

you're watching I have so much respect

for you it can be a situation where

adolescence reaches all the way up until

your late 20s this is what people

believe now it used to be believed okay

you're 18 you're done or you're 21

you're done and you know the cognitive

neuroscience literature to suggest that

you know it's much more complex than we

initially thought but during your teen

years what happens is that there's a

part of your brain and it's in between

kind of your eyes here it's literally

right here if you want to sound fancy at

a party just say dorsolateral prefrontal

cortex or DL PFC I

everybody will think that you're a super

nerd which I am so that totally works

for me but you can also expect that

usually people are just not gonna want

to talk to you anymore

but this is ingest but it's something

where this part of the brain starts to

experience something called myelin in

myelin ization and myelin ization is the

process by which remember from high

school biology a neuron kind of looks

like a spider well remember there's a

part called the axon this is kind of the

tail well all these fat cells start

coming and wrapping themselves around

the axon and what this results in

practically speaking is certain signals

that were always there in your brain all

of a sudden become crystal clear think

about it like going from low resolution

to high resolution or like high def TV

all of a sudden just got installed in

your house you know you always had the

coaxial cable ports to be able to make

it happen but all of a sudden now oh my

goodness you actually have access to

these really strong and clear signals

and one of the effects of that during

your teen years is something that's

referred to as the imaginary audience

meaning that you know we have this

belief that everybody's looking at us

and judging us so for example I'm sure

you'll remember some something in your

high school experience for me it was the

first time my freshman year in high

school when I tripped in a hallway and

fell down it's nobody cared nobody

talked about her said anything but I was

just incredibly embarrassed at this

whole thing I felt that everybody was

looking at me and judging me we've all

been there right same thing with a

second thing that happens due to this

myelin ization which is referred to as

the personal fable and the personal

fable has to do with us believing that

we are the protagonist in our own movie

basically and this is the movie of our

life all of us have the story of our

life and during our teen years it's as

if we have it planned out right we know

what's gonna happen so for example you

know I know that you know I'm gonna get

into the university that I want for

undergrad I know that you know I'm

can have children until I'm 25 10

another time I know that I'm not gonna

get into a car accident that's just not

part of my story and this can be really

dangerous because you know it dis

inhibits us to do things that we

wouldn't otherwise do for example you

know like texting and driving right so

many of the preponderance of teenage and

early 2010 --ts I have something to do

with texting right it's really dangerous

so please don't text and drive but what

happens is that people you know they

don't think about that because they say

that's not part of my story other people

text and drive and when they do that

they're done right but not me because

that's not part of my story other people

have you know sex and they you know

that's unprotected and you know end up

you know the woman gets pregnant but not

me that's not my story and what happens

is that oftentimes this extends to us

doing our doctrine saying this is a key

part of my life I always planned on this

being the story of my life and all of a

sudden the idea of stopping that story

throws us into an internal state of

chaos and oftentimes what can happen is

what's called cognitive dissonance which

is us rationalizing our behavior even if

it's hurting us so for example saying oh

man like I don't know why I'm doing this

doctrine well why would I be doing this

doctrine when I'm in so much pain and I

don't like it so much instead of that

and the easiest way to for us to

rationalize is to say well this must be

incredibly important this must be the

goal of my whole life it must be the

number one thing that will ever happen

to me and so we end up throwing

ourselves into it even more deeply and

so you know these things are all at play

all of these defense mechanisms all of

you know these these different

biological neurological changes that are

happening to us during adolescence which

again can extend up until our late 20s

where we still have that kind of

plasticity in terms of brain development

etc but in this all of it guys the

reason why I mention all of this is just

to understand the concept that we put

pressure on our

and we do this because this was supposed

to be part of if not the exclamation

point of our lives to date and the idea

of stopping can simultaneously be

liberating and absolutely terrifying and

this video is not made to be able to

tell you to quit graduate school it's

not the goal is though is to be able to

identify that there are certain classes

of issues and we're going to be

discussing three of them that you should

take into consideration if you're

thinking about is this really for me or

not so let's jump right in with class

number one and this is having very

significant health issues this is if

your physical health or your mental

health is being impacted to the point

where your quality of life is

essentially zero so your physical health

this could be dramatic weight gain or

dramatic weight loss I experienced

dramatic weight gain during my doctoral

studies I wasn't taking care of myself

wasn't dieting and exercising etc right

so that wasn't great and it's something

else which is luckily I didn't have

problems with but I know a lot of

graduate students who do is that

literally their hygiene will fall away

I had a friend when I was in grad school

who literally stopped brushing his teeth

he stopped doing laundry you know

instead of you know doing dishes and

using cutlery he would go to the store

and get you know like all the paper or

stuff you know like paper plates and

paper bowls and you know he would get

cutlery that looked like real cutlery

but it was plastic and I remember going

to his apartment cuz he was not in my

cohort he was in a different department

doing a different doctor in a different

subject but we ended up becoming buddies

through church so I would go and see him

and his place just smelled terrible and

you could tell that he just didn't care

at all everything was falling apart

because at the end of the day he had so

much focus on on finishing that

doctorate now he did end up finishing

and luckily he's doing great now right

he really is so he's a professor now

associate professor at university which

is very well respected but I just

remember these things happening to him

the second piece here is mental health

if it is something where you were

experiencing such severe depression such

that you have suicidal ideation you're

thinking about taking your own life this

is something where you need to seek help

you need to speak to someone and it is

not because you are weak or because

you're not as strong as somebody else

doing a doctrine and your cohort let's

say this is not the case it is such a

sign of strength to be able to go and

seek help it is something that at the

end of the day can provide that support

and that protective factor that buffer

against all the risk factors that you

usually see when you're doing a

doctorate it is critical that you go and

talk to someone a severe depression

severe anxiety anything where not only

your mental health is being impacted but

obviously in terms of depression and

anxiety which are ridiculously high

prevalence and graduate students

internationally these can have various

you know serious physical biological

consequences so these things are really

wrapped up in one another now I can tell

you that having a significant amount of

stress lack of sleep these sorts of

things is pretty normal when it comes to

doctorates so again it's something

though where you shouldn't think that

just because there's a high prevalence

that this is you know it's something

where you are weak or there's something

wrong with you or that it's not

justification for you to if nothing else

consider alternatives and you know if

you're feeling this way guys I am just

so sorry I know what it's like to be in

these circumstances I know how difficult

it can be and that if you're watching

this video it may be that you know

you're considering leaving your field

and I want you to understand that you

are not alone in this and so many people

have been through it and they've

succeeded and so many people have been

through it and have decided to leave and

gone on to do phenomenal things you are

not a loser you're not a failure if you

choose to make that decision if it's in

your best interest in terms of your


class number two of things to consider

is family issues let's say that you get

into the program and you have a partner

right you have someone who that you love

and this is your your life partner your

wife your husband whatever the the case

may be but you have someone who you've

developed this very tight bond with and

the reason I say you've come into the

program with it is because this is the

case where oftentimes relationship that

start during the doctorate in terms of

actually making the serious commitment

of marriage etc that usually happens

when the doctorate is done not always

obviously I have many friends who ended

up not only getting into relationships

but getting married during their

programs but I have found that largely

that's the exception rather than the

rule just my experience but having a

partner you know getting into this and

having them support you and use

supporting them it can end up being very

frustrating for them seeing you not only

go through all this stress but it's very

understandable that you're going to not

be able to emotionally be as present as

you may otherwise be let alone

physically present and that's something

to have a very serious conversation with

them about before even starting the

program and making sure the

communication is very open so they

understand what you're going through as

the process continues it can be very

trying a very difficult situation for

partners who have not been through these

kinds of studies themselves to really

get what you're going through and that

can be very very frustrating for you as

well as for them and of course it gets

even more complicated if and when you

have children during this time period

where you obviously want to make sure

that they have a very healthy attachment

to you and that you're physically

present and again emotionally present

and if you split find that you're

spending so little time you're running

out of money to be able to support them

if that is your role if that secure

attachment is not forming with your

child and if you are unable to meet the

love languages of your partner this is

something where you really need to take

a step back and think about the prior

in your life because there is nothing

more important in this life than your

family let alone your children so this

is a class of issues to really be

thinking about and all I'm trying to do

here is to be able to provide you with

the general structure of things to

consider not to say that just because

maybe you've had a few more arguments

with your partner or that instead of

going to every soccer game with your kid

oh you're only going to every third

soccer game but that you should you know

leave your program all I'm saying is

that in terms of a structure for you to

think about these issues this this is a

really important one

number three is if you're having career

issues and what I mean here is that

maybe you're just no longer passionate

about this career maybe you've been

exposed to certain things in the career

where you say this is totally different

than what I thought it was going to be

and I just don't agree with what's

happening in this field or the

individuals you know who are in the

field have a very rigid structure that's

gonna make it near impossible for me to

be able to have upward mobility or it's

a field that's kind of on its way out

I've had several colleagues where that

that has happened during the course of

their doctorate these fields can change

very rapidly in certain cases as

literature's build and certain things

that were once in vogue stopped being in

vogue the second of course is that if

you have a compelling alternative

opportunity I went to graduate school

with someone who was incredibly talented

and so smart and during her doctorate

she got a job opportunity from a leading

consultancy company that was going to

pay her six figures had such a

supportive mentor and boss it would give

her the opportunity to travel which was

so important for her and where she would

be able to still operate within the

discipline but from a different

perspective than an academic one and she

took the opportunity it's now been

almost a decade and she's still with

that group and she has had a phenomenal

life she would not have had that

opportunity if she had not made that

very difficult decision to say you know

what this is much more alluring and has

a lot more promise of a healthy and

happy future for me than staying in the

graduate program so if you have a an

opportunity that is too good to pass up

you should simply use that as one piece

of evidence in terms of your

consideration process number three in

terms of career issues is if it is

getting to the point where it is simply

taking too long to justify your

continuing in the field so our four with

the doctorate rather not in the fuel

what I mean by this is I have friends

who've been doing their doctorate for

over 12 years now

Sam doctorate barely getting paid


they've got side hustles they're driving

for uber for lyft to be able to make

ends meet they've got two roommates

they've got no social life whatsoever

they're certainly not in relationships

all they do is their doctoral projects

and there's really no sign of anything

letting up and this can be incredibly

frustrating and it is the case where if

you have really never been in the real

world as it is it can get to the point

where you just need to kind of cut your

losses and this can be a really

difficult thing to think about but if

you're going for you know 12 15 I had

one colleague 20 years doing the

doctorate which seems impossible but

they had a lot of stuff kind of going on

I don't know why the program didn't

essentially cut them after that period

of time which is ludicrous

but they ended up getting lawyers

involved to make sure that they didn't

kind of you know end up getting kicked

out etc they were you know an abd all

but dissertation and oftentimes when

that happens you know they'll just

essentially let a linger or almost you

know permanently and you know without

charging you know any additional fees to

that graduate student and just assuming

that it's never going to happen so so

this is a situation where you really

need to think about if it is taking you

know such an absurdly long time to do

the doctorate isn't something where to

be able to to get out and be able to

explore opportunities other than this

may be a wise decision for you alright

everyone thank you so much for watching

I want to hear from you in the comments

below are you thinking about quitting

your program

why and have you sought out advice on

making the decision and what have other

people been telling you what have they

been communicating with you remember not

to jump to conclusions especially

emotional decision-making is not a good


don't make life-altering decisions

without a considerable amount of

forethought and communication with the

people in your life especially your

doctoral supervisor if you have that

healthy kind of a relationship and if

not there of course will be people at

your university who are independent who

serve this kind of counseling function

that you can speak with I personally

decide to be able to stick with my

graduate studies despite hardship

everything obviously ended up working

out great

but I can tell you that there were days

where it was really tough it was really

hard and not making those emotional

decisions not jumping off the boat ended

up being good decision for me but I can

tell you that my career even after the

doctorate has taken so many pivots and

you got to be ready for those pivots and

get off that personal of this sense of

having this personal fable that your

life is going to be exactly what you

thought you got to get on that magic

carpet of life and just be open and

flexible and really have that sense of

mindfulness to be able to be present in

your life because you will end up

finding it to be so much more rewarding

than to be rigid in terms of your

thinking everyone I appreciate you don't

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website below all right everyone I'm

signing off have a great day and

remember to get out there take chances

and always be your best self thank you

so much for stopping by everyone it's a

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