My heart tells me that I will not find happiness here. But my heart is a whiny bitch with no better solution to offer, so why should I listen?
I explained my internal arguments for both sticking with my PhD program and just getting a master's in yesterday's post. So what should I do? I could work through my difficulties with my current project, prove to my advisor that I am PhD material, and churn out a prospectus by the fall. I could even try to find a new project to work on with him, preferably something that he would be better suited to advise me on (since modeling is not something he does). He said he's done this before with a previous PhD student: the student had one idea for a project, but when it didn't work out, the professor got him on a different project that he knew would work out. Alternatively, I could finish a master's with my advisor, probably by the end of next summer. He could give me a tidy, manageable project that would yield results worthy of a master's thesis. A master's is not nearly as complicated as a PhD.
From a master's, I could either leave school to enter the work force or start PhD work with a different advisor. If I started working, I could be a lab tech, but better paid than I was in Maryland thanks to the master's degree, or I could get a desk job for the government or a private company. Potential new PhD advisors include the other professor at University of Hawaii whose offer to be my advisor I turned down, the professor at UH who was my initial contact and advisor of interest at the school but couldn't offer me a position due to lack of funding, and the professor I left in Maryland. She wanted me to be her PhD student, and I did enjoy some of the projects that she was working on. It seems odd that of the four internships I applied to that summer, the one that accepted me but I almost turned down assigned me to a mentor who turned out to be such a good match for me. All the more odd to think that after leaving her for more tropical pastures I might now be considering returning to her. I think I was happy working with her. But a year of blog posts show that perhaps I was bored and distracted in that job as well. Maybe it's easy to look upon the past more favorably than the present.
Those are my options as I see them, but none of them jumps out as the best choice. None of them even jumps out as a particularly desirable choice. I'm still too torn about my inner arguments, and the unfortunate position I've put myself in. I don't want a master's--I'll be miserable if I try for a PhD--I just need to work through it, turn a corner, and it'll all fall into place--it's hopeless--never give up! I think a part of me has always suspected that I won't be happy doing scientific research. But I'm mystified as to what career would make me happier, so what good does that do me?
I'm starting to realize one of the things I have to do: I need to forgive myself for not loving my research. Surrounded by people who love their research, I feel like something must be wrong with me. Am I not good enough to be an effective researcher? Am I not smart enough for a PhD? But it's not about talent or intelligence. It's about passion. If I fail to get a PhD where other people around me succeed, it's not because they're smarter than me, it's because they want it more. I want to want to do research to earn a PhD, but wanting to want something doesn't make it so. That's not my fault. Four years out of college, I still don't know what I want. That is my main problem, for now. I need to accept that.
Here is my current state of mind: I should get a master's with my current advisor. Most students in my program are encouraged to get a master's en route to a PhD, anyway; my two years of oceanographic research prior to entering the program excused me from that pressure, but that doesn't mean there aren't some professors who would happily recommend that path. That way, I can delay my decision for another year or so--whether I want to get a PhD or escape while I can. It would give me another year to try to figure out what I want. The thought doesn't make me happy, but it seems like my best option at this point.
I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I'd started my PhD with the other professor here at UH, or with the professor in Maryland. Would I be making the same agonizing choice I'm making now? Would things have gone more smoothly? I can never know. If this were a video game, I could reload an old save, see if a different option makes things turn out better. But this is the RPG called Life. There are no reloads.