1. About
  2. Features
  3. Explore

There are a lot of threads about whether people should drop out of grad school, or PIs forcing students to leave. My situation is a little different, some people might call this ungrateful, but I want to ask how I should actually talk to my PI about leaving the lab. How to start the conversation, and do it in the most professional and kindest way.

I'm in the first year of my graduate program, and my PI is extremely nice. Like to the extreme. To the point I've never heard any criticism come out of his mouth. I also thought I loved my project very much upon joining the lab. Everything was off to a great start. However, I have soon realized that this is one of those projects that will likely lead nowhere. I am not Edison, and I don't plan on failing 10,000 times before success. It will break me down. My professor is also not very good at mentoring. Nice, but incompetent in a way. He is a new PI and I'm sure will get better with time. But I feel like I'm his experimental subject, the one that is meant to fail so he can get better at what he does. He does not know how to lead me on, and gives me 100 different directions to try. I'm becoming very unhappy in the lab.

On the other hand, I have recently been offered a job. A good one, one that I can make a career out of. I don't feel that I will ever love this job, but it is the smartest thing I could be doing. However, this means that I have to drop out of my program and leave the lab first. As you can imagine, I do not know how to have that conversation with my PI, just given how nice and encouraging he is. He keeps telling me that I am doing great work, but I am just so tired of the way things are going. He is also a new PI and need prelim data for grants. Which makes me feel worse about this because I feel like I'll be leaving him to the dogs...

So long story short, I haven't completely decided to go through with this, but if I was to, I had a few questions:

  1. How should I start the conversation? I'm actually at a complete loss for what to say
  2. Is there anything I can do to not ruin the relationship? I really respect him as a researcher, just not a mentor, and would hate for him to hate me... Although maybe this is too much to ask for
  3. Am I doing the right thing? If I was leaving a job, I wouldn't think twice about it, but for some reason leaving academia seems like I'm committing a sin...
  4. Any other suggestions for when I have the conversation with him?

Additional info: one thing I forgot to mention is that he is also very busy. So although extremely nice when we do talk, we've barely spoken for the past month with only one actual meeting...

1 Answer 1

One of the points I see in the above message, is that these feelings are so far entirely with yourself. I can of course not know for sure, but it seems to me at the moment that you have not talked to him about this yet.

You say, for example, he points you in 100 directions. I can empathize with that, surely, but do you know if he is doing this on purpose? Is he aware of this? Have you spoken to him about this?

I would say that the best way of opening this discussion is to actually open the discussion by telling him about your feelings. Perhaps he is willing to do things differently, perhaps he is actually afraid to be guiding you too much. All these things are now uncertain.

In any way, if you discuss these things (respectfully, aimed at improving the situation for the both of you), he gets to know you are not quite happy. If you decide to leave he knows you were not happy.

Also, I would like to agree with 101010111100, in that doing something that makes you predictably unhappy is a huge red flag.

Good luck!