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I am in the process of leaving my PhD programme in life sciences at a top university in the UK. A PhD is simply not for me and I find the work/life balance to be intolerable; in addition, my PhD so far has included an industrial placement at a Fortune 500 company that was very eye opening and enjoyable. I am looking to leave academia permanently and apply for graduate schemes.

My question is whether it is better to leave the fact that I quit a PhD off my CV, or to have the failed PhD / MPhil on there, or to mask it as '18 months of lab experience' or something similar. Is it possible to make the fact I left a PhD sound good?

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Are you seeking to leave Academia completely? You might get different perspectives asking this at The Workplace. –  gerrit Feb 4 at 18:10
Thanks for the suggestion. I have posted the question there as well. –  scipio Feb 4 at 18:30
If it's feasible in your situation, maybe you could convert the phd to a MPhil or MSc, thus getting a new (successful) degree out of your time. –  Simon W Feb 5 at 7:52
I suggest you didn't mention it at all, otherwise there will be a negative image for the CV impression. –  user11645 Feb 5 at 9:06
@user11645 it will be a far more negative image if during the interview it turns out that you omitted part of your education. And, after all, a gap will create questions (or no interview) and TAs who are not PhD students (nor postdocs) are rare: employers will easily spot that you started a PhD. –  cbeleites Feb 5 at 10:50

4 Answers 4

In my discipline (computer science), almost all of the people I know who declined to finish the Ph.D kept it listed on their professional profiles with a "not complete" note under it.

They did list their experience though under "work experience", as "Research assistant" or similar and continue to keep their accomplishments listed.

Overall, I think keeping it there, even if unfinished, is better than having a long gap of 2-3 years, because big gaps of nothing are going to look worse than employment in that period that you decided (for varying reasons) to not complete. You can explain away "I decided not to do a Ph.D" in a phone screen but it's harder to tell someone "Well, I actually tried to get a Ph.D but didn't finish, sorry I didn't list it on my resume".

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Along these lines, I have seen job ads (for industry positions requiring a CS degree) actually stating "PhD or PhD dropout preferred". –  Luke Mathieson Feb 4 at 22:28
+1 Holes are much much much worse than claiming "failure" (well, leaving a PhD is not necessarily a failure of course). With a recent "hole" in your CV, you almost can't get a job. It's always needed to list something. –  tohecz Feb 5 at 22:43

I guess it depends on the reason for leaving, e.g. I know several people who did not finish their PhD because

  • they got good jobs just before finishing the PhD. One may say that their next employers hired them just before they got into the official postdoc market.
    (The offers were clearly based also on the expertise they gained during their work at the PhD project)
  • the company they founded as side job (same profession) went well so they more or less gradually switched over to work at that full time.

Both are IMHO perfectly good reasons for not finishing the PhD.

So e.g. if based on your experience at IBM you end up as their employee IMHO that is a perfectly good and also nice looking explanation for leaving the PhD.

But I'd not leave the PhD formally before the next working contract starts - this way the CV will not have a gap. And after all, even if you don't like the PhD work that much, I think it is better to go on with that than to be unemployed: quitting PhD followed by being unemployed may leave a completely different impression from the situations I described above.

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If you're no longer interested in working in academia or research, having a PhD is often a strike against you in a job search. I regularly encounter negative bias against a PhD in professional and social situations. So unless you're applying for a job in a field that requires, or at least explicitly values PhD training, I'd list your 18 months as 'lab experience' of some kind. You don't want a gap on your CV, but you also don't want to trigger the negativity that too many people associate with the term "PhD".

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My suggestion:

  • If you earned a degree along the way, certainly list that in the education section.
  • If you were a research assistant, put that in your work experience.

I wouldn't add "failed PhD" or "or incomplete" or anything.

Nobody will judge you for quitting a Ph.D. program if you decided you don't want to do research.

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