Should you quit your PhD?

Do you sometimes think about giving up? Should you entertain this notion seriously, or ignore it? When is it right to walk away? It’s an important issue which we haven’t really tackled much on the blog to date, which is why I was pleased when B.J. Epstein, a lecturer in literature and translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England offered to write a post on the topic.

BJ is a writer, editor, and Swedish-to-English translator. She absolutely loved her time doing her PhD and currently enjoys supervising doctoral students, but she is saddened by the number of PhD students who say how stressed and unhappy they are. Here she offers some advice for people questioning their commitment to their PhD.

You’ve been plugging away at your PhD for a while now, maybe a year, perhaps a couple of years. But you don’t seem to be making that much progress. The prospect of getting up in the morning to go to the university or to continue work on a chapter doesn’t thrill you the way it did during the first few months of your studies. But you force yourself to do it, because you have to, right? Or maybe you can’t force yourself and instead you spend the day surfing the internet, chatting with friends, occasionally looking at an academic article, and when evening comes, you feel depressed and guilty.

 Time to give up the PhD?

No, you think. You can’t give up on your doctoral studies. What would people say? How would you feel about yourself? Would your supervisors be disappointed? What kind of job would you be able to get if you can’t finish your PhD? Those are all natural concerns, but there are some situations where you’re actually better off letting go of the PhD and moving on with your life. If you are doing the PhD for the “wrong” reasons and you aren’t enjoying it or getting much out of it, then it’s time to let go.

There are many possible wrong reasons. I’ve talked to students who decided they wanted a PhD because they didn’t have anything else going on in their lives. Some have actually said, “I don’t have a spouse or children, and all my friends are married with kids. I needed something to do.”

If you want to have a partner and/or children, concentrate your efforts on that, and don’t use your thesis as a substitute. If you don’t want those things but you are lonely and/or you feel you need something equally important in your life, carefully consider whether a PhD is actually that meaningful to you. It might be that you’d be happier if you made some new friends or found a new hobby or changed jobs.

Other students have said that they couldn’t get a job, so they decided to continue with higher education instead. Think about whether a PhD will in fact help you get a job you want. If it isn’t leading you in the direction you want to go in and/or if it is just piling you with debt, then you might be wasting time. Similarly, if you are doing it because you think having “Dr” in front of your name will get you a job and/or other benefits, that isn’t a strong reason to continue.

If you are no longer interested in your topic and you’ve lost your passion, it might be time to give up, but you need to ask yourself a few questions first. Most researchers go through phases where they are more or less excited about their work. Indeed, all workers have tasks to do that are less enjoyable than others. Have you temporarily lost your academic mojo? If so, what can you do about it?

For some people, taking a short break (whether an actual holiday or a “staycation”) can be enough to reignite their love for their subject. Sometimes reading books on another topic altogether can help. Also, other activities – teaching, volunteering, going for a walk, spending time with friends – generally can help with research-related stress, and this in turn can help you re-focus. It may even be that moving on to a different chapter or working on a different part of your research is enough to help. Maybe approaching your topic from a new angle is all you need. Talk to your supervisors about this.

But if you’ve been feeling disengaged from your work for a long period of time and nothing you try makes you care about it again, it is probably time to consider leaving it behind. If the thought of continuing with your research strikes you as drudgery that you just can’t face, that is telling you something, and you should listen to your feelings.

An issue that can come up, however, as I mentioned above, is that some doctoral students worry that they would be ashamed if they scrap their thesis and their studies, and that others will be disappointed in them.

While it is true that  people generally feel better if they accomplish what they set out to and while it is also often the case that we are very aware of others’ expectations and desires for us, none of this constitutes a reason to make yourself continue on a path that is bringing you little joy or satisfaction. Also, your supervisors won’t want to waste time chasing you up to do work you promised but never delivered, and they, your friends, and your relatives would much rather you be happy than not.

It is a hard, but brave, decision to make, and yes, it may involve disappointing yourself and/or others. There may be other implications as well (having to pay back student loans, needing to move, looking for a new job, a loss of prestige, and so on), but these all pale in comparison when you consider the fact that this is your only life, and you don’t want to waste it by pressuring yourself to do things that aren’t right for you.

People claim that “quitters never win”, but actually, for some, quitting a PhD is the best choice they can make.

Thanks for such a thoughtful and straight talking post BJ. What do you think? Is your PhD making you miserable, or does the misery have another cause? Is it time to quit or do you think you should soldier on? Have you given up on study before and then started again? Love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

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214 thoughts on “Should you quit your PhD?

  1. I quit! And it feels good. I had a bully supervisor and was a stress ball. I quit, threw out all my work and papers within 24 hours and have not looked back. I can’t explain the relief and freedom!!!

    • Thank you so much for this helpful and insightful blog. I quit my Ph.D in Apr. 2011 and to this day I still feel very sensitive about it. I don’t regret quitting, it was the best thing as I had experienced academic mistreatment not only from the department but also from my supervisor who could be a bully and a tyrant. It took me a long time to move on, get a real job, and stabilize my life again or “deinstitutionalize” myself from academia. And the most unfortunate thing was that I couldn’t reach out to people, it was so hard to find someone who had gone through the same thing I had. Now I have a good job and am relatively happy with myself but the Ph.D experience did leave some wounds that are taking their time to heal. For those of you out there thinking of quitting, don’t look at it as a negative/waste of time experience, this may be the best thing for you and furthermore you don’t loose the credits you gained to date, you can always go back and do it again. At least you tried and you’re NOT ALONE!!

      • This article articulated nearly everything I have been thinking. Passion is gone, not even interested in what I am doing anymore. Like many, started grad school because I had nothing else to do, no other “options” and listened to others over myself. I am 3 years in and every day I want to leave it behind. Hopefully soon I can get the courage to do so.

    • I think about it every other day. But everyone is being so supportive with all the “I believe in you”s and the “you can do it”s. I’m emotionally drained and exhausted… It’s not just the phD, the whole science thing is rather disappointing to be honest. I feel betrayed, I was lied to about the project, I was bullied and I was, and still am, manipulated into doing extra chores, staying longer. I really feel I could be good at this but I no longer think it is worth it.

      • I so feel your pain. I’m 5 years into my PhD program and have just man’ed up to speak the truth to my supervisor, who’s now ignoring me. :-/ Feeling absolutely miserable…

      • Sometimes I think the people who are the most supportive are not the ones saying “I believe in you [so keep going]”, but rather the ones who support you in making a change. The people encouraging you to mindlessly continue may have good intentions while doing you a disservice.

        I’m considering quitting. It’s not because I can’t hack – I have no doubt that if I am willing to stick around, do my professor’s bidding and write garbage publications for another 3 years, I will get awarded the PhD, but I’m just not sure it’s worth my 3 years.

    • Oh, that sounds fantastic! I was yelled/shouted at out of professor’s needing to get rid of her stress coming from elsewhere. It scared me so badly, shook me one week straight, and wanted to quit, but all I could do was to ask for a different supervisor. In return, the professor who yelled at me has manipulated my colleagues against me.

      I want to quit, too, like you, brave Natalie!!

  2. Thanks for this post–I’m 1.5 years out of college and very much on the fence about grad school. I worked in Psych labs for three years and absolutely loved that, but 5-7 years for a doctorate seems like such a huge commitment. I’ve always been smart and “good at school” so it seems like the most logical choice, yet my heart is not completely behind the idea. Hearing that it’s okay to quit (or not even start!) makes me feel a little better.

  3. I have been considering quitting for some time now, but definitely feel the “guilt complex” as I am already five years into the program. My dissertation is actually coming along, but I have sincerely lost all passion for the subject, and I realized years ago that I do not want to be an academic. I’ll admit that I was one of those high-achievers who started a PhD for the prestige, but didn’t really stop to think about what I was getting myself into. Thanks for the post. It’s given me a lot to consider.

    • You’ve perfectly described how I’m feeling, and where I am in my studies. The worst of it is knowing that even if I do finish, I will never want to pursue a career in academia, which makes me feel foolish for continuing at all…

    • TZ,

      I would say that if you got this far, and that your dissertation is in good progress, just plug away and finish it. My own situation is that I’m two years in, have yet to complete my course work, am clueless as to what I want to write my dissertation on, and have completely lost all the passion that it takes to go on. But at least you’re almost there. Take a long break from it and then come back and finish what remains of the final leg.

    • I’m 4 years in my Ph.D. program (physics) and I’m supposed to submit a thesis in 2 months. I haven’t even started and for the last month I’m just staying at home, surfing the internet and feeling guilty about not doing anything for my thesis. I don’t want to do research afterwards, I want to teach in college, I don’t need a Ph.D. I’m still passionate about physics in general and teaching, but I hate my project and it’s going nowhere. I don’t know what to do, my family think everything is going fine and I would be very proud to have a Ph.D. in the future, but is it worth the pain?

      • It sounds like you need to talk to someone professional – if you have such deep avoidance strategies, keeping on with the PhD might just not be worth it right now. Best of luck with the decision – it’s not an easy one to make.

      • I am exactly in the same shoes with a month to go. I feel so disillusioned and depressed. I actually started taking medication for depression in the last year. Before starting my program, I was fine.

      • If you’re so close, you should just trade 2 months of misery for the PhD credential, even if you think it’s bulls***. I would run around in circles for 2 months in exchange for a PhD. In fact, my research (also physics) is about as meaningful and productive as running around in circles.

        Perhaps, like the commenter XYZ, you are experiencing depression. You could look into that and if that’s the case, perhaps some medication could help see you at least to the end of your PhD.

  4. Oh Yes… i can so agree with all of this. I’m right now in this situation. I wanted to submit end of Oct. but then suddenly my Supervisors decided i need a new Lit Review and that i have major problems with the Referencing. Dont ask me how this was possible since they have seen m stuff god know how many times. I had also markers lined up etc. Anyways i was so devastated and exhausted and my instant reaction was that i wanted to quit. I felt nothing for my project anymore. I was so disappointed and i’m still questioning my capabilities. But then, on the other hand there were these thoughts of what other people might think and how I would disappoint them, how much money i have thrown in a hole that never seems to end… all these thought….. but after some days it became clear for me that i’m not in a good position right now to make decisions so i went on suspension. I have no some times to get some idea if i want to keep going. This week it became clear for me how much I define myself over the PhD and how much it had become of my life. I still think my topic is great and important. I have looked closely on how much I have come already. I decided that i will finish….. however I will not make the PhD to the center of my life anymore. I will try to get other things in my life too…. for example a Job. I’m over 30 and never had a proper full time job! its time i guess….. In discussion with my Supervisors they supported me in this idea. It felt good when they told me how they have struggled with their PhD and that they totally understand that i’m over all this. The plan that we made sound very good for me at the moment. I have 4 months off now. … I do what i feel like doing and if a job comes up great…. after that we will build a good network around me and i will make my way along a list of things that need my attention…. i do it in my time and it will take as long as it takes…… and in the end there will be the PhD!

    Sorry that this post got a bit longer but maybe it helps some people to feel confident take time off. I would be also interested in what other people think abut my plan?

    • Pule
      bex, i think you are there already. I can relate very well with what you had to say here. You just have to make those few changes and put this PhD behind you. They always say when you feel its about time to quit that’s when you are done. You needed that little uncomfortable push, we all need it.
      All the best with the literature review update.

    • Bex, I am wondering how you brought up the subject to your supervisors. I am in this “suspend” mode for some time now…. much longer than your week, and I don’t know what to do, which makes me feel even more guilty of getting payed to do nothing… For different reasons than you, I reached a point after almost 3 years (of 4 in total) into my project that I am totally unmotivated to do anything. Like you I was thinking of doing another job and finish my phd on the side, although getting employment is somehow difficult in my case, or alternatively ask for a break of a few months. I don’t know how to bring this up to my advisor, who is waiting for my paper drafts for quite some time already, and who personally is a very efficient person when it comes to work. Any suggestions on how to handle this without creating a mess?

  5. Oh, Inger… Grab a cup o’ tea.

    I have been battling this since I started my PhD last year. I’ve kept going because of all the reasons mentioned and also because I don’t have time to make other arrangements. I have to keep up the work so that I can stay in the program in order to get my stipend & health insurance. And I desperately need the latter because I have multiple chronic illnesses. My program is fully funded by the university, so I’m not collecting much debt besides medical expenses. (Well, except I’m also not paying off any of my pre-existing debt and I do have to wonder when my debtors are coming find me.)

    I digress…

    Ultimately, I am still passionate about helping homeless youth organize & advocate for change in the systems that are supposed to serve them. But lately, I find myself wishing I could just abandon my program, secure some funding, pick up a video camera, & just go out documenting stories of changemaking with homeless young people. Except I know that the funding part comes when there’s empirical evidence for doing a thing.

    This last bit is the only reason I even pursued the PhD. I saw that research is lacking in my area & I knew I couldn’t do what I wanted to do without it. So, because I’m passionate about my area, I want to generate ‘proof’ that this kind of work is beneficial. But I do not like this process. At all. I love learning, but school is a pain in the ass. And then we have the politics. A whole post series worth of politics (please let me know if I’ve missed it).

    So, what do I do? I just keep plodding along because I don’t know what else to do. Technically, I could leave here with a professional master’s degree, sit for licensure, & begin direct service work as soon as 2014. At the same time, I’ll also be done the PhD coursework, and I’ll have some papers under my belt, so why not just finish the whole thing out? And besides, who knows how I’ll feel about everything by the time I finish the master’s?

    Yes, all that? That is my struggle. Seems to come up about twice a year, far as I can recall.

    • Oh yes, as someone TZ says, I’m not at all interested in teaching. I told them that from the jump. One or two folks are now starting to express concern that my job prospects will be extremely limited. I had that potentiality on my radar, but I hadn’t stressed it entirely too much. Now I’m wondering whether that’s a mistake

  6. I thought about quitting for about two years as I either couldn’t work on my PhD, or when I did I felt like I made no progress, much of my planned research had not gone to plan and the longer it took the more I felt like a failure as people who started after me finished before me. I was sick of being poor as all my friends not only had full time jobs but pretty good ones. I had depression (not entirely PhD related but it was a bit). I could see my colleagues who had finished struggling to get any kind of foothold in university.

    I did finish after 8 years of trying, I’m not entirely sure what changed, I think I actually let go of the PhD and the idea of it and the way I let it define me a bit and I started to spend time with non Uni people, who didn’t care, who actually said ‘maybe just stop if it makes you so sad.’ I think actually realising I could stop and that I wasn’t defined by it eventually gave me the distance I needed to be pragmatic about the thesis and finally get it done. But no one should feel bad about quitting, I have friends who quit and it is clearly the best decision they made. Good luck and brave thoughts to all those who are struggling :-)

  7. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to quit. If you are going to quit, it is best to do so early rather than waiting until all hope has gone and quitting via a psychiatric ward.
    Cut your losses, write it up as a Master’s if you can and get out while you still have some optimism and confidence in yourself. Other times, you can push through those thoughts and get to a positive outcome and the career you dreamt you’d have.

    I’ve seen it go every way:
    My husband breezed through his PhD.
    I finished my PhD after some very dark and despairing years.
    My first boyfriend quit his PhD after 3 years and moved straight into a good job in IT and a happier life than he’d had.
    One friend was finally able to let go of her PhD after about 6 years, but didn’t really work on it for at least the last 2. It was a blow to her self-image, but she had already moved onto bigger and better things (she had a full-time job in a related industry by then, and had started her own publishing house while procrastinating on the PhD). It was a good outcome, but if only she’d quit earlier, she would have got a Master’s out of it at least.
    Two very bright and able friends quit their PhDs only after nervous breakdowns and psychiatric intervention — and they have never quite been the same since.

    It is very hard to tell which is the right path.

  8. I definitely felt this way for a lot of the first couple of years of my PhD. I wasn’t having any success with my lab work and realised that research probably wasn’t for me after all. I can identify with nearly everything BJ said here, and although it shouldn’t have been, my biggest concern with quitting was probably that giving up was a waste of time – my own plus that of the people who had supported and invested their time in me, particularly my supervisors. I considered all of the options, do I suck it up and stay and continue being unhappy, do I give up, do I switch to a Masters and finish more quickly, etc.

    In the end I moved sideways into Science Communication from a physical sciences project and built a completely new thesis around my original research with the aim of including my original work as well. Not at all the normal thing to do… In the end I’ve ended up gathering a lot more results from my SciComm work, have made a lot of progress and I’m much happier. Although I do still feel like it’s quite a strange, cross-disciplinary PhD project (especially for stick-in-the-mud science), I think it was a good way to make the most of the time I’d already invested and hopefully it will all fit together nicely at the end!

    Staying or quitting aren’t necessarily the only options…

  9. Thanks lot for your post indeed… It kinda reflect my phd life.. I been there before.. I was happy phd candidate at the early stage of my study but recently I was under depression because of self blam and take a sick leave for a few months. Taking a break made me realise how much I suffer because doing phd. However, after long thinking I made the decision to come back to study.. I learnt to accept my self as unproductive phd candidate. And challenge my assumtion that sometime it’s ok to gave up and run away when I can’t bare. After all, I am now giving myself another chance to reconnect with my thesis again. This is i know deep down I love it and so pround of how far I have come.

  10. I started my PhD in 2004 and finished in 2010 – and had a baby halfway through. The PhD was interesting and even fun (I had brilliant supervisors) but terribly stressful – insomnia, chest pain (which turned out to be reflux) and loads of guilt because I was either spending too much time on my thesis or too much time with my family. A PhD is not a family friendly occupation.

    I now earn about $5 an hour more than I did in 2003. I’ll never make up for earnings lost during my PhD and the forecast for employment in the university sector is gloomy at best. Academic work is now basically casual or short term contracts.

    Many RAs are bullied into PhDs to make up the ‘output’ numbers needed by their supervisors: eg grants, papers, RHD students. But the jobs just aren’t there at the end of the thesis and the new Drs are now overqualified for RA work. They price themselves out of employment but not before providing their supervisors with 3 years free research. This is not my position but it’s one I’ve seen repeatedly in different institutions.

    Student beware.

  11. An excellent post. I only gave up when my PhD evolved outside that of my supervisors research interest and the University couldn’t produce new supervisors. Oh well, I guess I can pick it up again at another university.

  12. What a great post! I can completely identify with this, as I oscillate between absolute certainty that my life would be better off without my PhD in it, and a realisation that it would be just ridiculous to ditch it when I’ve made it this far.

    It hasn’t helped that a large part of my motivation for pursuing postgraduate research was that I just couldn’t think of anything better to do. More importantly, I didn’t KNOW there was anything better to do. I managed to see a fair bit of the world and even spend a bit of time working full time throughout my undergrad and Honours years, but as someone who generally achieved highly in studies, and who really just chanced upon the research specialisation that I ended up in, going to the next step in higher education was the logical thing to do. I can’t honestly say I was motivated by a passion for my research area. I WAS attracted to the idea of working in academia, but only because I enjoy the freedom and challenges of research as well as the satisfaction of teaching. None of those things tie me to my subject area, and in fact all of them can be achieved in other industries.

    Three years into the PhD and I am still not particularly tied to my topic, and am fairly jaded about academia as a whole. The biggest problem is that my supervisor failed me in a huge way by being completely absent, and stopped any progress I might have made in its tracks for a year or more. I spent this whole time being angry, frustrated, feeling constantly guilty and having very little faith in my own abilities. To make matters more challenging for me, I landed a part-time job in project management (and a virtually guaranteed career path) that made it clear to me that I was far from useless, and that this study thing was really bringing me down. The idea of just not having to think about it ever again was amazingly attractive. Probably the only thing that kept me in the game was the stubborn belief that I would NOT be stopped by the failings of my supervisor. Had they been my own failings I might have made a very different decision.

    Yet another year down the track, after being lucky enough to find a new supervisor who is young, enthusiastic, positive and, most importantly, PRESENT, my PhD world has been turned around. I have so much more faith in myself, am motivated to work and am making great progress. I now have no doubt that staying in the game was the right thing to do, despite still not having a particular passion for my subject area, but it certainly didn’t feel like it while times were tough.

    It is a delicate situation and a difficult decision indeed, but I think anyone in those circumstances needs to ask themselves whether it is the research itself that is making life horrible (in which case, by all means, let it go) or whether there are external factors that might somehow be rectified. At all costs, it is worth intervening in those issues – you cannot reap the rewards of your studies if you do it at the expense of your sanity (and that of your loved ones)!

  13. Thank you so much for all your responses, everyone. I think this is one of those topics that we’re often afraid to discuss frankly, because there’s a sense of shame that is connected to quitting.

    I regularly hear people say to others, “Doing a PhD means you have an easy time, since you have few responsibilities and can work pretty much independently and when it suits you.” Of course it’s not easy at all (and sometimes the freedom can overwhelm people), and it would be better if we admitted it so we could come up with ways of helping doctoral students. I’ve also come across students who were “encouraged” (perhaps “bullied” is a better word) by their parents/partners/supervisors/friends to continue their PhD work, even if it was against what really was best for them.

    I think we need to shift how we view PhDs. For some people, leaving a PhD programme is the best option. We need to respect people enough to realise that they’re making the best choices for themselves. Calling it “failure” helps no one, and of course it isn’t a failure — think of all the people who are happier, have more time with family/friends, make more money, etc, after quitting the PhD.

    Best wishes to you all,
    BJ

    • “Doing a PhD means you have an easy time, since you have few responsibilities and can work pretty much independently and when it suits you.” Wow, are they assuming that somehow you don’t have to work while writing your PhD? Sheesh! I was lucky enough to get a fellowship that covered my rent etc.. for one year – the rest of the time (and indeed non-stop from the age of 16) I worked full or part-time while being in University!

      This is a really good post, though some of us DID start a PhD simply because we thought it might be kinda cool, and still finished :-)

    • Could I please get some advice. I am one year into my phd and have been collecting data for a treatment trial, I have just realised that I have made a major error in one of my primary measures in 30 out of 80 participants. The mistake was made because I didn’t get enough training in this measure and blindly started testing thinking ‘it will be fine’. I was under a lot of pressure to start data collection from my supervisor and so rushed going into it a little. In hindsight I should have just spent longer training and being more careful but I didn’t. I am scared of asking anyone about my mistake. I don’t know what to do I am very seriously considering just leaving but I like research, it’s what I want to do with my life. I was happy before I noticed this error. It would be quite unfeasible to recollect the data.

      Please can you advise me I am completely desperate.

      • I’m sorry that you made this error, but I don’t think you should consider quitting over it. It’s unfortunate that it is one of your primary outcomes but I suggest that you just analyse that outcome on the remaining fifty and everything else on the full eighty. Things like this happen and not all data is available in every participant in a study, so different numbers for different outcomes is actually normal.

  14. Excellent post. I know of a friend who’s battling with tough decisions on whether to quit or stay the full course. I will bring this to his attention. Candid.

  15. I am not doing a PhD, but I know people who have and are still struggling with theirs. It’s a very personal decision, something I try to stay out of because I have no idea, only on what impact it has on them daily. Hard to see people suffer that you care for. And they do suffer, but to what extent does that outweigh the decision to keep going? As one friend put it “it’s the hardest thing in my life”. It takes control of your life, every waking minute, every restless sleep, every social occasion. Because you are networking, you are researching, you are reading, writing, contributing, presenting….endless. Relastionships strain under the pressure and can collapse. The only connection to outside life is friends and family, but they don’t know the real pressure you are under. Supervisors don’t respond to your plea for help. Others don’t understnad what the problem is. I feel empathy for you all who do this. My sister struggled for 8 years, and accomplished it, but ever since has not entered the academia world but instead became a house wife. She said once that she loved academia, but since loathed it. How hurtful is that? But what is the answer? – only the one doing it can truly know, and even then it’s hard to find.

    But then I know of someone, older, not looking for work after her PhD, and she had the attitude of being bullish and stubborn towards comments and characters who are trying to persuade her to do this or do that. We are talking about Universities and colleagues, and her approach is working for her. She isnot phased by comments and destructive personalities surrounding her work. She knows what she is up against, and does find it hard, but not impossible. In fact, she is cheeky enough to place comments outside and away from her work. She’s lucky, she tells me, to have a supervisor that will communicate with her pretty much when she needs help and guidance or a general bitch.

    So I don’t know about everyone doing a PhD. Just like I don’t know the people in my uni doing a degree, because even there they fall by the wayside at the first hurdle, so be proud that you’ve gone light years beyond this! :)

    Good luck to you all, and I hope everyone makes the right decision based on themselves, and no one else’s. We are all doing that in life anyway!

    • I think research can never be made so systematical.. Its a pity that people have to do other’s problem which he never thought of or have passion for at all.. sometimes love for the subject can help but unless you own the problem, its difficult and in phd u rarely own any problem.. I don’t know may be I am being too naive

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  17. Word! Here’s yet another quitter who has not regretted this step a single minute. As a matter of fact, it took me one month to figure out that my personality just doesn’t fit into the academic world. I gave myself half a year trying to get used to it (change always requires some time to get used to) and then quit after seven months.

    I spent many weeks with concerns about guilt, showing weakness and letting down my supervisor and department. But in the end, my decision has been taken by everybody with the greatest respect – my distinct and clear decision is being seen as a sign of strength rather than weakness.

    • I have all of my coursework completed and I’ve passed my comps. 5 years in and no desire to finish my dissertation. I owe 260,000 dollars and am tired of obtaining more debt each new semester…should I just be happy I achieved candidacy and move on??

      • I can only say, a lot of people (up to 50%) do decide to leave the US system after they have done comps and seem quite happy with the careers they choose to pursue. I’m not sure why we see careers outside of academia as ‘failure’ – really they aren’t. I wish you all the best with this difficult decision.

      • I’m with you. I’ve been at it for years – so many that the university has changed the process. I am greatly in debt as well. I’ve found I’ve lost my research mojo and am debating withdrawing…I took the quarter off and am loving not having the responsibility, stress, etc. Right now I’m looking into loan repayment options and I feel good about NOT looking back and looking forward to living.

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  19. Giving up on the phd is certainly something I have considered several times throughout my candidature, and it’s a question at the forefront of my my mind at present. I have just entered the final year of my candidature, so less than twelve months left to go. It’s not that I don’t think my topic is important or interesting anymore, I’m tired of being the only one working on it. And I’m tired of my ‘work day’ involving the same project over and over and over again. So I can’t ‘see’ how I am going to find the passion or interest to do the work that still needs to be done for the dissertation to finish. On top of this I’m also concerned about how the phd is going to help me with future employment prospects, particularly when I’m not certain academia is the best fit for me.

    But I’ve really enjoyed reading this week’s post, and in particular the comments that others have made. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has had this thought cross their mind from time to time.

  20. I have been thinking about quitting practically since the day I started 4 years ago. Even now, with 95000 words written, and a deadline just a couple of months away, I still think about it a lot. I am going to finish because I think it is the right thing to do, but oh, I will be so glad when it’s done.

    I don’t want an academic job, and I didn’t ever really have that kind of ambition. I wanted to do the thesis because I thought I had something worth saying and I thought I could say it well. I still think that on my better days.

  21. Thanks for the good read and general view on that matter. However, this post just scratches on the surface of this problem, very common among PhD students.

    I just discovered this great blog, so excuse me if I tackle a problem, most probably discussed here, already.

    I do not mean to undermine this good article, just to add: why is it that so many PhD students seem to struggle? Sure, a few individuals made a wrong decision to start or are probably not ready (yet) to face the challenge of a PhD research and study. In my opinion and in my experience – I am doing research in natural sciences – problems, as described above, mostly originated from poor supervision, starting with neglecting of writing a proper research plan and the set-up of a realistic time frame, and moreover, WORK with the PhD student. Many times the graduate student is left alone, whilst some supervisors see their role solely as funding provider instead of using their experience to supervise. It is the enormous work load put on the shoulders of PhD students. Of course, doing a PhD involves a lot of work and commitment, but seeing how much responsibilities and duties are unloaded on PhD students without gaining more rights and often combined with neglected supervision, made me question the leadership of some supervisors.

    I do not want to generalize, but It is a pity to see many bright students left depressive, without PhD and, not uncommon, leaving depressive and disappointed after defending their thesis.

    • Messenger RNA, I could not agree more. It seems that, in the absence of excellent supervision, the only way to make it through a PhD with your sanity intact is to already know how to publish papers and how to organise a monstrous, multi-year project. I’m sure those who have worked in challenging fields for several years before taking on a PhD already have many of these skills and therefore struggle less with the logistics. But there are plenty of fresh-faced, inexperienced students out there who are both passionate and intelligent, who simply do not get the guidance they require.

      I don’t understand the problem with formally defining the supervisor-student relationship in the same terms as a manager-employee one. The superior sets the milestones, provides the framework, gives feedback when required, and otherwise leaves the student/employee to the detail of their work. If an employee is not achieving, the manager is usually responsible. Why is this not the case for supervisors??? It is criminal how many young minds get warped, and how many people get turned off a career in academia (myself included) just because a supervisor wanted all the prestige of a successful doctoral thesis, without any of the responsibility. It is reprehensible, and all heads of school need to take a long, hard look at how they manage their staff and whether any repercussions even exist for supervisors letting people down like this. In an ordinary workplace, it simply would not be allowed to happen, so why on earth is it so rife amongst one of the most educated sectors of our society? Either be accountable for your supervisory skills, or do not take on students. Simple, and enforceable.

      PhD students sign up to work hard for years on very little (and often no) money, so they could at least be given the respect they deserve in terms of a little guidance and feedback. The vast majority are motivated enough to do the rest of the hard work themselves, provided they know the right path.

      • I agree – it’s an immense subject and there’s much to say. I would like to respond to each story, but perhaps I will just ‘blah’ here instead and see what comes of it. Luckily the majority of students I encounter on my travels are relatively happy with their supervision relationships – but disciplinary differences and location can make a huge difference. In science you are much more likely to experience some aspects of the ‘employee’ relationship because of the nature of the projects, the way labs are arranged and so on. Like any workplace, this can be problemmatic. Power relationships can be complex and, I think, only recently have PhD students even had a recognisable ‘voice’. Before the invention of the internet the problems existed, but I think it’s fair to say they were not as visible as they do now. Governments around the world are changing the way they fund PhD study, which is also doing its bit to expose some poor practice too. The history of the PhD, and the idea of the ‘master apprentice’ model, it’s intimacy, is still a powerful way of thinking about the PhD. There is a lot that is great about this history, but in the contemporary academy, diversity and performance metrics I think change is inevitable and people need to be more reflexive about how they supervise – and how they study. We need to constantly adjust how we act and react in an environment marked with significant change. In short I think we need to keep raising these questions: about academia, the nature of PhD study and what we want it to be in the future. This blog offers some short time, tactical solutions but I am under no illusion that this solves all the problems. I would encourage students everywhere to take the opportunity to discuss issues with management whenever the opportunity arises.

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  23. Pingback: On motivation « Andy's PhD Blog

  24. Thank you so much for posting this. I am currently still working on my undergraduate degree (after taking ten years off to galavant up and down the East Coast and make my resume look questionable) and even now I struggle. This semester has been particularly hard on me–so much so that I sought out psychiatric intervention. I didn’t know what else to do–my motivation had disappeared, my grades began slipping lower and lower, coursework was piling up and I found no matter how much I wanted to complete it, I just couldn’t make it happen.

    I think a lot of it has to do with external issues I face. I have a very stressful job that relies too heavily on my presence to get tasks done and routinely expects me to work additional hours outside of what I outlined at the beginning of the semester, in addition to a family unit that doesn’t seem to understand that working full time while taking three classes really does make me exhausted. I’ve really had to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself to do what is best for me and not what others expect of me. I’ve had to cut back my hours at work. I started on new medication (which, I realize, isn’t for everyone, but I’m thankful in this case that it seems to be working for me) and I’ve made sure that at least for an hour each day I have “down time” where I can read, or write or just sit quietly with a cup of tea. I have realized that my batteries need recharging frequently and those little moments early in the morning before everyone else wakes up and before I have to be in class are what help keep me going.

  25. Thanks for posting this. I very much enjoy the PhD and the research process, even though I found myself having to struggle with learning a lot of things on my own, with minimal help from the supervisors. But, that is part of my learning journey that I appreciate.

    Strangely, what makes me want to finish my PhD soon are due to two different issues:

    1. Having to deal with childish peers
    – I don’t wish to elaborate on this. Just imagine having to deal with someone in their thirties who comment on how others dress.

    2. Academic arrogance

    – I have seen peers who think they are superior to others. Some even think others are dumb. I miss the kind of collegiate PhD environment my friends in the US have described to me, with peers who offer support and constructive comments. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Australia, or at least not in my university.

    • Yes – I think we have a way to go in some places. My way of dealing with that stuff is just to act the way I expect from others. I’m not religious, but Jesus , buddha and all the other prophets got that bit right.

  26. I myself am doing a PhD in aerospace engineering and currently half way through my second year. I’m unmotivated to do work 90% of the time. I related to a lot in this article with respect to the fact that I applied for this PhD in the first place because I was worried I wouldn’t get a job after I graduated from my degree and I also thought my friends and family would be proud of me once I get my Doctor title. But I’m realising now that these weren’t strong enough reasons to do this PhD. I also have a bigger issue, I’ve found out recently that I don’t want a job in engineering at all but want to pursue my love for biology. How on Earth do I do that when I have a degree in aerospace engineering and I’m half way through my PhD?! To add to my frustration, my PhD is being fully sponsored so my family say that I shouldn’t drop out because I have financial security for the next year and a half plus I will feel like I’ve wasted my sponsor’s money if I do quit. What is a girl to do? Do I stay put because it’s easier, financially secure and pleases everyone? Or do I drop out, end up working full time in retail no doubt and start another expensive career path into the world of biology adding to my debt but hopefully doing something I enjoy. Comments very welcome:)

    • A third way, perhaps, is to finish and see how you can use your engineering skills in the field of biology. I’m sure there are many potential cross overs. Most people I know do not work in the topic, or the field, in which they did their PhD. Mine was about hand gestures! A phd is not destiny.

      • Thanks for your reply. I have considered that as well, it’s just getting the motivation behind me to do some work as I’ve fallen behind anyway (due to illness). The field I want to work in unfortunately requires a minimum of an undergrad degree in biology and I only have an a-level.

      • I finally quit and even though I’ve disappointed a lot of people and my supervisor is emotionally blackmailing me, I am so relieved to get out of it and try to get on with my life. I know I’ve made the right decision. It takes some guts though to swim against the tide and it is a big decision but it’s worth it in the end.

  27. Thank you so much for this helpful and insightful blog. I quit my Ph.D in Apr. 2011 and to this day I still feel very sensitive about it. I don’t regret quitting, it was the best thing as I had experienced academic mistreatment not only from the department but also from my supervisor who could be a bully and a tyrant. It took me a long time to move on, get a real job, and stabilize my life again or “deinstitutionalize” myself from academia. And the most unfortunate thing was that I couldn’t reach out to people, it was so hard to find someone who had gone through the same thing I had. Now I have a good job and am relatively happy with myself but the Ph.D experience did leave some wounds that are taking their time to heal. For those of you out there thinking of quitting, don’t look at it as a negative/waste of time experience, this may be the best thing for you and furthermore you don’t loose the credits you gained to date, you can always go back and do it again. At least you tried and you’re NOT ALONE!!

  28. Hey, Strange posting as it almost seems to be encouraging giving up rather than figuring out a way forward with the commitment made. Which, considering as places are competitive and other students will have lost out to make way for the PhD student in question, seems a little churlish and selfish. I don’t know about surfing Facebook but knowing I’d deprived someone else of a place and then given up cos I felt a bit miserable for a while would definitely make me feel guilty! Not to mention £13k or so of government funding per annum (or else a person’s savings), which after a couple of years, surely places some onus on the student to make the best of it thereafter – even if it leads to an MPhil instead of a doctorate. Being a bit demotivated for a while is NOT a good enough reason to quit when others have invested in you already. Everyone experiences that, and especially, earlier on, before things start working better.

    Personally, I could have quit about 100 times in the first 2 years; but then suddenly all the lightbulbs came on (most of them around 3 months before the end when the pressure brought out the best in me); and I never looked back.

    I would say the exact opposite of this article; it pays to stick with things or else you can easily become a serial giver-upper on everything, whether a degree course, a job, a family, or whatever else.

    Daniel King.

    • That’s true about the funding Daniel, but when you start a PhD you don’t necessarily know where it will take you, and it might take you to a place you didn’t envisage going, and don’t want to go. Also, just sticking with it isn’t much help if, for example, the behaviour of other people in the program is making you literally ill. Sometimes it really is better for the individual to bail. I don’t think many people do that without a lot of soul-searching.

    • Daniel,

      Where exactly does the obligation to stay in the program come from? Couldn’t your argument apply just as well to any sort of job? When you take up a post, people choose you over others and they provide you with funding and training. It seems a bit steep to say that you thereby have an obligation to stay in the post, even if you don’t like it! You have an obligation to fulfill your duties while you’re in the post — but it can’t be you’re obligated to keep the post too!

      Further, leaving the program gives someone else an opportunity to take your place. If anything, it’s selfish to stay in a program and make no progress when your funding could go to someone else who would use it better!

      Your last argument, again, maintains what I think is an extreme thesis — that either you never should quit anything or else you’re likely to quit everything. I can understand the reasoning that leads to that thesis, but surely that’s paradoxical! Something must have gone wrong there…

      I would say if you spend 1 or 2 years and make no progress, you can seriously consider whether you want to continue. The time without progress is wasted time so far as the department is concerned, and that’s why I say that if you can’t get yourself to shape up you should start thinking that you have a positive obligation to the others to think whether you might not be better doing something else.

    • This post isn’t about giving up just because you feel like it; it’s about learning when it makes sense to quit. There is no need to force yourself to do something that isn’t working, especially just because you’ve spent some money (or someone else has spent money) on it. It’s better to stop wasting more money, time, and energy, and move on with your life so you can do something more productive and fulfilling.

      Best wishes,
      BJ

      • My attitude towards quitting the PhD is this: imagine your PhD is now crawling with problems and you see no obvious way out. As a part of self-defense mechanism a person is thinking of easy way out and making up excuses why he/she has done so. However, imagine an alternative scenario. Let us assume that you have succeeded against all odds. Imagine what sense of pride and self-accomplishment would that give to you in everyday life knowing that you have succeeded in every endeavour you have taken. I really believe there is a price tag on quitting the PhD in terms of self-esteem and bruised ego. Therefore, I am heartfully against quitting PhD although there are cases when quitting PhD is better than going on ( for example family comes first to me )

  29. After finishing the “hard part” of my PhD in political science at a Canadian University- One year of course work and 3…yes 3 comprehensive exams (all in one year btw) I left my PhD. What sucks at my school is that despite my completion I am not formally an ABD. I was also not awarded a Masters despite doing MORE work than the Masters students. I don’t feel bad about it although It sucks having realized that I could have started private sector consultancy right from my masters and climbed my way up in the time that I was there- but for me it came down to the question of what the value in doing a PhD was and if I did not want to be an academic…the stress and miserable existence was no longer worth the battle. I left in good academic standing and with amazing relations with my faculty. Many felt bad that they advised me to ride out the comp process. What I am wrestling with now, is what I do with the two years of Grad school on my CV. I was a meaningful member of my department, sat on hiring, journal committees and TAed. My research also benefited the school. Some people have suggested that I erase it, as it will scare away employers. (re: “Overqualified”/Quitter remarks) But then that erases two years of my life off of my CV which to me is even worse. I am also not sure as to what level of work I now qualify for. I have maybe 2-3 years of work experience here and there -but its not enough for mid level- I want to apply to grad schemed in light of my novice status but I am not sure I qualify for “graduate schemes” as my masters was completed in 2008. Does anyone have advice on this matter?

    • That sounds like a career conundrum and a half. I hear similar stories often enough that I think faculty need to be more careful in how they advise prospective students. There are similar ‘traps’ in the Australian system which don’t appear until you are a few years in.

      Advice? It’s hard, but I will try. If you want to be an academic there’s nothing for it but to buckle up and get a PhD somehow – best consult with someone deeply familiar with the Canadian system if that’s the case. This blog is good:http://mygraduateschool.wordpress.com/ . As for other options… I suppose it really depends on what you want to do with your life. I don’t think you should ever ‘hide’ your education – do you really want to work for someone who would want you to do this? If you need to repair finances, the public service (particularily policy work) or communications is an area to consider – in many cases grad school is looked on favourably. I have found this site http://www.selloutyoursoul.com/ particularly helpful in thinking about how you might sell your skills in the private sector, if you want to venture there instead of more study. I also deeply enjoyed the book “so good they can’t ignore you” http://www.calnewport.com/books/sogood.html Best of luck!

      • Thank you very much. I am actually entertaining the PR/Public Affairs Route and actually know selloutyoursoul very well :) I have no aspirations to be involved in the academy even in the most remote sense ie: teaching at a college. I am just done with it. I completely agree that not enough faculty invest in showing their grad students the reality of the program/career prospects. This institution (which to be fair is meant to churn out academics) does not do enough to prepare people for non-academic work- which is why i left. I don’t ask for pity because at least I scored free education for two years (the awesome part about Canada vs say the UK). The NGO world/PR world is where I am focused on now. One of my friends i the NGO sector said it best, “a weekend course on excel provides you with more skills sets than a PhD” – funny but true. Will keep you posted about where one who leaves a PhD fits in the career/new recruit scheme.

  30. Dear Thesis Whisperer

    Like many of the people who have posted I am having serious thoughts about quitting and am wondering what to do. I have changed discipline from history to sociology (without even a GCSE in sociology) so am really struggling with the academic work that follows from this major change. It’s like learning a new language at break-neck speed. The other thing that has happened is that Mum is terminally ill with bone cancer. I have suspended my studies for six months (due to return in April) but am trying to ‘catch up’ in my time off – I feel I am making progress and it’s a great distraction for what’s happening with Mum – but I am incredibly slowly making progress. The last contact I had with my supervisor was that a paragraph I had written was ‘excellent’ ie a positive supervision session, but perversely this has just made me think of quitting while I’m ahead! Has anyone got any advice?

    • Sorry to hear about your Mum :-( Mine had a long battle with cancer about 15 years ago (she didn’t make it) and, like you, I found work a relief. I wouldn’t want to tell you to stop working while it’s helping take your mind off things, but I will say that I was only able to hold it together for a relatively short time and, eventually, I crashed pretty hard. I have no other advice than to be kind to yourself and, perhaps, have a talk with the counsellor at your Uni. They have helped many students through these kinds of situations and will not doubt provide a great sounding board to talk through this kind of decision. Best wishes, i

  31. Great article. I have been debating whether this PhD caper is really for me. But when I think about the great people I have met, and the great conversations I have with my peers on related research topics, I realise that I really do enjoy it.

    I think the thing that makes me feel unhappy is my main supervisor. That seems to be the source of my misery. It’s rather turned me off academia. So, caught between a rock and a hard place.

  32. I am also thinking about quitting. I am miserable and make no progress day to day. I surf the web, play games, put off going to the lab, then justify making 2 plots as a full day of work. But, I am in my 7th year and that is a lot of time. My adviser in general is pretty good and attentive and encourages a life outside the program. He doesn’t bully and answers questions when they come up. However, I feel like he has lost faith in me and is just waiting for me to make this choice. I wish the culture allowed a conversation like this without us both feeling like a failure. My first project failed and I wrote it up for my funders then started another. It was after that first failure, reasons known and based in a physical problem, that I started something new, in part to prevent burnout. But I am burnt out and a 2 month task is now on 7 because I just have no ambition. I am trying to write this task as a chapter and am getting nowhere. Now I am writing it up as a chapter but in my writing trying to make it its own thesis. When it is done, I am thinking about using it as a master’s thesis and screw the other 2 tasks needed for the PhD.

    Mentally my depression is flaring and even making me sick of where I live, despite formerly loving it. I had three reasons to go to grad school, some better than others. The first I have reasonably achieved, the second has pretty much no prospect due to the economy. That field is small and shrinking fast. If it comes back the real-world experience would be just as good as a PhD. The third (enjoying academic research) is no longer true and I cannot see myself following that path.

    I think an interesting follow up post would be “After you decide to leave your PhD…” There are many questions. How do I tell people from my parents to my adviser? Should I find a job before I leave if I do want to stay in the field? How to include this on your resume? Where does this leave you in job posting qualifications? How to spin this positively when applying for jobs when you feel like a quitter? And so on.

    • It is incredibly difficult to talk about leaving in many academic cultures, but it sounds like you need to have some of these conversations… Your uni will have a counselling service who can coach you on how to approach the conversation and deal with people’s reaction to your decision. It sounds like you have done a lot of thinking and are in a good position to discuss it with the people who matter. I wish you all the best and will try to find someone to write a post phd post – someone who has had that experience themselves.

    • Funnily enough, the only person I know who was doing a PhD on attrition ended up quitting herself! The best study of attrition so far is by Barbara Lovitts – who also quit her PhD, but published the research anyway :-)

      • Lovitts dropped out of 2 PhD programs and finished her third, in sociology. Her thesis was in attrition from PhD programs and it was published as a book, Leaving the Ivory Tower.

  33. I am in a similar situation. After my Masters, I took time to decide and had a clear idea of what I want to do for PhD. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and did very well. I am in the 4th year writing and analyses phase. I am thinking of quitting. For me, this is very painful to even think..but I am so confused and exhausted. My supervisor is so unrealistic and very mean. Her deadlines are unrealistic. Instead of enjoying the learning process, I am in complete fear of rushing, which is not good. It is pretty hard to deal with her. I don’t know what to do. I have planned so much after and want to work in the field and bring about changes in my country. Any advice/support would be so much appreciated!!!! I am also seeing a psychiatrist and she is very helpful. At times, I think I should take a leave of absence and complete successfully without her pressure. But I am so lost now…!! lost PhD student

  34. Hi,

    Its both reassuring and abit worrying for me to read all these comments but I hope all those that made their decision to leave felt like they had done the correct thing and are happy now!

    Sorry this might be a long one..

    As far as my situation goes I am nearing 5 months into my phd which I went into straight after completing my research masters (before I had my result even). This may sound like a rushed decision but I really love research and knew that I was doing good work and wanted to keep the ball rolling. Trouble is I was given a studentship without being given a topic or predetermined project, this includes not even the vaguest plan from my supervisory team.

    I admit I was well aware of this but thought that there would be some support in deriving a topic and plan, i.e something in the mind of my supervisor that he had wanted to do but not found the right person for. However I now find myself still without a defined topic or plan, not for want of trying. Previous comments in this thread really struck home with me; about the responsibilities of supervisors to be more than funding allocators! To be quite honest I feel like I have made a massive mistake and it is becoming clear that really I am there because they had extra funding they did not want to loose. As a result I sit straddled between research groups that my interests really don’t cross into enough. I am a homeless unsupported student and this is really affecting me.

    I have made little tangible progress and actually envy the situation of my peers who started at the same time who at least have project which their supervisors have put some time into. I am clear about the realities of research and of conducting a phd but i really do feel like iv made the position much harder for myself in a field that is tbh rather overdone.

    Im very down, which is sometimes my natural state but this isn’t helping. I think leaving may be best so I can take a break and work out the right area for me in a department that is supportive and where my research will have a relevance.

    How do I approach this with my supervisor without it blowing back in my face!!?

    Thanks for the opportunity to air my thoughts!

    • my friend, however unbelievable it may sound, before I enrolled MPhil and PhD, for 8 years I was truck driver and working late shifts in bars. One day I was approached by proffesor asking me if I would enroll in MPhil and I was thinking why not. Because of my experience before the PhD, I enjoyed huge respect among supervisors and other professors. My point is, press your supervisors to do something and make them give you clear goals and topic. If not, bring the problem to higher instance and please be persistent. You will see how the attitude changes with time. Best of Luck

  35. Good topic, I must admit. I started my PhD in UK with topic that was designed just for me by my supervisors. It was thought that it would be a breeze for me to finish. However, as it unfortunately turned out, the topic was infested with mathematical and physical problems not solved before. I was struggling for 3 years and with no useful results; in fact I knew all my results were wrong although I was encouraged by my supervisors saying “you are so close”. Then 6 months before deadline I scraped my PhD and decided to go rogue; I have decided to defy most of the things tought at university courses and was able to come with beautifull mathematical/physical theory that really worked. Passed my PhD viva and got my PhD certificate.

    However, now I feel like empty balloon. In order to get professorship I should publish what I have found out, in the form of papers. But the theory is on almost 500 pages and every mathematical theorem is related to other. On the other hand, the theory broadens some common concepts (not to say it challenges some others) and I know it is a huge amount of work to get this published. I dont even know now if I want to do that because I am now getting into business arena and have family to support. I dont even know whether I want to be academic, although I am recognized as brilliant by supervisors and proffesors. I really feel this was waste of effort and years, but hey, PhD looks good on visit cards. Finally, I am saddened because my theories, which are considered really good by authorities in the field, are fetching dust in my study room.

  36. Just a short follow-up to explain my position a bit better. Although I have finished my PhD, I am as well a father of a child with serious medical condition who needs constant medical attention. Yes he has progressed tremendously and might as well get cured but it costed me and still costs me large amounts of money. That os why I am involved in business arena and my PhD, at the moment, has no meaning to me except in terms of self esteem. Sorry for pathetic post, but at least I feel relived a bit…

  37. It is nice to have a forum where we can talk about our fears and concerns of failure and quitting. My partner who has been very very supportive of my dream to do my PhD just doesnt understand.

    A bit about me – doing my PhD part-time and just finished my first year. Found out yesterday that my Confirmation of Candidature is to have been completed by end of the first year (even though I am a PT student). Both supervisors and myself were working on the wrong thinking that I had 2 years.

    Uni will give me another 6 months to do it in but I dont think my supervisor believes I can do it. I am certainly thinking I can’t. I don’t like failing and will be embarased to quit. OMG the thoughts of quiting vs failure v letting down people is all consuming.

    • One simple advice … FIGHT! Try best you can. That way, even if you don’t get Confirmation of Candidature you will be o.k. with yourself knowing that you have done best you can. Furthermore, six months ( or a year in total I suppose) is not too much of the wasted time. Perhaps, it may be that Confirmation of Candidature is not bad thing after all, because it does not allow you to pursue fruitless thesis. Best of luck and do your best :)

  38. I can’t number how many times I’ve read and re-read this post.

    I think about quitting my PhD every day. I’ve thought about it every day for the past year.

    To say I’m unhappy is an understatement. I’m miserable. It’s gotten to the point that I can only stand being in lab for 2-3 hours a day before I break down and start crying because being here causes me so much pain.

    The problem is I’m 3.5 years in. I have a little over a year to go (in theory). I know that if I can just tough it out my mentor will help me graduate in 5 years. But the problem is my project has been a complete dead end. At first, negative experiment after negative experiment was to be expected. Then it was an opportunity to learn about perseverance and become stronger. Then it was an annoyance. Now it’s a cruel joke. Now I simply laugh at the end of each experiment “oh, another negative result? How shocking.”

    I’ve talked with many people in my life about quitting. All of them tell me to just stick it out. A year from now I will be done and I’ll be happy that I made it, because once you have the PhD it can’t hurt, right? Plus I’ve already invested so much time and effort into… I’m pass the point of no return.

    I feel trapped. I can’t quit, but I can’t be happy.

    • Sorry to hear that Hannah – I can only imagine the raft of feelings you must be dealing with. Yes, it can’t hurt to get a PhD, but do you really need one to achieve your career goals? I’d recommend a visit to the university careers counsellor who can be a good sounding board. The people I work with in these units are dedicated professionals and, no doubt, have talked many a PhD student through this kind of crisis. Alternatively, can you take a break from your PhD and give yourself some headspace? When you are miserable like this it is hard to make decisions. I wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do, inger

  39. I came to this post because I quit my Ph.D. 5 years ago and last night I had a dream that I could complete it – and it would only have to be 16 pages long! Yes – definitely a dream. ;-) I had a really supportive committee and advisor, I did the research, I went to an excellent program… and yet it just was not right for me, even though I was fairly close to the end. I think because US Ph.Ds tend to be so long (especially in my area of the social sciences), you change a lot during this process.

    By the time I was ‘writing up’ – supposedly near the end, but really with a good year of writing and probably min. of 6 months of revisions, etc, I was living in a different country and ready to move on from academia, even though I treasured my experience and the people I met along the way. For me, that was the reward – the people I met, the experiences I had – rather than the hard-won letters after my name.

    Now I am in a completely different career that offers a great deal of flexibility (ie., I can find a job or work remotely in pretty much any country), and it is well paid and interesting. And no one cares if I finished my Ph.D. or not. Quitting gave me the chance to get started on a new career and to learn a new language at a professional level.

    That works for my life – I hope you all will find what works for yours. As one committee member wrote to me ‘it takes the courage to change’. You probably will have ‘dissertation dreams’, though, so be warned ;-)

  40. Pingback: 6 Ways To Balance and Survive The PhD Grind Of Grad School | The Grad Student Way

  41. PhD currently in meltdown. Perfectionist who slaved through ugrad, dissertation done, funded MA as a consequence. Slaved through MA (girlfriend’s dad died, she had to be dragged through her final year of ugrad too). This was the first time I ever needed an essay extension, due to the extra pressure at MA with the girlfriend’s understandable problems. Finished MA dissertation in August, 5 weeks, 16hr days. No break, straight into a funded PhD early September. Girlfriend still struggling, stuck in the city I was studying in, putting her career on hold, depressed, delayed grief.

    Then my problems started to exacerbate the situation – completely drained of motivation, asked to read theoretical work which I was totally unaccustomed to, PhD training classes, first year tutorial leading, and language training. I avoid these classes, I ignore emails, I let library fines increase, I’m sloppy with deadlines and time management, I procrastinate too much. I’ve put on weight and lost hair.

    Language was put on hold for a whole year basically as I couldn’t handle it. Got through first year, begin language training again. Now just at the point where I should be getting through my first second year panel. Physically can’t do it, sick of doing dissertations every six month for nothing, lacking in motivation, lacking in analytical and structuring skills, no reward scheme (finish work, pat on the back and go out), instead its drag drag drag and I can’t justify a night out. Missed Christmas, missed birthday, not seeing friends, not seeing family, working all the time but not being productive. spend weeks on a single theoretical book.

    I have all the symptoms of “burnout”. Need a month holiday. Trouble is, panel document not done and in a month I go on a three month placement to the Library of Congress (I’m a UK AHRC student). If I don’t stop for this month, I fear I won’t get back on track but I don’t know if I’ll get a month or any time at all.

    I’ve tried to tell my supervisor the whole way through, I need to stop. He thinks too much of me. Problem is, no-one can provide academic help. He helps my core subject of diplomatic history, but wants to theorise it with sociology, specifically dramaturgy (well that is what we have decided on ) My second supervisor is a lit critic, with a head in the clouds, directs me to Foucault and Butler, when I’m behind on Goffman (these are my specific academic problems). It all adds up into a potent concoction.

    • I still love the archives, I still love history, and can see the beauty of combining dramaturgical sociology with diplomatic history. It is just beyond my current powers of effort and comprehension to do it.

  42. I don’t want to quit PhD! really. It’s the last thing I’d do. But right now, after a year and a half since the starting of the PhD, I’m thinking that I’ve chosen the wrong topic or, at least, wrong supervisor. My background is in electrical/electronics but I’m now doing a PhD in photonics. I know, most ppl would say it’s normal for a PhD to change field. However, I have a strong interest in integrating my knowledge in different fields but my supervisor wouldn’t support that and want me to focus on photonics only. Moreover, I have no interest in fundamental physics at all which is quite opposite from my supervisor. Yet, I can’t take an ownership of the project because my supervisor just want everything his way. I’m demotivated and start to wonder even if I get the degree after 3 years, will I be proud of it. I’m just a labor force of my supervisor. Then, after that, will I be able to get a postdoc position in a total different field? Will anybody hire me to do something totally different from my PhD topic? I initially thought my topic would be a cross-disciplinary fields between photonics/electronics/mechanics but it just turns out to be 100% photonics. Should I or should I not continue this? I’ve been thinking about it everyday lately.

    • Demotivation is a real problem – I see more people leave for this reason than any other. I’d recommend taking your concerns to the academic in your department charged with the oversight of research students – there will be one who can have a confidential discussion with you. Your issue is relatively common and you are early enough in your candidature to change course if this is what you decide to do. Best of luck with your decision making process.

  43. I have come here like everyone else, by doing some research about quitting. I know I am not a slow learner or a dull student. I am stuck with an advisor who is trying really hard to push his wife to get a full time position in the universtiy. She is extremely moody and unclear of her goals and his only interest seems to be to push her goals. I am stuck as the PhD student who is made to do her projects and his collaborator’s projects and in turn, I never have time to do my work. It has been 18 months in the lab with not even a figure to show as my data. I have finished qualifiers successfully and if given at least 6 months of time, I could gather enough data to propose and be a candidate. But, he refuses to give me time to work (I was told on my face that it is not possible). Also, apart from this, I dog sat for them during christmas break since I am anyway not expected to go anywhere out of town (I work with stem cells). My fiance is a PhD student in Albany and we are getting married in December. I asked him when I would finish potentially and I never get a good answer. The talk is that I will be kept till the mx duration of PhD student and then would be let go. I do not want to be a professor and I got into PhD only because I love research. Now, I am trying to look for a Data analyst positions in banks with my MS, Engineering and quit. During MS, I quit another crazy cat lady professor and it was the best decision in my life. I am not a serial quitter but unfortunately, universities have more bad Prof.s than good ones and I seem to have all the odds against me.

    • If the situation is as you say it is, it sounds like your supervisors are acting contrary to some of your university’s regulations. A PhD student is not meant to be a low paid worker. From the point of view of the institution, the primary reason to have a PhD student is to award a degree. I would take your concerns to the academic in charge of your department. This is but the first step you can take – there will be formal complaints processes you can follow after that if you are not satisfied. I have confidence in these to sort out problems like yours and encourage you to try this approach before quitting. Best of luck.

  44. Where to begin. In 2005 I finished a MA in psych, applied to one PhD program in the same and got in. Was ecstatic. It’s now 8 years later. The program is quite extensive, there are courses and internships and candidacy to be completed even before you start collecting data and defending. I have done it all. All except, that is, defending. They give you 6 years to finish the program, but it’s not uncommon to get n extension for another year given how intensive the program is they sort of look the other way and allow the extra time if you need it. I have had one extension and am now on my first year long compassionate leave of absence. So this is technically year #8 for me now. In all likelihood if I choose to finish I will need another extension once this year is over (unless I decide to have a sudden burst of productivity and complete during my leave) bringing the grand total up to 9 years just to finish a PhD. I have a 4.0 GPA. I have no interest in academia. My supervisor that I have now (not the one prior to candidacy) is a sweet, kind and caring man. I have finished my licensing process for practice as a psychologist where I live, which only required a MA, but involved successfully jumping through additional burning hoops of fire. And I don’t want to do it anymore. And I am so ashamed about this. And when I say I don’t want to do it anymore, I mean I don’t even want the same profession anymore! I’m mortified to admit this. I have clients, I am starting to build a practice, the money is crap but its getting better and would certainly improve once I finished the phd (everyone loves to see a Dr.)… But I have been aware now for a long time this started this phd for all the wrong reasons. For parents validation, to fit in with a family if drs., for recognition, for praise, to matter, and even, yes for prestige. All the wrong reasons. But I love colour. I love design. I love textiles and set design. The trouble is that I’m a very good therapist. I have almost $60k in debt from school. I have no formal training or experience in design (although some informal). The topic I picked for my dissertation is timely and relevant and I picked that too for all the wrong reasons, including that it was something I personally was dealing with at the time. My life is different now. I have felt like quitting for a long time now. But I feel so ashamed and like all the time was a waste! I can rationally see that having a phd can’t hurt, even if I don’t want to continue in a career that involves its use, but what was the point of it al then!? I’ve been reading everyone’s posts and I feel like I must be the person with the longest time in a phd! Further shame! How did I let it come to this?! I am seriously judging myself as a coward if I stay, and a waster if I quit! I’ve got myself hooped! Any advice or feedback welcome…even if its just that you read this, I’ve never posted about this before and it would be a comfort to know that the first time I did wasn’t in vain….thanks. TrappedArtist

    • I don’t know if you saw my post (above) but I was in my programme from 2001 until 2008/9 with a year of leave from 2008-2009. I was in it about the same length of time as you were, so no need to feel ashamed. I hope you will figure out the best course of action – have you (as a therapist :-)) talked to another therapist (or other person) outside your circle of contacts about these feelings? They might be able to give you some perspective.

      It seems with the debt and the growing client base, you could continue your current professional work and have the financial stability that it can bring in the short/mid-term. Then while paying down some debt, you could take design courses and see whether that really is your passion.

      On the other hand, I quit the Ph.D. and jumped into a new career in a different country, first working as an intern and working my way up to being an independent (successful!) consultant in the course about about 5 years – it has been more rewarding personally and financially than the Ph.D. and in less time! So if you do want to do that, it’s not impossible and anyway everyone has some student debt – keep up the minimum payments while transitioning and then pay it all back when you’re a successful designer!

      For your Ph.D., it is such a personal choice. You have to be really confident in your decision & ready to tell people ‘hey, it was my decision and I don’t regret it at all’ (especially to a family of doctors) without feeling the need to justify/defend yourself. I think it is brave to consider going in a completely direction and it is your life, no one else’s. I did that and have not looked back. But you have to be unashamed about it and having a few people in your corner who ‘get it’ really helps.

      Looking at the full picture of what you’ve accomplished – whether you stay on to complete the Ph.D. or not – you should be proud of what you’ve achieved by helping so many people. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own happiness and goals. Hope this helps!

  45. Joanna, I’ve read and re-read your reply a few times and I can’t tell you how comforting it is! Thank you! As I mentioned in my original post I’ve been wanting to quit now from year 2, and yet this us the first time that I’ve actually allowed myself to really consider and discuss with with others as a real option, not to mention reach out on a website! The piece you said about shame is right on the mark… And it’s definitely something I need to do some work on (spoken like a therapist!) …thank you for taking the time to respond…

  46. I quit my PhD after many years. I never felt better in my life. I did my graduate studies while keeping a high paying full-time job and a family. It went well with the masters degree and the course load and qualifying exam for the PhD. After that, it just dragged and dragged. Jumping between different research ideas and having a non-experienced supervisor with a few career problems of his own added to the problem for sure, but it was mostly my laziness. Finishing the PhD became a creature of its own to me. I just have to finish because any of the following: my friends did it so why not I, I will feel ashamed and incapable, I spent so much time and money on course so how can all this go to waste….etc. It took me a long time to face the facts. I have an excellent job where I nurture and challenge my research and engineering abilities every day. I just have no drive or purpose for that PhD. It will not advance my career. It will just be another nice frame I hang on the wall next to my other degrees and professional certifications. I am not excited or energetic enough about it! I hated working on the research point and hated sending reports to my supervisor. I hated our meetings. I just hate it, yet I kept going!

    Anyway, I did it and I quit. I talked to my boss at work to make sure it won’t impact my career, and I was assured it won’t. Since then, my focus on my job had doubled to say the least and I had a few big achievements. I am on my way to a promotion soon. I also have time now for my personal hobbies and a long due fitness and reshaping plan. I feel my look at life has been changed and distorted because of the PhD. Now I am enjoying everything I do without the guilt. I felt guilty about any time I wasted not working on my PhD. I sometimes had nightmares. I hated that weekends came by and gone without my producing any work. I neither enjoyed my time with my family nor work hard enough on my Phd. It was just crazy.

    The only thing I regret now is that it took me too long to quit. This is not an invitation for people to quit. A PhD is a hard and long project and people have their doubts from time to time. But for me, it just have no importance. Some people told me I will regret quitting soon enough. But so far so good :-)

    • John thanks so much for posting this!! I feel very similar – I have a great full-time job aswell, and am also dragging my heels in the PhD for years now (see my longer post below!) Any regrets a few months after quitting? I really, really hope not!

    • Hi John,
      I am leaving this note since it mirrors my situation. I have a great job (full time teacher) and decided 5 years ago to start a Ph.D. in education for the excitement of learning something new. The first 3 years were great! Finished the course work (nicely I might add) did the comprehensive exam, and have collected a mound of data that seems to have many positive aspects to it. So what is the problem? Two things I think. First is the almost complete academic isolation (no one to bounce ideas off of etc). Since I work full time it is difficult to make it to the campus on a regular basis to feel included. This is no one’s fault: it is what it is. But there are just so many distractions, road bumps and just plain circumstances that it is difficult to ‘dial in’ so to speak for extended periods of time that are needed. Due to my geographical location I cannot access the texts necessary for the literature review aspect of my work (journals I have access on-line).
      I am tired. It seems that one cannot do everything well. But to pick one thing and do it well means the other(s) have to suffer. I think the biggest problem (and the moral of the story) is that if you are to pursue a Ph.D. like John and myself, be sure that you take a year off (or half a year at least) from your job to focus on the writing aspect and research. Personally, I need to quit. I have enjoyed the ride but finishing gives me no benefits really (economic or status) and it makes my professional life in the classroom miserable for me (don’t worry, I don’t let it show) since I feel guilty for not spending more time on my classroom practice because of the Ph.D. work.. I wish deeply I could take that half year off, but economics of my situation says no. And by the way, don’t do a Ph.D. for fun!!! Have a goal in mind first.

  47. I finally new it was time to quit my PhD when I got accepted into a journal and I just couldn’t be bothered to do the revisions. The journal even gave me two extensions without asking, but a total lack of interest finally forced me to realize I had come to the end of my academic career. I had been thinking of quitting for a couple years but also felt like it would be admitting failure. Taking a full time job helped with the financial part, but put my PhD completely on the back-burner. I am lucky to have found a job in my field, and I don’t regret it at all. The funny thing is my wife just quit her job to go back and start a PhD.

  48. I joined phd just 3 months ago in one of the best institute in India. From joining i am feeling to leave it and you dont believe but my guide is super chill and too Good but i am completely devastated with the remembrance of home and one of the my course work teacher, who always put me down in my morality. He always says too bad and scold me a lot. I am just fed of that guy. But as he is not my superviser i am not able to decide, What i do? Leave the phd or just tolerate this person for a year

  49. I’ve been reading this post for the past half hour. I may or may not be avoiding homework, but I feel less stressed. I started my PhD 2 years ago sort of on accident. Before completing my application, I asked for an informational interview with the Chair. I left: enrolled, with a GAship, and completely flattered that the Chair pulled all these strings with me. Now, I am in the last half of my final semester of course work, and I am fed up. If I didn’t feel so disinterested in my program, I’d be really hurt at my advisor’s distance. I may look into a Master’s Thesis form here. My roots are in fiction. Realistically, I don’t think I should have been admitted in the first place.

  50. Great post! I started my PhD 2 years ago — by accident. Before completing my application, I asked for an informational interview with the Chair. I left that meeting 38 (thirty-eight) minutes later: enrolled, with a GAship, and completely flattered that the Chair pulled all these strings for me. Now, I am in the last half of my final semester of course work, and I feel disinterested, in over my head, and fed up. My roots are in fiction. Realistically, I don’t think I should have been admitted in the first place, which makes me want to switch to “higher ed” studies and research the emotional/mental/physical well-being of doctoral students (pre/during/post) their programs. I love/hate PhD school.

  51. Im on the fence right now. people expect me to finish. its going well. however i hate the country its in. absolutely loath it. if this phd was at home i wouldn’t be on the fence. wouldn’t give it a second thought…but ya……..im not sure what to do.

  52. I too have considered quitting my dissertation. The thing is, I don’t want to quit, it’s just i’ve lost all motivation. Right now i’m trapped in a loop of constant revisions of my theory chapter with my supervisor. I don’t know what to do. It’s so frustrating.

  53. Thanks for the insightful posts. I am having a moment of self-doubt that is dragging me down and making it very hard to face the pressing deadlines i have looming. I am a part-time PhD candidate and work full-time in a fairly demanding role and at the moment I feel exhausted constantly. It is very tough to face dense reading, creative thinking or tackling a paper or chapter draft. I don’t want to quit and I essentially trust the process so I’m hoping that this is just an uncomfortable stage rather than a true crisis. I like the idea (posted above) of setting aside what you’re stuck on and moving on to something new – my chapter is currently a lumpen mess so I’m going to set it aside and tackle the conference paper I’ve got to complete. Hopefully a couple of weeks break will shift my attitude and reduce my anxiety.

    • Just wanted to say I completely understand your concerns about dense reading etc, especially when you’re demotivated! I’m in the same position and my work has gone downhill because of it I fear, embarrassing as my supervisors read it… I think a good break is the best idea, time to think about what’s important for yourself and for the research. Hopefully an upcoming holiday next month will help me! :)

  54. Hi, I am planning to quit my phd too but I was in my dilemma now. This is my 3rd year phd. Actually i really like to do research very much but unfortunately I couldn’t really progress in my project. I hate those life that no matter how many times you tried, you still can’t get any results. My supervisor never give me any advice on my problems but just blame me for my slow progress. The environment in my lab is not good for research too. No scientific discussion among lab members here. I didn’t get any proper phd training. Therefore, I am planning to quit and pursue my phd in other places. However, I’m worried that other supervisors might not accept me as their students as they might think that I am an irresponsible person.

  55. I started my phd in 2006, it’s now 2013. I’m not finished. In those 7 years I have not received any funding and have simply worked as much as I could to get by, pay for rent/food/lifestyle. Now and again I got time to do some research. I have enough finance now to finish my writing and complete it, but because I am at the topic so long I have lost my drive, passion and motivation. Not to mention seeing my sister, very young, die of cancer before my eyes. I’m not sure whether I should quit it at this stage as I don’t have the mental energy to continue with this stressful task. Any advice?

  56. Want to thank all those who gave advice, especially Joanna. I am in my third year of a PhD program with a FT job and a side business that has taken off more than I could imagine. I dream about quitting my PhD every single day. I feel that it’s in the works. I’m giving myself the summer to finalize my decision. I’m sick of working with a department and campus location that’s unhelpful and absent. I have not fit in since the beginning, and my own research and side business are turning out to be far more fruitful and aligned with my professional goals than this program. Thanks for sounding off, I loved reading all the responses.

    • Thank you! So glad to have helped. I don’t want to encourage people to quit their Ph.d. but there is life after the Ph.D. , whether you finish or not! :-)

  57. Like most other people on here, I came here through googling ‘quit a phd’. I started a geography PhD 7 months ago, and have written quite a lot whilst also planning fieldwork for next year. It all went well and I had good reviews, until recently when I got terrible feedback on a piece I’d written and feel very upset and demotivated (it was probably bad as I just didn’t care about the subject, but also didn’t have enough time to learn a complete new subject and write about it!). For me the main issues are dealing with criticism and academic snobbery, especially since I’m starting in a new field and dealing with new subjects every week… I’m not sure I care about reading and writing things that won’t ‘make a difference’ – my fieldwork will be long-term study (12 months) in Africa and there’s such a big added stress about leaving my boyfriend and family. I also don’t feel clever enough most of the time and for the past few weeks just feel anxious rather than excited. It’s just so hard to find good paid jobs in the development sector, which is why I accepted this ‘job’, as I see it. I just wonder if it would be stupid to quit as there aren’t many other options out there for me at the moment. I’ve emailed the university counselling service today so hopefully they can help clear my mind!

    • Also – thanks for all the above posts, it’s made me feel much less lonely! Must add that my PhD was my own proposal, but I’ve been encouraged to do such in-depth long-term work by my supervisor. I’m quite scared to change my whole stance on ethnographic research just because I’m scared of leaving people at home!

  58. Like some of you, i am early into my research career (8 months into am Mphil/PhD with funding). I feel that I have been given a tremendous opportunity to do fulfilling research, but frequently I am consumed with self doubt – feeling like a fraud despite a sizeable literature review and some preliminary work under my belt.

    So far, quitting has been a guilty concept I entertain only in the darker moments of self-doubt, but it grows strong each time. I am highly results driven, with a ‘deliverables or bust’ attitude, which means that the majority of research feels like a sucking vacuum of despair despite very supportive colleagues and supervisors.

    As with the individual in the post(s) above, I have phoned the counselling service at my campus for a chat – to put some perspective on my work. I guess my main fear at this stage is that I have a paper proposal, but no paper – 8 months in an counting. I have no idea if I am behind, ahead, slacking or over thinking. Essentially my professional compass is shot and I feel like I am just blowing along like a rag in the breeze.

    Aside from the above self indulgent exorcism of my personal doubts: Do any of you good people have any advice for me on this matter? Is a literature review, a prototype experimental platform (COTS components) and a paper proposal a joke after spending 8 months in my position?

  59. I come across to this blog by googling ‘quitting the PhD’. My situation is similar to many others that posted here. And this is such a relief for me to read that I am not alone!
    I am one year through the PhD but currently on the interruption of study period. The approaching of the coming back date makes me sick.
    The reasons why I started my PhD were different: but the major one was that I wanted to change the world thanks to my research. Then there were more practical one – the longest visa I could obtain to continue my stay in the UK was PhD student visa (5 years) (I hold Russian passport and due to this I can not stay more than 90 days a year in most developed countries, including UK without e.g.student visa). At the time I took decision to conduct a PhD work I was finishing my LL.M studies at Durham University in UK. It was the best time I ever had in my life! I though that life as PhD student will be as much enjoyable. However, it is completely different. Especially people – in their 30s, without husband/wife, children, without any sizable earrings/savings/property ….nothing! and most important without ambitions! They were ‘happy’ with their miserable lives. Even one of my supervisors – he is in late 50s, but still with temporary contract aand mid level position. I realized very fast that is not for me, but felt so guilty to quit!

  60. I’ve just finished my PhD after four long years of dithering on whether or not to continue. I have read all of the posts and can relate to so many issues others have raised; feeling like a failure, not wanting to let people down, fear of regret, being behind your friends financially, bereavement, etc. I realised quite early on that my PhD was not going to equip me with any skills that I couldn’t get elsewhere and was very put off by the environment and felt pretty certain that I didn’t want an academic career anyway. I quite regret the fact that I didn’t quit within the first 12-18 months as after that I just felt trapped and that I wouldn’t be able to explain more than that amount of time on my CV when in fact I should have recognised that my own mental health was far more important and should have trusted my instincts. I say this despite recently passing as I felt absolutely nothing when told I had passed and was not even able to give an obligatory relieved smile for the examiners. I’m not saying anyone considering quitting should do so but I agree with the article that you should definitely consider your motivations and whether gaining the PhD will have the impact you think.

    As a side, someone previously mentioned wasting government money but many science PhD students are just cheap labour and were recruited because their supervisor’s grant couldn’t cover the cost of an RA, so they often save the government money. I don’t believe anyone who really needs to quit should entertain that sort of concern.

  61. I had a really nice supervisor and an interesting PhD topic but after a year and a half I really felt like it wasn’t for me. Still I carried on but hated pretty much every minute of it after that. I used to walk to and from uni not caring if I was hit by a bus along the way. I used to feel tormented by my PhD and just wanted it to end. Hearing those three letters “P” “H” “D” used to make me want to bang my head off a wall. I published in reputable journals during my studies. Competed my viva with corrections so minor I did them on the train ride home. Still hated it. Got a good post doc position but still I’m not happy. This is such a cliché but I feel that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know s#%t. And that makes me feel so stupid. I have completed a terminal degree yet I have never felt so stupid in my life. I feel like I could get on top of things in years to come if I devoted every hour of every day to my research but I don’t want that, I want a life. I see many Asian students for instance who work nearly every waking hour 7 days a week. If there are so many people willing to do that what hope is there for people who only want a 40 to 50 hour week? I wake up stressed and it doesn’t go away until I am at work trying to chip away at the neverending, ever growing list of things to do. I really feel like I have gone down the wrong route, even though I am making progress in all areas of my work. I think I did a PhD because I knew I could and that was a stupid reason to do it. It wasn’t because I actually wanted to do it. And to make matters worse i see people from my class who just managed to scrape their undergraduate degree yet they are making twice as much as me now. And for those of you who are doing it for the title of “Dr”… well, you’re gonna love the whole “so you not really a doctor” line once you have completed. Do a PhD if you really really want to do it. Otherwise take a masters or even bachelor for that matter and run.

  62. There is great value in this post and equal value in the comments of this post. I have read all of them. And this is my story.

    I started my PhD last year, rolling in from my masters, never really expecting to do it. My masters degree is a professional degree and sets me up perfectly to work in the field that I want to work in. In fact, I am hired part time working a job that I enjoy and pays me multiple times more than my stipend/scholarships/awards.

    I am about 8 months into my PhD and am finding it increasingly difficult to justify continuing. Some reasons I am even enrolled include: fear of loss of future opportunities that I may not even enjoy, fear of never having the opportunity to do a PhD in the future due to commitments that come with age, and interest in the topic because of emotional closeness. However, I dread doing work for the PhD and do not think I am nearly as productive as I can be. I am however constantly finding myself effortlessly reading up on issues related to my part time work, which is what my professional degree prepared me for in the first place.

    Are the signs too clear?

    • I think the only future opportunity you may lose by not doing a PhD is the chance to work as a researcher/lecturer in a university. If you have a masters+phd and you are going for a job where someone else has a masters+4 years experience perhaps the employer will be more interested in the person with the most relevant experience. Plus a PhD doesnt mean more money when you finish. Someone out working all those extra years while you were studying for your phd will probably be earning more than you. Sure professors are well paid but securing a professor chair at a university in the UK is extrememly difficult and can take most of your career to achieve (if you are lucky). From what you have said it sounds like you don’t need the phd for what you want and enjoy doing. You are only 8 months in which isn’t a bad time to quit. The longer you stay working at it the harder it will be to leave. I wouldn’t ever tell anyone to quit. For all my hatred of my phd I still completed it so I don’t know what it feels like to quit. Good luck in whatever choice you make.

      • Thanks for replying.

        I guess I forgot to mention that I have no interest in staying in academia. And as for being a researcher, someone I hold in high regard told me if I have the slightest inkling of wanting to do research, then I should go for the PhD. I have absolutely no regrets and do not feel like I wasted 8 months. But I just feel like that inkling has expired. I thought I might enjoy it at the time, tried it, didn’t really like it, and now it feels very natural and organic for me to quit.

        I was also told by other students that if I wanted to quit, it’s best to do it before completing comprehensive exams, as it would be completely unnecessary to put myself through that kind of stress for almost no return.

        This is not to say I will never return to a PhD. I feel if I’ve actually identified a problem through working, that I really want to explore and solve, then I may pursue another PhD, but hopefully with more conviction (interest in topic, more fitting with my life stage and goals etc)

  63. Great post. I found it because I quit my PhD program a couple months ago after a travesty of justice by my original committee. I’m completely burned out, exhausted, depressed, embarrassed, and ashamed. I’m trying to figure how what to do from here and was looking for others who have experienced the same thing.

  64. Hi everyone,

    It has been great to read all your posts – the PhD can be so isolating and it is a relief to know that we are not alone in our PhD worries.

    I am 4 years into a PhD and really at a crossroads with it too. I have been asking myself “should I stay or should I go?” since practically Day One!

    Like many of you I am depressed, bored, unmotivated, burnt out. I have tried to weather through the usual PhD ups and downs (which it seems every PhD student goes through, and are truly part of the process – though every PhD student also seems to think the downs are a personal failing!)

    On top of the PhD downs, my PhD has been a really rocky road – changing from a bully supervisor to a lovely but flakey supervisor (who is supportive but does not know much about my discipline), countless thesis topic changes, having to take 3 extra classes to re-gain credits that it turned out didn’t count the first time round.

    I am interested in my topic and love learning in classes, but hate the researching life – the days and days in front of a computer screen, trying to tidy up drafts which have stopped making sense. I don’t want to be an academic researcher (with their often bitchy, competitive work atmosphere and what I feel is a separation from the real world) but I love teaching and sharing ideas.

    I have put the rest of my life on hold – fun, family, friends, socialising, reading for pleasure, hobbies, travel – every resource I have goes on the PhD. My mental and physical health have taken a nosedive….. and I am starting to think WHY? I spent half my twenties on the PhD, I’m now 30 and facing the prospect of facing the first half of my thirties the same way. My boyfriend says I am not a human being, but a human doing!

    I have moved on from asking “should I stay or should I go?” to: “Is it braver to stay or to go? Which is worse?” If I quit, I know I will regret leaving, that I will sometimes have flashes of ideas for my thesis and then remember that I am not doing it anymore, I’ll hear about people completing their PhD’s and feel a pang of sorrow and jealousy. On the other hand, if I stay, I have countless days of the lonely computer screen yet to come. I’m not sure if I even CAN do it, let alone want to.

    Which scary road should I take? Any ideas guys?

    I hope all the lonely PhD souls out there tonight are doing ok! x

    • 4 years… how far into you thesis writing are you? How necessary is the PhD for your career? By the structured way you wrote this post I am sure you can also write a thesis… I am 3 months away from thesis submission and sill thinking on quitting! So I suppose it has now become a coping habit for me when I am stressed (and stress can be constant throughout the phD)… but if you’re almost there.. persist… if it is attempting against your health, can you ask for a leave for a couple of months and see what you really want? Another thing is pretend in your mind you are quitting the phd, that you go to your supervisors and thell “I’m done, see ya!”. and see how does that goes in your mind or feels… or pretend one day that the burden of pHD is not in your shoulders.. would it be a relief?

    • I hear ya, sunlight. I’m just beginning my 4th year as well. Had to change labs last year because my first adviser left. I feel I’m on a dead-end project – I’ve had no results so far (not just positive results, I mean NO results!), I totally dread going to work every day. I’m no where near writing a thesis. I’ve spoken to my adviser, committee members, class mates about what I should do. The problem I just can’t get over is figuring out what I want to do as a career. I’m not sure I want to be in science at all at this point, let alone research. But because I don’t know exactly what I want as an alternative, I feel I cannot quit because I will ultimately regret it or disadvantage myself.

      Have those of you out there that quit stay in a similar career? or did you change tracks completely? How did you ever figure out what what you really wanted out of life??

      • Hi WhatAmIDoing, thanks for your reply! So sorry to hear that you have been going through a similar 4th year PhD deadlock. It sounds very tough, and very familiar… you are not alone, there are so many of us who have been lost in PhD uncertainty too.

        My situation has actually drastically changed since I posted that lament back in June – I quit my PhD!! And it was the best decision EVER.

        Lots of interesting things have happened since, and I hope that a story from someone on “the other side” of the stay/go decision might give you some relief, encouragement and help you to decide what is best for you, either way.

        After I wrote that post in June, I spent the next month bashing my head against a wall trying to get some writing done – but same as you, it was dead-end central. Looking back now I see that I had reached absolute saturation point – I was putting the hours in, but I just couldn’t write, and I would feel so anxious while I was trying. Despite my best efforts, I was unproductive and I was just marking time.

        I went to visit my Mum who, after spending a few hours with frazzled PhD-me, sat me down and told me how worried she was about me. She asked me would I please quit the PhD. At first I resisted – no way in hell was I going to give up after 4 years of toil and strife, after all the hard work I had done, after I had given up so much for the PhD, blah blah blah…. but then I started thinking: hmm, if your mother is telling you to drop out of college, something isn’t quite right….!

        A few days later, I went to the doctor to check out some strange stomach pains I had been having throughout June. The doctor did every kind of test you could imagine – x rays, blood tests, an ultrasound, the works. He found nothing physically wrong and concluded that the pains were being caused by prolonged stress. He also sat me down and told me I should really consider leaving the PhD, for the sake of my health. A week later, I ended up in a hospital emergency room with the worst stomach pains of my life – yet again, after all kinds of tests, the doctors said the pains were a symptom of long-term stress. That sealed the deal – it was the wake up call I needed. I decided to interpret it as my body screaming at me to change my life, and finally QUIT!

        And I haven’t looked back since – honestly. I suddenly feel like myself again, rather than swinging between feelling like a failure or else very unsure of where I stood, like I did during the PhD. I now have time to do things I enjoy, my anxiety has disappeared (along with my stomach pains), my days are my own again, and I have time to think, relax, socialise… it’s great! Also, I have time to think about what I want to do with my life – and time to try new things out to see what I like. Like you, I am not sure what I want to do with my life, or where to go next career-wise. I thought that giving up the PhD would leave me even more lost…. but it really hasn’t. I just left a “job” that I disliked, that’s all – nothing more profound than that! And funnily enough, once I gave up my PhD and started having time to do different things and look outside myself more, loads of career and further study opportunities have started to find me! That is nice surprise that I didn’t expect at all.

        I am not trying to convince you to drop out – that is up to you and a very personal decision. I am just hoping to reassure you that if you DO decide to quit, you don’t necessarily face an oblivion of nothingness, and that things might just be okay :) Things started falling into place for me only after I left the PhD, and made space for other things. That might be just blind luck, but I hope it is true for others aswell.

        I have also realised that I kind of knew, deep down, that the PhD wasn’t for me for a very long time, I just couldn’t face admitting it to myself. I think it was pride and fear of failure that stopped me from leaving. My one regret is that I wish I had listened to my instincts – I really did know, all along, that I was in the wrong place… but instead of trusting that if I was sad and stressed everyday, feeling so confident and miserable, that was an indication that the PhD just wasn’t the right fit for me – I tried to fight against it and thought I was doing something wrong, that if I only pushed myself harder or changed myself, THEN I would succeed at my PhD. I have realised things don’t really work that way. Why work against yourself? If you dislike something, you dislike it – no need to spend your days trying to squeeze yourself into it. Life is short and there is so much to see, do, learn and find in the world… there are endless possibilities outside the PhD!

        I hope very much that things improve for you, whether after this post resonates with you, or the opposite. Maybe it will make you think, “hmmm no actually, I do feel the PhD is right for me” – and that is all you need to know. I think your career will fall into place as long as you trust your instinct. Good luck!!

  65. This post has given me a lot to think about because it reflects my PhD experience thus far. I am two years into my program and am now facing the real prospect of leaving. What has brought me to this point is that I have really lost all desire to do academic work, and the desire for my chosen dissertation topic is but a distant memory. In the last 8-months, there is nothing I can do to bring me back. Also, upon careful reflection, I feel as though what brought me to a PhD were all the wrong reasons: that I had nothing better to and that no one would hire me for that “real job” in line with my university crudentials. So why not be productive and do a PhD, I asked myself? The “Dr.” designation was also a factor that brought me here.

    Like many, I actually find it hard to leave because of the guilt factor and having difficulty seeing what’s beyond the academic horizon having spent virtually almost two decades at this.

  66. Thanks, a great post. It describes well the situation and the emotion I’m feeling now. Here is my “PhD” story:
    I started my PhD one year and a half ago, right after I finished my Master program. My funding is from the university and so I don’t have to worry much about the finance. My first year is definitely a failure, or more precise, it’s a waste. I don’t have any noticeable contribution to the group’s project and even failed to complete some task that my supervisors told me to do. Things I could grant from my 1st year is some tactics, working styles, group working, some basic knowledge, experience to support my thesis, nothing more!

    Then my supervisors assigned me to another task, and in the befinning, I made some process, but slow. And they even have a nice long talk with me to figure what I was missing or doing wrong in my 1st year not to accomplish well. They told me that this happened over time in PhD period, they are also not exceptional. We have a friendly talk and they also encourage me to continue and find a way to go, but if things still coming up like that next year, they won’t be easy like that, because my PhD have only 3 years. After a few month, with many struggle, I completed the task they ask me. And so, life is fresh for the first time in my PhD.

    Then they assigned me another task, which is more focus on my thesis. At the beginning things seems to proceeded good enough, after some struggling I had my work advanced at some point. But then, after many weeks (more than 2 months) now, I was still stuck. I cannot find the problem lies beneath. One of my supervisor is losing his patience with me, although he is still willing to help if I need. My main supervisor is also show some worry if I cannot complete this task soon, someone will finish it and so it will be another waste for me.

    At this time I feel really depress, exhausted, worry much about my future, as said many time in this post. Looking at my friends, none of them pursue PhD like me, but they all have jobs and more stable life. Sometime I wish I were like them, find a job in some enterprise or company, maybe some teaching job with my Master degree. I really feel envy with them this time. I even wonder if I quit my PhD now, what job could I find? What people think about me, the guy who quit his PhD?

    Yes, I feel depressed, exhausted, and even desperated. But, there is something still inside. When I return to my computer, try to submit another try, I feel that something still make me to complete this, try as many way as I want, whatever, at least I can DO SOMETHING. It still hard to explain, but I feel that I don’t really want to abandon it. Sometime I can do it with full concentration and even some joy, but when it just come for nothing, I feel depress again. This happen with me many times. I’m still feel struggling. Maybe my passion not leaving me now, but the job and the pressure is still harsh, and perhaps the life, too. Now I only have 1 and a half year to go, so no time left for me. Can someone give me some advice? Some way to solve the problem and to deal with the current situation? I’ll appreciate it very much.
    Many thanks

  67. I’m at this point 18 months in. Why did I start? Because I love research and know that the only way I’ll get a research job is with a PhD. I’m in the middle of fieldwork and it’s actually going ok but I’m getting so much pressure because there is this expectation that I’ll finish in three years, that I am constantly in a state of anxiety. I just can’t keep up with the workload and my other commitments to my family (I’m a carer to one adult member and my partner has significant mental health issues). My supervisors are not entirely on the same page. My primary supervisor (who has never supervised before and is consequently clearly under a lot of pressure to get me to complete in three years) has pushed me to use approaches and methods which are in my opinion a dead end.

    I’m wondering at the feasibility of quitting and continuing to do the fieldwork and analysis and publishing anyway? Also as I’ve completed my probation and been upgraded, will this mean I at least come out with an MPhil?

  68. I just finished my 3rd year. Have completely lost my interest in the PhD. Everytime I think about quitting my parent’s voice rings through my head “Every time we tell people what you do, we feel so proud”. I’m gonna have to do some serious soul searching to figure out whether or not I should quit.

  69. I’ve completed my 2 years of PhD in environmental sciences, but still not sure about how to progress ahead, although my work is progressing. My supervisor is very busy in his projects and he gives me very little time but expect a lot from me ! Few weeks ago, he gave me huge warning that my PhD is going nowhere, but soon after that, when I submitted my improved work, he was happy that I am progressing and said that PhD is really in my hands, not in his hands. He is very ambitious supervisor but not a good tutor ! So, should I quit PhD or keep working on it till my last breath ?

  70. Recently, I was recommended by my supervisors that I quit my PhD. Even though I believe that i would be able to finish in the next 16 months they are suddenly hell bent on my quitting. Plus I have been told from the Post Grad Office also that I should quit otherwise they will terminate my enrollment. Now the question is, what am I supposed to tell me prospective employer? Where were my 3 years spent! Doesnt it shoe that I fail at things that I start? Even though I will withdraw, wouldnt that be a question why did you withdraw?

  71. A late post, but I’m at the end of three years of work and have discovered that the theory doesn’t stack up with practice and essentially my PhD has nothing but a failed premise now. I’m ready to swing from a tree – where to from here?

    • I suppose it depends on what field you are in, but I know of a few PhDs which started out very differently to how they were originally proposed. If you are in social sciences or humanities, could you not take the route that finding out theory doesn’t fit the practice is, in itself important knowledge?

  72. I’m about to start writing up the work I’ve done so far as an MPhil… or attempt to submit an MPhil, anyway. I had little self-confidence before I started my PhD, but now it’s reduced to the point where I am crippled by it. I’m reluctant to leave without having anything to show for the last two years, but I see writing up and passing a viva voce as an impossible task right now.

    • I just quit my phd!! feel much better, however i had not done alot of work and quit before end of first year because i knew the place and timing was not right. If you have gotten this far why not take some time out if your feeling down , recharge and then complete! the best advice i can give is not to care to much as the three month thesis guy says…

      • Hi Anonymous!

        I’m afraid taking time out is out of the question here, as I have no intention of remaining in academe and it would be difficult to justify the length of time spent in postgrad education to non-academic employers…

      • urmm yes thats a good point about how to explain things…perhaps a bit of creative ‘ive been travelling’ might suffice.. be best to submit ur mphil btsounds of it. but wouldnt a week or 2 to recharge help you there?

      • Does anyone have any advice, I’m completing a quantitative phd, one year in. I am really worried that I have collected one of my primary variables wrong for almost half my sample. I am feeling completely stressed out and anxious, I can’t tell my supervisor on the other hand if I leave I will completely ruin the project which is a private industry funded project run only by me.

        Should I just leave instead of admitting to what I have done? I can’t face the failure. I already have two masters in psychology at distinction from very good uk universities one of which I was awarded the school prize. This would only be one year out of my life. I just want to run away from it all. Please if you have any advice I would be so so appreciative!

      • I don’t have two masters in psychology but, why not consider your mistake as a learning experience instead of as a failure? why not tell your supervisor? Maybe you two can figure something out? Your supervisor is there to help you not to look down on you. Second, look for some counselling since your desire to be absolutely perfect and do everything absolutely perfect (in other words narcissism) seems to be causing unhealthy stress/anxiety.

  73. I started my PhD in 2010. From the get-go, I was bullied in to a research topic that I had no interest in because it suited my supervisors own needs. After a year I managed to change supervisors but the new supervisor felt it was too late to switch to a new topic. (This is ridiculous. I had spent that first year doing the compulsory 30 credits so it isn’t like much research had been done).

    I tried to make the most of it. I worked well for some time and completed both the literature review and the research methods chapters. I was excited to commence data collection. Each time I felt like I had found my participants my supervisor would say that they weren’t appropriate without offering any advice for alternatives. This is where I really hit my wall. It felt like there was nowhere to go.

    By September 2012 I was ridiculously unhappy. I dodged my supervisor for the entire semester which made me feel even worse. I would talk to my mother and my boyfriend about whether or not i should continue with the PhD. These conversations would always conclude with “Well, is it doable?” The answer was always yes. Of course, it is doable – I’m a smart girl who excelled in major research previously. I decided to apply for a 9 month leave of absence in January. I thought this would give me time to realize how important the PhD was to me and would give me time to get some of that passion back.

    Despite the leave, the PhD still hung over me like a black cloud. Each time I thought of it I would cry. Each day I would cry. No matter what I was doing – working, caring for my granddad, watching a film with my boyfriend – I would feel guilty that I wasn’t doing my PhD.

    I started back on September 1. It just dawned on me the following weekend – I. Don’t. Care. More importantly, I did not need a PhD to achieve the career goals that I wanted. Like that my mind was made up.

    I have never felt happier than I do right now. I can feel again. I had never noticed how awesome our new house smells until this month! It is as if for three years my mind had been violated and dominated by the dissertation and now it’s mine again!

    I do not feel that the three years was a waste of time. I do feel like I could have taken responsibility for my life this January instead of putting myself through further pain. I guess I had to wait until it felt completely right in my heart. I gained hundreds of hours of teaching experience and was able to develop and further my teaching skills. All I have ever wanted to do is teach and there are so many avenues I can take to achieve this.

    My advice – don’t ask yourself “can I do it?” but instead ask yourself:
    Can I do it with me still in tact?
    Do I need to do this to achieve what I want to in life?
    Do I care?

    A PhD is difficult to do when you do care. It’s just dangerous to do when you don’t! If/when the time is right to go – you’ll know in your heart 100%.

    • Whizzcats, thanks so much for this great post! As a fellow PhD drop-out with a similar story, I agree 100% with the conclusions you seem to take from it all.

      1. If you find yourself not caring about your work, losing yourself, and feeling that the PhD is not your “real life”, those are red flags and you should pay serious attention. That lethal combination can’t work out well!!
      2. But it ain’t over til it’s over – and you will know when it’s over. Sometimes the only way out is through, and you have to exhaust the PhD desperation to really have no regrets about leaving.
      3. Once it’s over – you’ll look back and be sorry that you put yourself through unnecessary pain along the way. But: I like to think that I will never, ever stay in a situation that makes me miserable again, because now I know the red flags to look out for. Being so unhappy in the PhD for so long really makes you realise what you want instead – it is a harrowing yet significant way to get to know yourself, as you really are, and what you need.

  74. I am in my late 2nd year and honestly so far I have been traveling a lot twice a month during 1st year done nothing related to my topic and got sick really bad for months. My supervisor just gives me unrelated tasks mostly administrative to complete has any one experience that?

  75. I just started the fourth year of my PhD and I decided to quit (but my supervisor doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care). I’m thinking of doing another program (master, or even bachelor degree); I always wanted to study natural science, but went in the humanities. I just turned 30, I don’t see me back there with the 22… what if I do again a master degree and don’t find a job… I’m confuse, in another country, with no clue what to do with all this. I can’t wait to have a job and being useful, but I’d like to love this job. I feel like I made a terrible life choice.

  76. I am now a second year PhD student (full-time) and my programme is fully funded so I receive a stipend. I have never really enjoyed my PhD so far. I came onto my PhD straight from my undergraduate degree so I was unsure of what to expect. When I started I found that I received very little guidance from my supervisors and I soon discovered that a PhD is something you have to drive yourself. I appreciate this however, everyone needs a little guidance along the way. I don’t get any! I have only recently admitted to myself and other people that this PhD is making me miserable. I just don’t like what I do. I have debated quitting however I can’t help wondering if I will seriously regret it. And I keep thinking will I be letting people down. I am completely torn at the moment. And I would really appreciate people’s words of advice / personal experiences similar to mine.

    Lisa

  77. I have been doing my PhD for one year full time, and another 9 month part time in a U.K. university, in the Business School. However, after serious consideration, I don’t want to stay in academia anymore so I suggest to my supervisors that I would like to leave with Mphil.
    I have already finished all my course works and training modules, the only thing missing is one final thesis. Originally I thought that would be easy.
    However, my supervisors would like me to write an article in my topic and post it to a good journal, meanwhile produce a good quality thesis, in order not to be questioned in my viva. The problem is, I know my supervisors are very detailed focus academia and they would make this procedure very slow. In this case, even though I do not want to become an academia, in order to finish this final thesis, I might need to work another one year. I am self-funded student, which means that it would be another 7000 pound! In addition my supervisors strongly suggest me not to start job seeking before I submit my journal article and thesis!
    I am 28 now, a mother of two, I really want to start my own career. If I do what they required, it might take me until 30 to find an enter position job. My ideal job would be a business analyst in the company, and finally have my own business. How much benefit will this extra Mphil will bring me?Btw, I have already got a MA in business study in another university in the U.K.
    Any comment on this matter is welcomed.

  78. Hi Plantclean,

    I know exactly what you are feeling! I am feeling really unsure about whether to continue studying but I hadn’t considered the switch to Mphil as a possible route – so thank you for mentioning it. I am sorry that the Mphil option looks like it is going to take another 2yrs years. It is really hard to know what to do for the best. In terms of whether the Mphil is worth anything more than the MA I’d have said it was, as a research degree it is all about independent research and thinking so completing this has enhanced these skills as well as showing a commitment for study and personal improvement. But, if two years is too long for you, you are not enjoying it anymore and the cost is too high, then it might be time to stop.
    I am two years into my English Phd (studying part-time) and I have not been enjoying studying for a long time now. I had really hoped I’d finish my phd before I was 30 – at present it looks as if I’d finish at 33/34 and this terrifies me! I have always worked throughout my degree etc and I have a good (albeit part-time!) job but it has taken me years (10!) to get to this level and I know if I ever finish my PhD it would in all likelihood not lead to anything. Even if I was fortunate enough to get employment in the field the pay would be terrible and it would be an entry-level post. Last week I received an email from my Faculty advertising an internship for newly qualified doctoral or post-doctoral student at the British Library. The position was full-time for 6 months or part-time for 12 months and the salary was £8.55 per hour. I could just not afford to live on this. I have a mortgage to pay and while my partner works, we are not in a position for me to stop work or work on a much lower salary. It is also not fair on him. I feel terrible as it is that I only work part-time and that he works long hours to help us to pay our bills. I am also in a position that I am delaying paying my fees as I am not sure if I want to commit to the course and because I cannot afford it. If I had no other commitments in my life then continuing my studies however trying I might find them would be less of a problem. Equally, if I was enjoying it it’d help! I feel really isolated at my university. I am older than most of the students and have had no luck gaining a network of friends there which doesn’t help. I just don’t know what to do. I am also dyslexic and this was raised as a problem at my last tutorial  which I don’t think is justified but when I am low makes me questions my ability to do this and results in me just not doing anything. I just feel like I am making no progress what so ever – every time I think I have after a supervisor meeting I am back to square one. I hate my topic at the moment too. But I don’t know what I’d do if I stopped – I might really regret it and my parents would be really disappointed in me.
    My compter is about to die so sorry for the waffle and any mistakes!
    Any advice would be great.  Thank and sorry for the moan!

    • I am in a similar position too. I am in my PhD for 1,5 years and now I am took an academic leave, but I decided to take a permanent withdraw. As an international student I have to pay £15 000 per year for PhD. I did not get any scholarship despite the brilliant academic results so the financial burden of doing PhD was quite heavy for me.
      The prospects of getting the academic job is zero chances. For non-academic career PhD is a big disadvantage from the employer point of view, they consider such candidates as overqualified.
      The main concern for me while doing PhD was entire isolation! I started feel very depressed and feel myself as a looser. At the time I was doing research most of my friends did their careers in consulting/banking/law, and they have been adequately rewarded for their work while PhD students have to work without any reward or recognition.
      As for me I think the decision to do the PhD was not timely for me. May be when I will be retired I will return to the idea of doing research just for my pleasure.

      • Good for you! I know for myself that I struggled with my PHd program and decided after my third class to drop all together and felt that I wasn’t smart enough to do the work at all. There are days that I feel sorry for myself and wonder why didn’t I cut the mustard but hearing your guys experiences I believe that I did the right thing.

    • Hi Duckalous, just wanted to tell you not to be afraid to leave if you dislike the PhD life and your topic so much.

      I quit my PhD a few months ago, despite having the same fears as you – fear I would regret it and the worry that my parents would be disappointed in me. Neither proved to be the case, at all – I am so, SO happy to be free! I just wish I hadn’t been so afraid to leave all along.

      My supervisor is still asking me to come back – I have discovered that it is actually pretty easy to return if you wish. Why not try a Leave of Absence, or some temporary break, to see how you feel?

      I know it seems like it will be the end of the world, your career & your confidence if you drop out…… but I found that the thing I really should have been afraid of all along was the PhD itself, and the consequences of staying in a dead-end situation which really didn’t suit me at all. My mental and physical health really took a nosedive from the PhD stress, the feeling of working so hard yet making no progress, and the sedentary, isolated lifestyle. Also, I have missed out on 3 years worth of career progression because of taking time out for the PhD, which I regret now.

      Be honest with yourself – if you really hate it and it is making your life difficult, treat these feelings with respect. Just because you don’t like something or one of your life choices didn’t work out perfectly, doesn’t mean you are a failure. It’s like force-feeding yourself a food you hate everyday, or making yourself wear clothes you dislike – seems ridiculous when you put it like that doesn’t it! So you have to ask yourself WHY?

      I wish you the very best of luck and hope it all works out okay for you. X

  79. I’m in my 3rd year of PhD studies and for the last year I have been really struggling from making any real progress on developing my research/thesis. I have been working on a “research proposal” for over a year- looking at a wide range of literature, and just not making the connections. Despite several appeals to my supervisor for more guidance, he constantly tells me not to worry and that I will be fine and am on the right track. This is despite minimal feedback from him on most of my writing. I find myself stuck in my cubicle all day reading irrelevant news on the web, occasionally justifying a day’s work by reading a couple of articles and writing a page or two. I no longer know what I am really researching on and do not even know what my research question is anymore. I am frustrated and have no idea whether to call it quits or “soldier on” as they say- but the only reason I am still “soldiering on” is probably because of pride. I feel like I am stuck in a catch-22 situation of my own doing..

  80. Thank you for comment – it really cheered me up! I have decided that I will keep going until my next review in January and then see how I feel. It’ll be a good time to reassess everything as I’ll have a sixth month appraisal for my work (paid stuff!) then, so could potentially go onto full-time working. I will give it my all for a few months more! Will keep you posted :) Thank you again

  81. Hi guys, since my last comment, I quit, now two weeks passed, I feel much healthier, physically and mentally. Life is short, quoted a saying, if today is the last day you are going to live? Will you still be willing to do what you are doing? For me, no, I want to spend more time with my daughter, have the ability to pay my bill, enjoy life, rather than get a Dr title or becoming an academic.
    I kept searching jobs for 2 weeks, mainly entry positions, lots of rejections. I know it will be tough but the interesting thing is I am not afraid of this uncertainty!

  82. I am in my fourth year, and am thinking of quitting… Let’s just say something pretty awful has happened in the last 24 hours which has left me completely doubting I can finish this, and if I do, it’s not even worth it. My supervisor has been nice, but my confidence in my academic abilities has been severely shattered.

  83. It’s funny to see so many people are considering quitting grad school. I am on the same page. Currently, I am working for a professor who likes to keep people for 7-8 years. I am hoping to get out in 5 years if I am lucky. I am about 1.5 years in and have a few papers. At the moment, I am working on a project where I did majority of the work to receive 4th author. The project will continue for about 1-2 years before publishing. I know I have to make the decision soon so I am not trapped. If you are 3 years in, it would be much more difficult for me quit.

    For those who quit after completing 3 years or more, I gave you props for being so brave. I have been looking for jobs and received a few offers. I am also considering going to a different career path and earning a masters in engineering.

  84. I’m so glad that others are feeling the same way as me right now (well, not in that way, but it’s nice not to feel alone). I started my PhD in 2012 about a week after my graduation. I hadn’t enjoyed the industrial placement in my masters and thought that a life in research might be a good way to go. For some background my research is in power sector asset management.

    At first I found my topic to be quite interesting. The literature was cool and I learned a lot from an online course I took with UMD. However, I’m now around 15 months in and I feel awful. I’ve been having panic attacks, I feel depressed, my work has come to a standstill and I’m struggling to engage at all with my topic. I just don’t know if this is what I want to do anymore.

    What makes me really guilty is that I’ve had excellent academic appraisals (top marks in the first year review), I have a couple of journal papers that are almost there and I have an amazing supervisor who has supported me greatly. He thinks things are going great and that I can get my PhD.

    The problem is that I just don’t know if I want it any more. The research just doesn’t thrill me. It’s also a lonely place being a PhD student and I’m a very social person. I love working in teams on projects and I just need people to bounce ideas off. The only people I can really talk to about my topic aren’t actually at my university, and my industrial sponsor seems clueless.

    I don’t know what to do. If I leave then I feel like I’d be lost, and since I now have a reason to stay in the city (for my wonderful girlfriend who has been a rock during the last few weeks and months) I don’t feel I can easily move to find a new job. If I stay then I feel like I’m confining myself to another two years of a topic I don’t feel that I have any affinity with. With the messy tangle that my emotions are in at the moment I don’t know what is negativity and what is rooted in dissatisfaction with my topic.

    Thanks for listening to my wittering.

  85. I started my PhD 1 year and 11 Month ago (in Germany). My project (Biochemistry) was based on a figure of by supervisor. I proved last Friday that the hypothesis is not true and that this published figure has major mistakes.
    After my first 6 month we focused on one candidate without proving all of his dataset (figure). Thus I cloned just some of my candidates. I started in February this year talking to him about my doubts, wanted to set a deadline for April. But than one think worked again, but right after “my” deadline it failed again. I started to question my work: if I’m just not able to do the work or if I’m too stupid to repeat my experiments. It went on for month till I talked in June again with my supervisor, asked him for the raw data of the figure to have a look at them. He caught up on these things which worked once, I should just repeat it. In August we than started to clone all the candidates (which I started in April last year already) and made last Friday the final experiment which worked damnly good for my positive and negative controls. I proved he is wrong. Now he accepted it, too.
    I can understand that he still believed in it, if you found other things based on this method and they work out. I don’t think he is a bad supervisor, we talk weekly about results. I ask myself if I should have been insistent that I clone all and first prove that the figure is true. On the other hand, I’m not one of this big brain PhD students, I make mistakes, several.

    My project failed, what should I do now, get a new one, sitting there another 3 years?! I wanted to be finished after 3-4 years, two years are now wasted based on the collected data. I learned a lot of methods and established several new ones in the lab, but I can’t write this in my thesis. I still like the group and the work (pipetting stuff, think about stuff, interpret results). I know that I will not stay in academia, as I still want to have a life besides of my work, which I don’t have now.

    My boyfriend doesn’t know what to do with me anymore, as I’m sitting frustrated at home every evening since month, with a wonderful low in the last days.
    What should I do?

    • My PhD thesis project (Molecular Biology) crashed and burned 2 and 1/2 years in the program. So much time, effort, and aggravation. My adviser always seemed to put my concerns about this project on the back burner so when it did finally prove to be a failed endeavor, I was even more upset. Up until this point, I really was shoved into the background while my adviser focused on 2 phd students nearing towards the end of their thesis. I wanted to be done in 4 years and I worked very hard to reach this goal, so I felt crushed the last few weeks.

      The only saving grace is my adviser has taken much more interest since this and I am working on two projects that have put me in a much better situation.

      At the end of the day though I wasted a lot of time and even if these projects go well I am here much longer than I wanted to be. My interest level for the projects is low on top of it. So like you, I feel conflicted, what do I do?

  86. i JUST CALLED QUITS! My supervisor was such an idiot that I had verbal fights with him right upto the end. He was not able to distinguish between a proposal and the entire thesis draft. The chap wanted me to write full three chapters in my proposal!! ??
    Does this happen anywhere to anyone?
    I told the silly chap, that proposal is the mirror image of the thesis and I am unable to write first three chapters in full. My proposal already exceeded the word limit excluding appendices.
    Secondly my supervisor didn’t know basic things such as the
    difference between one tail and two tail tests. …..Imagine!!
    I told the university yesterday to refund my money asap!.
    Just a word of advise to all PHD aspirants. Avoid Malaysian universities and above all dont enter into distance learning programs.

  87. Must say, this is a quite eye opening article- especially the comments section. I’m coming up to the 9 month stage in my first year in my PhD and I can honestly say I’ve lost all motivation and interest in both my research program and my subject (Chemistry) as a whole. My PhD has not become, nor is it going to become, an interesting piece of scientific research, it is instead fast becoming a spiral of mental chaos aggravated by a supervisor who has his favourites and is impossible to please (he has little time for you if you don’t come in seven days a week, or work 60+ hours in a week)… things have got so bad that I’ve been prescribed medication (citalopram). Part of me feels guilty for wanting out so badly from an opportunity I’m very lucky to have, however the other part of me (depending on what day it is, 50-80%) just wants so badly to do the logical thing and quit- I’m not the academic personality (in that I don’t enjoy making people feel dumb/making myself look smarter than everyone else, nor do I enjoy networking with other scientists as I just feel inadequate).

    My advice to anyone in a similar position is to remember these feelings are not uncommon/isolated, and nor do you have to put up with them for years- seriously think about the option of leaving after Year 1 with an MPhil if this is at all a reasonable prospect.

    • I am in the same boat as you! I am just entering my second year for my PhD in Chemistry and I have decided to leave after next Spring with my Ms. I am in a very large research group composed of 90% chinese – me being American I am pretty much just a shadow to my advisor who cares more about his chinese bees then I. He has zero input on my research topic, and has no interest to even begin a discussion with me.
      The only reprisal I find in my program is teaching, so I have decided to do just that! I am quitting and i will find a teaching position be it secondary school or a small time Community College.
      Getting a PhD is for nobody but yourself, so if you do not find pleasure it in, no reason to do it.

      Good luck

  88. I am in a tough spot and I am wondering what I should do. I am in a biochemistry program, 3rd year into the program. I have made very little progress on my thesis project despite a lot of effort and late nights working on experiments. My adviser is very difficult to talk to, he is always busy, away from lab, etc. So I get very little feedback despite trying my best to bring my struggles to his attentions.

    I do have a high level of interest in the field I am working in but I am stuck working on a project that just isn’t work and the combination of little help/feedback is making matters worse. This have all snow-balled with me lacking motivation to continue. I know question if I am even doing the right thing anymore. The last month I have been nothing short of miserable with my girlfriend even taking notice. I offered to work on another project that interests me more and even work on both at the same time but I was shot down.

  89. I started my PhD in 2012, coming straight from a Bachelor’s. I was not informed at the time that my supervisor was going to be on research leave until Sep 2013. We managed to meet in person once during the year, otherwise communicating via email.

    I admit that I did not work as hard as I could have in my first year. I knew this was going to come up in my probation review, so fely it was best to be honest. What came out in the review however was that my research questions are still too vague, when I’d thought that bit was okay. I was informed that there were topics that I’d have to catch up on (topics I’d never heard of before) and that everything needed tightening up. As a result their formal recommendation to the graduate board is that I transfer to an MA, to be submitted 2014.

    I feel…I’m not sure. Numb. Sad, angry, hurt. Betrayed by my supervisor. The department knew that I’d come from an undergraduate degree and would need support. Now I feel like I’m being punished for not having done stuff that I might have managed if someone had talked to me about it half a year ago. The thought of trying to turn my topic around now and having to rework my research questions leaves me cold, and the idea of more reviews and a viva fills me with dread.

    • Hi AK, I’m doing my phD without a masters and I wish I had done a masters in the first place! I Know it must be disappointing because am sure you have excelled in your BA otherwise wouldn’t be accepted for PhD, but consider it as a chance to learn and decide if wether you want to keep on studying! As everyone comments and from my own experience, the PhD environment can be very isolating and support is not given the way one would wish (unfortunately it doesn’t matter if you come from a Ba or a MA or whatever background you have). On the other hand you can argue that the results were there because of inappropriate supervision.. seeing your supervisor once a year is definitely not enough..Anyhow, I still think doing the masters is not such a bad idea, if you are able to make it with a fresh mind…

  90. Hi guys. I’m just going to vent, but any advice will be welcome too :) I originally started my PhD just to test things out and see if it was for me. What I really wanted to do was Science Communication. In fact, two months in I told my supervisor I wanted to quit but he convinced me to stay. However, throughout my first year I continued to question whether this was what I wanted to do. A couple more times I was on the brink of quitting. Lately, in my second year I’ve actually started to work harder simply because I felt I think that I was in it for the long-haul, that I would disappoint my friends and family. But I still think about quitting. My supervisor is a micro-manager to the point of suffocation. What I really wish I could figure out is: do I want to quit now because it’s too hard? Or because it’s what I always should have done? Will I regret it? You can only quit once. That’s the really scaring thing. Staying on and grinding through it is hard. But quitting is terrifying.

    • I have the same type of advisor. He in the lab all the time hoovering around the students, yelling at people for not doing it his way. The thing about grad school is that it will always be around. Professors will always need students to work for them or they wouldn’t exist. If you quit, you can always go back to grad school, but it may be a different school and you would have to start over. If you are thinking about quitting, quit earlier so you are not trapped. I know a 4th year student about to quit.

  91. I failed my defense a few days ago. I had satisfied all the parameters for my research outlined in my prospectus the school and my adviser had approved. Now, with a new department head looking to make a name for himself, he used my dissertation as leverage to intimidate the rest of my committee and establish a new academic culture in, what is now, his department. They want me to do more work outside the parameters established and contracted upon in my prospectus. I don’t have another year to give them. I can’t see myself giving up what money I don’t have and time I am becoming more possessive of to satisfy someone else’s agenda. I really want to quit.

    • its sounds like you would be justified, just depends on how badly you want it. I am also at the point of exhaustion with administrative game playing…I think its reasonable to say its not worth it any more because the baggage is too much

      • It’s not worth it. I’ve been humbled and I realize how little I want to do with professional academia. I hope I never become like the professors and administrators I’m dealing with. Maybe if I bail now that won’t happen…I just don’t know.

  92. After four years into my PhD, I was forced by my university to downgrade from PhD to MPhil. My supervisors refuse to back up my application for extending my research because they believe I would not be able to complete, though they are the same ones who at the start of my PhD told me that I have the potential to get a PhD degree. They now put me in front of two options: either to accept MPhil or they would terminate my registeration. I appealed to university and explained how the Syrian crisis ( i am a syrian stusent in UK) and anxiety and worry have affected my progress but no one wants to listen to me. I don’t want to quit and I never lost interest in my research but it looks like this is the end. I would appreciate if anyone can offer any advice please.

  93. I am sadly at this point as well, after a year of back and forth it looks like my funding is falling through because of two institutions who both are unwilling to compromise. Ive escalted the situation but I dont have much hope and if one doesnt have a major position change in the next 2-3 weeks Ill have to take a 3rd semester longer interruption for this, basically Ive only managed to get tuition paid for one semester out of 3 going on 4! Emotionally I decided to resign myself to quitting. I simply couldnt go on not knowing. I am still waiting on a final determination from both parties but I think at this point I just cant go on even if one of them conceeds…This has been such a draining process and I loved my PhD but the strain of the admin fight as well I think is just too much.

    • The problem is that my PhD is sponsored and my sponsors would ask me to pay back the fees and living expenses they paid me for the last four years which is crazy. I tried to communicate this to my school but they don’t want to listen. I am really in a terrible dilemma. I do need some help

      • wow Im not even sure what to suggest in that situation. Im probably ending mine because my funding seems tenuous but I wont be out much at this point…If theres that much riding on the line is there anyway just to struggle through it? Appeal?

  94. I’ve been reading the comments on this blog for a couple of months now, so I’m going to add my little story.

    I’m a 7th doctoral candidate (ABD–All But Dissertation) in a humanities degree at an American university. I came into my program very focused and promised one year of funding with the possibility of more based on my ability to progress through my degree in a timely manner. I did really well my first year, and then the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008 and they could no longer offer me anything, so I went out and tried to secure funding in other departments. I’ve continued with inconsistent funding (and a lot of debt) but I’ve also finished coursework, passed comprehensive exams and did my field research. During my field research abroad, I realized that I didn’t want to pursue an academic job. Since then, and due to the exhaustion of constantly trying to find TAships and funding, I’m losing my interest in my project and I just don’t care anymore. I hate working on my dissertation (I have 3 “chapterlets–15-18pg chapter drafts), I am so tired, I’m feeling depressed and I want out. I really don’t know how to bring this up to my advisor because while she’s nice, she has blown off my concerns about the academic job market when I tried to bring that up a year and a half ago–so I don’t really have an idea about how receptive she’ll be.

    Any recommendations on how to go about talking to your advisor? Thanks all!

    • I had to have that conversation with my advisor and although he wasnt helpful he rallied and tried to help me. I think once that didnt work he would have accepted it if I had to quit…in my case I appealed up and they dealt with the issues, which they agreed were silly procedures. I think your advisor will be more understanding then you might expect…and if not then they clearly lack any idea of empathy for your position.

  95. Well, after posting here a few months ago I thought I’d chime in again with an update.

    Against the recommendations of my supervisor and parents, I fought against the tide and downgraded from my PhD to an MPhil. I’m now working full-time as a data admin in a small company and feel like a totally different person.

    I’m still unsure as to whether I can complete a passable MPhil thesis but I’m having a go (albeit making extremely slow progress – who wants to work on their thesis after a work day?). I’m hoping to remain in the field of data analysis, so praying that a first class Bachelor’s degree and work experience will stand me in good stead even without an MPhil.

  96. Thank you so much for this post. I am currently in the process of leaving my thesis program in undergrad, which is different than a PhD, but the sentiments are similar. It was refreshing to read this kind of an article after most people will tell you to “keep going”, “don’t quit anything”, “an adult finishes what they started”. But I’m learning (or possibly trying to convince myself) that it is also a mature thing to leave that which no longer serves you. And it is equally as “adult” to understand what is right for one person is not right for another, and to focus on other aspects of one’s life. I am choosing to focus on my health and my mental well-being versus miserably trudging through my thesis only to say I did it. I am realizing that pride and other’s expectations are not fulfilling enough to complete this project. My topic is something I continue to be passionate about but I can return to it later in life. So, thank you for this post and the other comments – it’s nice to see that I am not alone in this decision.

    • I started by PhD in 2005 in Theory and Criticism, finished all the course work and realized by desired topic was not well suited to the program (nor to the academic job market). In 2007 I started a New PhD in Art history, finished all three comprehensive exams, taught large survey courses, wrote my whole dissertation in 2012, sent it in – all was set to go for defense. 1 day before the external examiner cancelled my defense citing major flaws – (none of the other 4 examiners noticed these apparently)… and my department agreed to cancel my defense and sent me back to the research stage.
      In late 2012 I took a leave of absense. With the stress of the absent defense my epilepsy went haywire and I began suffering major anxiety and depression to boot. I returned to my Phd in sept 2013 – but i can’t get the research to come together in a new form, partly because I now doubt my own abilities and my department’s ability to recognize a ‘good’ dissertation and fear the same result all over again. I handed in my first new chapter, and while I was waiting for my supervisors response i realized I was hoping he would say it was crap and that I should quit. So, 8 years into a PhD, I am now considering leaving. I am exhausted, hate the topic (and art in general now) as well as the academic world I previously loved and am forced to take strong medication for my worsening seizures and find myself in therapy for depression and anxiety attacks. I want to finish and get the fabled ‘PhD’ but it seems all for naught – no job prospects and potentially severe health complications. I was so happy to find this post as it has helped to ease my stress – I am still undecided – I guess what I need to remember is that I quit I could always return later and finsih one of the 2 I started (my supervisor assures me an excellent reference).

  97. I am only into my second semester of a PhD in Theatre and I already want out. The problem is I do not know how to leave. I love the faculty, the program is short already one TA due to health issues, and I feel like I am obligated to be here. After all, I did sign a contract. I am, however, falling apart in the process. I feel I was mislead (of course it may be to my own naivety) into a situation which has by all means and purposes left me unable to function. I had no prior teaching experience before I got here, on the third day of orientation I was told I would be teaching a class of 100, and if I wanted the book to go buy it at the bookstore. This was enough to stress me out but when you add coursework to the equation I have been turned into an angst ridden, depressed ball of nothing. I hit a wall at the end of the semester and failed to turn in two papers, receiving incomplete’s in both classes. I can find no motivation to complete them,nor do I want to teach at any level anymore. Is it ok to leave or do I tough it out until the end of this semester?

    • I think your first step better be to review that contract. What did you agree to? Does it specify that you would teach classes, is the Uni entitled to provide supplies, is there a minimum class size, is there a penalty for instructors leaving during the year? You will find quickly in your career that employers wont sacrifice for you so don’t just stay cause you feel bad for them, I promise they wouldn’t make a decision based on that. The real question here is what are you legally obligated to in that contract…

  98. Hello everyone,
    I’ve been flicking through these stories, oscillating repeatedly between a desire to quit and to stick it out. Maybe if I give my own circumstances someone can help me out. I started my phd in Australia 2 years ago. I originally was toying with the idea of going into science communication but I didn’t see the harm in applying for a scholarship and when I got it everyone urged me to give the PhD a go…then 2 months in I decided it wasn’t for me and told me supervisor I wanted to quit. He convinced me not to. I continued to make desultory progress. Then 8 months in I decided to quit again. But my mum was very upset by this and I pulled back. In fact I’ve continued to consider quitting countless times on my own and then pulled back due to a strong sense of fear. Fear of looking like a fool? Of letting people down; and most strongly by the sense that I will leave myself open to lifelong regret and lose my source of income. Occasionally I will become focussed on my research and feel good about it, usually I suppose when there is something exciting to look forward to in life – going out with someone, for example. Every now and then I become smitten with the idea of science writing but as soon as I think about it I feel a repulsion to my phD (whereas normally I just feel indifference) – but it’s completely untested, I’ve never done science writing, it’s just not something I seem to be able to even entertain whilst doing my PhD at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with my supervisor or my colleagues or my working conditions, and I’ve made average progress – a paper is almost ready for submission, although I have pretty strong reservations about its validity and its relevance. I’ve just never been particularly interested in my topic right from the very start and I feel as if it is a sense of pride and inertia that keeps me going now, and a fear of the unknown. I don’t want to go into academia although I can’t help feeling as though quitting a PhD this far in would potentially damage my self-esteem and not be a particularly good look CV-wise. It seems to me that the worst I should do is suspend my PhD and see how I feel after 6 months…and then either complete it or downgrade to a master’s which I could finish in no time at all. But I fear even this would be viewed very negatively by my supervisor. This feels more like the Valley of Meh: I’m doing the PhD for many reasons but passion definitely was never one of them.

  99. John, it’s said once begun, better to finish. My self-esteem also took a huge beating during the all-but-dissertation years. Sounds like you’re making good progress…suggest to just finish and see what’s next. That’s what I decided. After many years of ABD, 8 months ago I set most everything aside (excepting working full time) and finished the PhD in January. For me it’s been like becoming a new person. As for what’s next, maybe I’ll apply for a grant or another position. To borrow from Jim Rohn, set a goal to get a PhD, not for what you will get, but for what it will make of you to achieve it. Best luck!

  100. Pingback: Why do people quit the PhD? | The Thesis Whisperer

    • As far as I can understand, you can ask your supervisor and the principal of your PhD department / faculty. If you can convince them that’s the thing you really want to do, you don’t have to care anymore about your contract.

  101. Pingback: Reason for leaving: Self advocacy and academic ableism | An Ex-academic follower of fashion

  102. Hi there,
    I am having a thought of quitting my PHD and suddenly see this stories. Should I quit?
    I had a very good and helpful supervisor But the main problem here is myself. I am not capable to do my PHD as what my supervisor required. He did help me a lot but still I couldn’t do any progress even after 4 month.
    At first I really wanna enjoy myself doing phd, I keep on telling myself this is the time to improve my knowledge but thing come up differently. I jump into an area that I don’t really had background, its totally my weakness area. In the beginning I thought its good to challenge myself coz by doing this I can improve later on.
    But now I stress myself a lot, I started to lost confident, passion towards phd. I didn’t enjoyed doing it anymore.
    Stress on the background that I don’t have, then I need to do a presentation which is really not my area and my weakness. Even after 4 month I didn’t had anything yet to show to my supervisor even though he give me many input. I am also worried he will lost his patience on my weakness.
    What should I do?Should I quit?I am not enjoy to do it anymore.

  103. I can so much relate to many of you here and it gives me much relief seeing i am not the only one. I’ve been telling myself to wanting to quit since year 2 but i had to go on working on it because of others’ expectations and because i do like academics and teaching but without PhD there is no growth here. So all these years i forced myself to just complete it somehow but there were far too many obstacles in every stage that kept demotivating me. A little more than a year ago I got married and I took a break from my work thinking I’ll sit at home and complete the thesis. I tried and tried but saw very little progress. It was my fifth and last year. So I applied for a year of extension. Then I got pregnant and i felt motivated to finish my work before having my baby so that I can give all my time to my baby after that. But my health didn’t allow and there were one or the other complication every month. Struggling with the annoying symptoms, bed rest, hospitalization etc I moved into my second trimester when i felt better and sat again to work and try finish everything in 3-4 months but another complication emerged and my doc told me not to exert, not to sit for long and not to take any stress. With just months left and huge pile of work pending I couldn’t take it anymore. Yes, I quit in my sixth year, just months before completion. Sometimes I feel guilt that I used my health as an excuse to quit, other times i also feel that it was this PhD stress of years that led to problems in my health. But I did use my health problem reasons to explain others why I quit when inside my heart I know I wanted to leave long ago but never had the courage or alternative plan to take the step. This article and many of the comments describe exactly what I went through. But it has been hard to leave. It is still hard for me to come to terms with the fact that my 5 years’ hardwork didnt yield the desired result. I am still interested in my field, in research, in the topic of my thesis. I haven’t even informed my supervisor yet. I am just avoiding to make that phone call. Now I am concerned about what I am going to do when I want to be back working, and if I can still get my work published.

  104. I was so excited to begin my PhD. It was a long time goal, set over 20 years ago. I envisioned a place of camaraderie, interesting discussions about my topic, connections and mentors to help me move beyond where I was. Additionally, I received a fully funded grant to complete my PhD. Little did I realize that my program is a really bad fit for me. Most of my specialty-area courses are online, I have very little contact with my professors, my advisor is nice but super-busy. I usually have to schedule an appointment via email a few weeks in advance, and have spent less than 12 hours with him since I began my program 3 1/2 years ago. I am extremely unmotivated to finish this degree because of the extreme academic isolation, the substantial lack of support from faculty at the university, and the dismal prospects I face in the job market. After working as a public school teacher for 12 years, I would have to take a pay cut to work as an entry-level professor, and having a PhD will lead to me being far too expensive for most other teaching jobs. My personal finances are in the toilet, I have never had so much debt in my life. I taught 8 credits as an adjunct last semester and believe me, I earned more delivering pizza than working as an instructor in higher education. The promises of the program and the bright shiny future have not been fulfilled, and the only reason I am still here is that I have a payback obligation. If I bail out of the program, I have to pay back the entire grant. That would bankrupt me for years to come, and since I am in my late 40s, I might never really recover financially. Nothing in my life has improved since I started my PhD program, most big things – like my mental and physical health, relationships with friends, finances, and optimism about the future – are on a downward spiral. Would I do this again if I knew then what I know now? Never in a million years. When others ask me for advice, I advise against getting a PhD. Unless you absolutely want to work in academia, you can usually get there through other avenues. The PhD program has been one of the biggest disappointments of my life. I am finishing it only because if I do not, I will pay for this mistake for the rest of my life. 4 years is enough time to pay for the mistake of trusting higher education to deliver on its promise.

  105. I’m in my last year of my dissertation. I can related to this post in almost everything. I started this PhD because I didn’t have any choices but I worked at it with the desired to finish it. 4 years in I got a job in the industry and find myself hating everything related to my thesis, I get sick, my mood changes and get depressed just thinking about working. I sit down to work and nothing comes out of it. At this point the only reason I got to do this is 1. My advisor – because she is so nice and caring and 2. Because… hey it just almost done! – which it’s not truth it at least 6 months of hard work. Is quitting a good option? I’m so over everything to the point that I just don’t care at all. Is this phase?

  106. Wow, I am so glad I found this blog. I can relate to all the points being made. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I am myself in the 4th year of my PhD and I have seriously lost all love and motivation for it over a year ago. Despite this, I kept on pushing through and as a result burnt out at the end of last year. I took 3 months off, went traveling and then returned to the thesis out of a feeling that I woud not know what to do instead and that it would be silly to quit so close to the end. Now, 2.5 months later, I am at the same point of emotional exhaustion and anguish as I was before my break. People keep telling me that I am so close (estimated 1 year to completion) and that I should seek it through, yet to me it feels like a lifetime away. I had two extremely unproductive weeks and I hate wasting my life away like that. Last weekend, the realization hit me that I am indeed finished with the PhD, even though the thesis is not. I have always been a high achiever, so giving this project up is very hard for me. But I cannot stand the mix of unpoructive boredom, loneliness and stress anymore. This is no life.

    I have applied for a full-time job for an NGO in an area that I am passionate about and I really hope I will get it. But I think I will quit the thesis regardless if I get the job or not. It is time to let go.

    Now, the next step is to muster the courage to actually make it happen. It means letting go of a large and familar part of your identity, facing family, collegueas and friends and stepping into the un-known and potential unemployment. I am afraid and a part of me wants to shy away from actually going through with this decision. But I think I will thank myself once I am actually free from it!

    If anyone has already quit their PhDs – I am happy to hear about your experiences post-quitting! What does life taste like for you now? Do you think you will regret it?

  107. Wow!! These comments resonate so strongly with me. I have definitely lost all passion for my thesis but am worried that if I quit I am throwing away the last two and a half years of my life. I think that my biggest concern is that I have always been a high achiever and I feel like I don’t want this thing to beat me. However, I don’t think that I am cut out for the life of an academic and so maybe I just need to find some courage from somewhere to make the hard decision and quit.

  108. Thank you so much for this post!

    I am starting my second year of my PhD program in Biology, and I have been second guessing my decision for a while now.

    My life was just in a different place when I started. I was single, not looking to start a “grown-up” life quite yet, and the program gave me an opportunity to be close to home and help take care of my father, who had been very sick over the last few years. Now things have changed. My research requires me to be gone all summer (across the country), which doesn’t allow me to help out much with my Dad. I am settled in to a committed relationship and see myself having a family someday (something I never considered before), and I have been getting a sneak peak of what a life in academia would be like by interacting with my adviser and other professors, and it is just NOT at all the life that I want to have.

    I love science, I always have, but I don’t see myself having a career in academia. I want to work normal hours, spend time with my family, and not deal with the stresses of finding funding for research. My problem is that I feel very guilty about wanting to pull out. I am currently my adviser’s only full graduate student, as this is only his second year working at the university. He is a great adviser, I feel lucky to have him as a boss. He talks to many of my coworkers about how proud he is of me, and I am really interested in our research. I just don’t want to travel away from home anymore, I don’t want a career in academia, and I want to start a family, so I am wondering if finishing my Ph.D. is the right route, or if I should talk to him about just doing a master’s and getting a different job.

    Any thoughts on how to handle this situation?
    Thank you!

  109. This article is going to be useful for those who might be thinking of quitting PhD during their first year. But, honestly I cannot believe that people who quit their PhD after their first and second years can be recovered later. Yeah, you might be temporally feeling relieved because you are not under continues pressure and stress from your supervisor and you don’t hear his/her bullying comments on your work every single time, or you might be shortly feeling happy that you don’t do something that you hate it anymore. But, believe me, getting fully recovered in long term is somehow impossible.
    Let’s be realistic. you spent two, three years on PhD and you quit. How do you feel when you think about the two, three years of your life which went futile? How do you feel when you see your friends getting their degree and posted their graduation photos on Facebook? how do you feel after 10 years when you want to get a job which needs PhD degree and you haven’t? Could possibly anyone not blaming him/herself in future? To me, it is really annoying to look at past and blame myself of why I couldn’t do it and why I quit !
    In fact, when you read the above comments, you noticed that many people go through the same pain and have the same feeling about PhD ! they complain about their supervisor for lack of understanding and support or say that they are not interested in their research topic or they want to get rid of academic life. I agree with all these since I experienced them by myself. But, personally I think if you cannot deal with these difficulties, you are less likely to deal with other problems in your future life as well. what if you get a job and you have problem with your boss? what if you marry with someone and after some time feeling board? what if you have a disable children? what if you get diagnosed by cancer? what if you migrate to a country and find you don’t like it? If the answer to these questions is “I rather to quit”, then I think you should better quit your PhD as well.

    I am not saying that I never thought about quitting PhD. But, it was all during my first year. I remember that once I gave myself one week to decide whether I quit it or not; after making my decision to continue, it was the last time I was hesitate about it.

    • I think students who consider quitting after the first year should also take into consideration the major resources a department has put into them. When you add up the cost of stipend, tuition, and professors’ time, someone could have bought a house or a family in a developing country could have been supported for 10 years. PhD students make a commitment and owe it to themselves and their programs to make every effort to complete. Not feeling happy or excited about your program is just part of the process and not a good reason to fail to honor that commitment.

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  111. I’m currently working on my A.A. in Computer Science and intend to get my Ph.D. right after my B.A., i’ve already started on working on my doctoral thesis, it’s hard but its something that I need to do fora few reasons. I’ve read a lot of articles about the reasons not to get a Ph.D. but to be fair the job market for a researcher in CS is growing and median pay is about 100,000 entry level. I myself have two main goals for perusing my Ph.D. being i need to get a high paying job at a very young age (around 25,) in order to take care of my younger siblings and I want to gain the highest academic diploma possible.

    On a separate note, I myself have thought about quitting many times, but I know I can do it.

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  113. Im only 5 months into my doctorate and today I had my first presentation to the director of scientific research at my uni. They grilled me in question time and hit me with questions that I did not expect or even see the relevance in. I have not done as much lab work as others in my position but I have to publications out for review. I know I would be good at this but sometimes (especially after days like today) I question my ability to do this.

  114. I am in my 4th year of PhD in economics, designed and finished surveys successfully, entered data recently, wrote first 3 chapters including literature review initially but still there is a lots of work related to developing and testing hypotheses, and applying different econometric models. This means I now need data analysis and explanation in addition to writing research papers. My supervisor since first day of my PhD was and still is a busy guy, devoting most of his time in research projects, which bring him good money and reputation, and do not spend time with me. Most of the time, he is not in his office, he’s away on his projects. But, he is a bully and demanding …… So, sometimes I feel like quitting PhD, although I am at the stage of data analyses in my 4th year ! …. Please, suggest something …… thanks

    • I feel like I get you, I’m in my final year of my PhD, and my supervisor is always busy, my meetings are on average 5 minutes long and I only have them once every 1.5 – 2 months. I have been wondering aimlessly during my candidacy and am still wondering how I’ve survived this long.. The funny thing is I think I would love research, but this PhD has made me begun to hate it.. but I’m going to stick through to the end.. I think partly thanks to finding an internship which will hopefully lead to a full time job or even a part time job and part time phd to finish up my literature review. Little feedback, and little support have led to a loss of motivation and confidence in my own value and ability.

  115. Im getting to the end of my tether with my supervisor but I cant be sure if its my fault or his. I am re re rewriting my upgrade package for the 3rd time and every time I have gone to him triumphally hes asks me to deal with yet another theory genre or body of literature. Last time I pointed out that if I didnt upgrade soon and move onto the research stage I wouldnt have funds to finish he said it cant be rushed and a panel would tell me if thats the case to leave and come back when I have more money. He says I need to know sub-sub genres of adjacent fields…I have over 600 entries in my bibliography and he says I havent read enough.
    His other supervise’s claim hes not treating them like this and isnt making any demands of this nature on them. He also says I cant upgrade until he thinks i am ready. Im ready to throw down that if he doesnt accept the next attempt Im out…Anyone else encounter this problem? Im so frustrated I cant go on chipping away at this stage forever…

  116. I am so glad that I found this site I feel a lot less alone now!!!

    So my background is I’m a pharmacist and I did a PhD because of my love of science and my final year project, which was tough but made me feel like I could tackle adversity with “little” issue- boy was I wrong!!

    I was “lucky” enough to be accepted back by my masters supervisor, whom had been promoted to head of school in this time. Me being foolish thought that this would be beneficial but instead turned into a major headache- our lab is supposed to set an example and therefore we get penalised way more than any other lab, we take on more project students than anyone else and, at least for me, has been another exercise in how rubbish my supervisor thinks I am- so far I have had to redraft the 2 written thesis chapters 3 times!!

    My funding ran out in September and I was originally told (back in May) that I had to write up and would be out of the lab in October so planned pharmacist work to pay the bills whilst writing up. Since then he had a serious change of heart and has told me I have shedloads more work to do since my compounds do not get into cells! I asked him months and months ago when he thought I would be ready to write up and he said October but now he expects me to supervise 10 students for free, finish up AND write my thesis whilst earning no money (aka quit my pharmacist work) (I should also mention that I separated from a 6-year relationship 2 months ago and am now buying a house to setup on my own if other drama was not enough). As a pharmacist I love teaching my staff and people often comment how good I am- a total 180 from what I get from my supervisors!! I guess I just feel, especially 3-and-a-bit years in (I have to submit by the end of my 4th year), is it really worth me putting myself through another 3 months of exhaustion and misery being told how rubbish I am to complete the damn thesis or cut my losses and move on?!

    The final part of this is that I want to move on to training pharmacists and technicians, but unfortunately their base is at the same institution (aka NHS Pharmacy Education and Training). The woman who is my boss (as I help her out half a day a week) is absolutely wonderful and supportive and cares about my wellbeing, whereas my supervisor’s opinion is just to work harder, despite averaging 70+ hours a week with only 20 hours paid!! I am so lost and I really feel like I’m heading for a breakdown-help!!!

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