withdrawing from MD/PhD to just pursue MD

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  • #147191
    mommymousemommymouse
    Participant

    I’m an MD/PhD student ~2.5 years into lab and have just formally initiated the process of withdrawing from the PhD portion to return to the wards in the summer. While I’ve considered doing this for a while, and truly think that this is ultimately the right decision for me, I’m feeling deeply sad and guilty right now and just wondering if there’s anyone who has been through a similar process. When did you leave the lab? What were your reasons? How did you feel immediately afterward and how did that change over time? Did your decision affect your residency options? Did you ever stop feeling guilty over your decision??

    Ultimately it has come down to me slowly realizing that my heart was not in research to the extent it needs to be. A variety of life circumstances (becoming a mother early on in grad school, husband suddenly becoming unexplainably and chronically ill since last summer, concerns about health and safety of other close family members), combined with my own avoidance of perceived confrontations, led me to put off making this decision even though I’ve honestly felt out of place career-wise for about the past 1-1.5 years. In lab, I had been struggling with the open-endedness of my projects (while uncertainty can be part of the intrigue for many in science, it has only increased my stress levels), lack of direction from my mentor, and an overall project that feels somewhat tangential to my lab’s main aims (thus difficult to garner the practical support to carry it through and to find common ground with other lab members). Much of this is on me – as a newly minted grad student when I joined the lab, I was “up for anything” and didn’t have the clearest sense of what I wanted either, so that also contributed to some of the vagaries in how I’ve been guided by my mentor. Ultimately as I have tried to mold my project in a more defined direction too many things have felt like uphill battles (grant writing to try to obtain a fellowship, paper writing, and troubleshooting experiments by myself), and I realized that I’m not enjoying any aspects of the process anymore, that it was overall draining to me in and of itself, aside from other life stresses which were also draining me. This became much clearer to me as I began doing a clinic rotation once per week starting last summer, and realized how much I loved working with patients, much more so than I thought I would, and also that I was feeling a sense of thriving in this more structured setting. Even though this rotation adds 5 hours at the end of day in lab, I would feel more energized and motivated when I got back home, than I do on typical lab days.

    So today I spoke with my program director who was incredibly supportive and understanding of my decision. I didn’t even need to explain myself (well, I had stopped by a few weeks ago to let him know about feelings of burnout and some of their sources, just so it wouldn’t be a total surprise if I needed to come back with this request). Then I went back to speak with my mentor… That was a much harder conversation. He was disappointed, as he was not aware I was thinking of leaving and at one point said he thought he had failed me. I felt so horrible to hear this! Perhaps in some sense, had I been in a different and more structured environment, this path might have worked out better for me. While it has been a struggle eliciting useful feedback from him, I know I have not always been the most assertive person either, and while it felt obvious to me that I was struggling, it apparently has not been as obvious to him. Overall, I tried to communicate with my mentor that I am grateful for the opportunities and that these years have not been a waste, which are all true, even though this has been a hard process for me. Personally, I do think I may come back to research at some point but it is more likely to spring organically from problems I identify in clinic rather than from fishing for them in lab.

    It’s going to be an awkward few weeks as I go about alerting the people who need to sign my withdrawal form, and wrapping things up in lab, but I think the process is necessary and I truly don’t think I could have gone on as I was previously. Right now everything is a bit raw, and based on my meeting with my mentor (no bridges burned, but clearly I made him sad) I am feeling really emotional. Hoping it gets better soon.

    #147193
    sahmdsahmd
    Participant

    I have not been in your exact situation, but I have also discovered (the hard way) that I like patient care way more than research. I think it is great that you have discovered this relatively early in your career, so that you can now focus on what will be right for you. It sounds like you have handled the situation very well. I hope your mentor will come around and be happy for you. Good luck on your new path!

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