In my weekly Sunday night googling, I came across the following blog post and comment thread about when you should consider leaving graduate school.
I spent about an hour going through all of the comments. Note that the post was made in April 2009, and people are still leaving comments, two years later. The comments are heartbreaking.
People write of being miserable, of having lost all of their self-esteem, of being isolated and depressed, of interacting with unhelpful professors and catty grad student colleagues. One person even mentions feeling suicidal. Almost all of them mention that they feel guilty about leaving, or that it will make them a failure.
I mean this from the bottom of my heart - if you can relate to these comments ... if you are as miserable as these people are, and it lasts for more than a few days or weeks ... just go. Drop out.
You are a highly intelligent, motivated, self-driven person who successfully graduated from college and perhaps a masters' program, and now beat out hundreds of other applicants for a position in a Ph.D. program.
You are smart, capable, and accomplished. And you have options.You do not need to stay in a job or program that makes you miserable.
It does not make you a loser or a failure to leave. It just means that you tried a new job, and you didn't like it. And what do you do if you get a new job and hate it? You start looking for a new job. A Ph.D. program is no different than any other job. Do not let your advisors or other graduate students convince you otherwise. It's a job, and it's not for everyone, and if you are miserable you should leave.
I don't care if you've been in your program for three months or ten years. If you are miserable and depressed and discouraged, there is nothing forcing you to stay in your program. Just go. Find a menial job or move back in with your parents, or take a leave of absence until you can regroup. I absolutely guarantee that you will feel better.
You made a voluntary choice to apply to graduate school, and you are there voluntarily. And you do not have to stay if you are miserable. If you're on a contract, ride it out. But explore your options in the meantime.
My god. I was never as miserable as the people in some of those comments, and I still left. The idea that there are people still plugging away at a Ph.D. program while being depressed, suicidal, and for some reason thinking there are no other options? That breaks my heart.
You have options, and there are people out there who will help you. Start by clicking through my blogroll. You do not have to be miserable. You deserve to be happy.