Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

DramDr
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 9:36 pm

Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby DramDr » Fri May 10, 2013 2:08 am

Hey all,

I had actually posted in the fall about my desire to transfer, but my reasons have significantly changed.

I am giving strong thought to dropping out of my program. I don't know that anyone suspects that...I am at the top of all of my classes, have had a fantastic research position lined up all year, and make considerably more than other students (Whooo, scholarships and grants!). Unfortunately, I've had nothing short of a complete mental breakdown this semester (and somehow, the only grade I received other than an A was a B+...still top 5 in a class of ~25-30). I've been seeing a number of therapists/doctors, and have been given a preliminary diagnosis of bipolar II, on top of previously diagnosed depression, anxiety, and OCD. As such, I don't think it was caused by the courses as I didn't find them particularly stressful in the first place.

What are my options moving forward? If I drop out, it will most likely be to seek further assistance. I cannot imagine a career in anything other than physics, and I really am quite good at it when sane :p . My current advisor is just an OK fit and there are strong rumors in the department that she will be relocating to Germany within a few years (aka before I could finish a PhD with her anyways), so I'm not too keen on returning to my particular university.

I could really use any and all of your suggestions as I really have no idea what to do moving forward. I apologize if this comes across as disjointed, I FEEL rather disjointed at the moment.

-DD

ol
Posts: 57
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:07 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby ol » Fri May 10, 2013 9:27 am

I'm in a similar situation. I'd really like to explore transferring to another program as I am unhappy in this one. Hell, I might even transfer to another field (ie go from physics to applied math or something). I know a couple people at my school (different department) last year were unhappy (both were first years), applied to another school, were admitted, and are now both enrolled at a new school for a completely different program (like switching from physics to engineering).

I know of someone who got his masters in my department and are now attending a better school (believe it or not) for his field.

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midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby midwestphysics » Wed May 15, 2013 9:36 pm

DramDr wrote:Hey all,

I had actually posted in the fall about my desire to transfer, but my reasons have significantly changed.

I am giving strong thought to dropping out of my program. I don't know that anyone suspects that...I am at the top of all of my classes, have had a fantastic research position lined up all year, and make considerably more than other students (Whooo, scholarships and grants!). Unfortunately, I've had nothing short of a complete mental breakdown this semester (and somehow, the only grade I received other than an A was a B+...still top 5 in a class of ~25-30). I've been seeing a number of therapists/doctors, and have been given a preliminary diagnosis of bipolar II, on top of previously diagnosed depression, anxiety, and OCD. As such, I don't think it was caused by the courses as I didn't find them particularly stressful in the first place.

What are my options moving forward? If I drop out, it will most likely be to seek further assistance. I cannot imagine a career in anything other than physics, and I really am quite good at it when sane :p . My current advisor is just an OK fit and there are strong rumors in the department that she will be relocating to Germany within a few years (aka before I could finish a PhD with her anyways), so I'm not too keen on returning to my particular university.

I could really use any and all of your suggestions as I really have no idea what to do moving forward. I apologize if this comes across as disjointed, I FEEL rather disjointed at the moment.

-DD


Can you apply for and receive at least your masters before you leave? At least try and knock that out. As for your advisor, you say there are rumors of her leaving. Well, you're directly invested in her and she owes at the very least an honest answer about this situation. I wouldn't hesitate to bring this up is the sense of asking her if she is planning to leave, you deserve to know. This is a scenario, at least from what I have heard though never experienced, where switching programs is acceptable. Generally when your advisor leaves you can get away with it. Add to that the medical complications, you are in a slightly more optimistic position than others who are trying to leave, but still probably not fantastic. Funding cuts and a bigger crop of new grad prospects will make it harder in the future. If I were you and I did leave, I would make sure that the prof was leaving too. Then when I reapply anywhere I would cite that my advisor was planning on changing to an institution out of the country, and upon learning this I felt that this was the right time to focus on personal health concerns that became prevalent during that period. Don't go into really any detail about the nature of the health problem I would say, most probably don't care, and those that do don't have the legal right to know. Definitely note that your health has significantly improved, as that would be the only time I would advise even trying to return. It's probably not going to be easy, but having family members with the same issue I can tell you without question to take care of your mental health first and foremost. If you don't you will lose everything as the disease will progress at an unbelievable rate as you try whatever you can to manage it while managing everything else. If it really is that bad you have a choice. One, get out now for a bit and get yourself right for the future. Or two, slowly and bitterly deteriorate along with your dreams. Trust me I've seen this problem, and I've seen it go both ways, you do not want to give it even an inch. Get right, and worry about the rest later, if you do the opposite there might not be a later worth investing in.

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Andromeda
Posts: 127
Joined: Wed Dec 10, 2008 3:17 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby Andromeda » Fri May 17, 2013 3:22 am

I would discuss this with someone like the graduate adviser and ask if taking a semester or year's leave is a possibility. Most universities can accomodate such requests especially if you tell them in confidence why.

I know this because my university in the USA at least where I did my MSc offered this for students who were in the "need time off but not done with the field yet" category and they got permission for leave- I'm guessing if you're not starting your research yet it's easier to do this. Heck we even had people who left and then decided a year later they wanted to return so nothing's impossible but you never know until you ask.

pmb
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Sep 25, 2015 2:13 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby pmb » Fri Oct 02, 2015 4:49 am

If you're having problems with mental health you should go straight to a psychologist, one that has a PhD. Stay away from the "therapists" because in my experience they're not of much help.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby Catria » Thu Nov 12, 2015 1:13 pm

Unfortunately I may be in similar shoes if I still wanted to earn a PhD after my mental health issues are taken care of... counseling services suspect some pathological anxiety problems in me, which destroyed my motivation and caused me to leave. Plus I know that poor timing with respect to my desired research topic upon returning will cause me not to want to return to my current grad program even if I could get treatments for my mental health issues at home.

pmb wrote:If you're having problems with mental health you should go straight to a psychologist, one that has a PhD. Stay away from the "therapists" because in my experience they're not of much help.


And yet insurers will often be reluctant to pay the extra cost usually associated with a PhD or PsyD-level psychologist vs. a masters-level therapist since the primary difference between a PhD and a masters-level therapist will be the dissertation, on which they will spend more or less equal amounts of time that we will spend on ours.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby TakeruK » Thu Nov 12, 2015 3:52 pm

Catria wrote:
And yet insurers will often be reluctant to pay the extra cost usually associated with a PhD or PsyD-level psychologist vs. a masters-level therapist ...


I didn't know this! My only experience with US insurance is my own school. There is no cost at all for the on-campus Counseling Center. For off-campus providers, our plan covers the first 25 visits at the 100% level (i.e. we don't pay anything). After the first 25 visits, the cost is $15/visit. There is no restriction to Masters level providers. At the on-campus center, all of the psychologists on staff at the on-campus are PsyDs or PhDs.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby Catria » Thu Nov 12, 2015 9:45 pm

For those who want to drop out due to mental illness (and taking time off to cure it) and still want to earn a PhD, please make sure the window to get the advisor(s) you want will not close upon return. If there is any indication that the window to get the advisor you want at the original university is still open upon your return, then it might be best to take a leave of absence.

Also, it might be best to simply say that personal issues made you leave and leave it at that unless you have the opportunity to write an addendum. If, on the other hand, your advisor left, say so.

TakeruK wrote:
Catria wrote:
And yet insurers will often be reluctant to pay the extra cost usually associated with a PhD or PsyD-level psychologist vs. a masters-level therapist ...


I didn't know this! My only experience with US insurance is my own school. There is no cost at all for the on-campus Counseling Center. For off-campus providers, our plan covers the first 25 visits at the 100% level (i.e. we don't pay anything). After the first 25 visits, the cost is $15/visit. There is no restriction to Masters level providers. At the on-campus center, all of the psychologists on staff at the on-campus are PsyDs or PhDs.


At least universities know that we grad students have a real need for mental health services and negotiate insurance policies accordingly. We have 15 free individual consultations a year on-campus, in which case it might be wise to make use of group consultations so as to not exhaust our allowance prematurely.

As I said before, a doctoral degree, especially a PhD, is no guarantee that better healthcare will come out of it.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: Dropping out and transferring due to mental illness

Postby Catria » Sun Mar 06, 2016 7:52 pm

Suddenly the transfer question becomes a reality to me personally. Due to extenuating circumstances of mental health nature, I had to take a leave of absence. Now that the conditions for return were given to me, I had to reject those terms because self-funding a PhD is a financial disaster.

Faculty at my former school said that, if I ever was to transfer, I have to say as little as possible, just a few words along the lines of "extenuating circumstances" and say no more.




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