1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What are the legal ramifications for not showing up to grad school?

  1. Jul 12, 2012 #1
    For the longest time I've wanted to go to graduate school but this summer, I keep having panic attacks and emotional meltdowns in the middle of the night and now that's all changed. Earlier this spring, I accepted a TA/tuition reimbursement award to begin this fall for a PhD program; but now I want to recant it. I simply don't want to go to graduate school at all but I'm worried about the legal ramifications and letting down my letter of recommendation writers and people at this university.

    I was hoping someone could explain the possible legal ramifications, if I told the university I didn't want to attend, since I signed a contract to be a TA and its already July now. Would it be better to contact the department, talk to a graduate financial aid advisor first or just stick it out?

    Here's my rant.

    I just can't deal with the stress and anxiety of school and exams anymore. I was taking a full upper level chemistry/physics/math course load year round, working 2-3 jobs at a time to pay for school and I had countless all-nighters to stay in the top percentile of my classes. In hindsight I was drowning in stress and fatigue and at the time I wasn't even aware of it, it had simply become routine. I wasn't unhappy but I definitely wasn't a cheerful person, awake or full of much personality.

    Now since May when I left my undergrad, its kind of like I took a step back and I'm living a whole new life since I don't have any classes/projects for the first time in 2.5 years; the stress and anxiety was lifted, I'm much more sociable and I actually feel relieved for the first time ever that I'm not in school.

    Its not that I'm lazy and can't handle stressful situations, I have a great record/resume, but with this lull in my life, I've realized I'd be much happier trying to find a job and working. And the jobs I'd expect to get after grad school don't require a PhD.

    However, recently the anxiety that I'm going back to that lifestyle is tearing me apart. It keeps me up at night and I keep having an emotional breakdown every night. I keep getting panic attacks during the day and I just start stressing out whenever I try to study for my entrance exam. I'm dreading starting the program; I've lost the passion over these past few weeks of summer and I'm beginning to think I'm dooming myself to fail out. But I don't think there's a way to save face and exit the program before it begins in a little over a month. If I could pull a lever and leave, I'd do it. Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    It sounds like grad school is not for you. Call the school ASAP and tell them that your personal situation has changed and you will regretfully no longer be able to attend. I'm sure it has happened to them before. I'm not a lawyer, but I strongly doubt that there is any legal issue, and I doubt they would take legal action even if they could. The sooner you contact them, the more time they have to give your slot to someone else. Then go find a job and enjoy life.
  4. Jul 12, 2012 #3
    It is much more common than you think to have an emotional breakdown during engineering or science school. While one option is to just not go, I think you have other options that might not seem so good because you are currently in a period of severe emotional stress.

    First, I think part of the issue is you completely burned yourself out by studying so hard while you had multiple jobs. Anyone would crack under that pressure and you should pat yourself on the back that you were strong enough to get through it. Now that you have a T.A. you're not going to need the multiple jobs (a T.A. position is a decent amount of work, but it is not all that hard).

    My advice would be, if you can, go to grad school and try it out. A lot of people have issues with time management that leads to all-nighters. I approached grad school like a job. I got up early in the morning, worked out, then went to work. Some of that time was in classes, but between classes and in the middle of the day, I did homework and studied. I worked roughly 10 hours a day or so, making it about a 50 hours per week job. I probably did 5 or 6 hours of work on the weekend. This is a sustainable pace. I woke up at 7AM and was on campus before 9. I did only one all-nighter in grad school, and that is when I had technical issues for a chip submission and the submission was due in the morning, so that was a special case.

    I work at my job more or less that same now. It is highly sustainable. Cramming and all-nighters is *NOT* sustainable and leads to breakdowns. I know because I worked several years at a startup and burned myself out.

    Another thing is, in grad school you compete much less with your peers, they are more colleagues or collaborators. So, you really don't have to kill yourself to be top of the class, just do well and learn the material.

    So, my advice, is to take it slow and methodical. Plan your day, and get your work done. Don't work all night and get up late. Don't spend much time hanging out between classes. I would usually have most of my homework done by 6pm, when a lot of other students didn't even start yet.

    Second, if you feel you are not in an emotional state to do this yet, call the school and tell them you want to defer a year. Most departments will be OK with that, and you'll get another shot next year.

    The only thing you should NOT do is not show up and not tell anybody. Be open with people. You don't need to give them personal details, but let them in. I promise you, most of the people in the grad department want you to succeed and you'd be surprised how much they are willing to help.

    So take a deep breath, acknowledge you're in a bad place right now, but remember there is a way out and I promise you won't feel this way forever.
  5. Jul 12, 2012 #4
    I disagree with this. This is making a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If you truly feel grad school is not for you, and you make an error applying, and you believe this is not just the anxiety and panic talking, then walk away.

    I strongly suspect that once you are able to get power back over your emotions (and you will, it doesn't seem like it but you will) you will remember why you wanted to go to graduate school.
  6. Jul 12, 2012 #5
    I think you should stay with it. Don't let yourself fall into the same trap of spending too much time on work and studying. Holding multiple jobs while going through grad school is not easily sustainable, so I would recommend not attempting this again. Grad school should be a fun and enriching experience that you enjoy. You will have very stressful moments, but you should also have many moments of less stress than you would have working a full time job. I would not base stress as the deciding factor, as this is something you can fix with attitude and time management. Your professors and school administration are also probably much more lenient than a potential boss if you're feeling stressed out. When I was a TA, I often spent the class doing my own studies or homework, only to help when I was needed. Its actually a pretty good job for a student.

    If you're in the US, you probably aren't under a "contract" but rather an agreement. It should say in the papers what the rules for termination are. If it doesn't, there probably are no rules for you to quit. You probably can leave it at any time, just like most other jobs people take. If you do decide to leave, you should tell them as soon as possible out of consideration and so that your reputation doesn't get hurt.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2012
  7. Jul 12, 2012 #6
    A lot depends on what you signed, but generally there are no legal ramifications. If you look carefully at what you signed, the odds are that it isn't an actual formal contract. The reason that it probably isn't a formal contract is that the university usually wants to be able to get out of an agreement, and having the university draft and sign a legally binding document involves more headache than most people are willing to go through.

    In any event it is *FAR* better for you to inform the department right now about your situation than to go through with it. It is much better for everyone concerned if you deal with the situation now rather than have you go into the the fire and blow up half way through the semester.

    Talk to the department. In the absolute worst case scenario, then will withdraw the admission. However, people are usually pretty sympathetic, and you can probably get them to delay your entry if that's what you really want.

    In any event, do *NOT* start the program in your current condition. The odds are that you will blow up, and that's going to be bad for both you and the university.

    There are more important things than face, and the question right now is not whether you will exit the program but *when and how* you will exit the program. You can do things gracefully now, or you can crash and burn in the middle of the semester.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook