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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
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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
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@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

5 Answers 5

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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Here is my answer to this similar question, where the OP was leaving after 4 years not 18 months. 4 years is more into ABD territory so I think it was wrongly marked as duplicate. Anyway:

Ok, this touches on multiple points:

  • people who leave before completing PhDs (so-called 'PhD dropouts', which is not a disparaging term) tend to be either significantly better or worse than average PhD students (depending whether the cause was financial, lack of motivation, immaturity, departmental politics, failure to define topic, or realizing your field or topic was not worth it/dead/useless/bad career prospects).
  • your job is to help the reader understand which one you are
  • but as you figured, the resume is not the place to overexplain. You also have the cover letter, the phonescreen, and the interview for that. So be succinct, list specific skills, tasks completed.
  • "I figure that the 4 years of MA/PhD work on research projects gives me skills that are valid to most employers". But you still need to list them succinctly. (You might have multiple resumes for different employers: one for publishers, one for CS, one for finance, etc etc.) Show us a sample of what you're saying? Also, state specific accomplishments or tangible results you delivered, especially since you're leaving. Any publications? or at least research reports? After four years, I'd expect several. If you list no accomplishments and no publications, then your resume will rightly get propelled into the trashcan/shredder at Mach 10.0
  • "All of my dissertation research was funded by a fellowship, and all of my various other research projects (where I wasn't principal investigator) were the result of competitions funded by grants. I have always designed my own research projects". That's gold-dust. Authoring and winning grant proposals is highly valued.
  • "I guess I should qualify this by mentioning that my PhD studies were in the social sciences, and there seems to be a bit more leeway in terms of describing what we do." This is a cultural US vs European difference. Hence you see very different opinions in responses to that question. Use whatever job description is correct in your country. Just don't get caught obfuscating that you were an MA/PhD research student.
  • Will you list your supervisor(s) as references? If yes, will they generally corroborate what you say? If no, why not, and who will you use?
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