I am just over two years into a CS PhD, and have decided to drop out. I was in a competitive field, and found it difficult and frustrating trying to make a worthwhile contribution. I didn't complete many of my experiments as it became apparent they were not sufficient, though I've done an extensive survey of the literature. Talking to my supervisor, he offered me a transfer to an MPhil course instead.

I have no interest in pursuing academia further, and intend to move into industry. I already have a reasonable STEM BSc and good CS MSc from top UK universities, and I'm confident in my tech skills (although some are a bit rusty after two years of research). I feel like I can explain my choice of leaving positively at interview. On the other hand, I have limited work experience, and there are skills I've learned in my PhD which I have no evidence for.

Given this, how does an MPhil compare to simply dropping out, purely in terms of my CV and employability?

Edit: in my mind, the difference is between listing "PhD in [topic] (not completed)" vs "MPhil, dissertation: [topic]" and I'm wondering if the latter is significantly better due to the qualification and documentary evidence.

  • 1
    If you already have a Master's, would an MPhil essentially be a second Master's, or is an MPhil considered higher than other Master's degrees in the UK? And is your current Master's in the same/similar area, or a different field?
    – Nat
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 20:22
  • From your description, it seems like you're already mostly there. Is there a reason not to take the MPhil instead of simply dropping out then?
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 20:27
  • @Nat I don't know the answer to your first question. It is in a fairly different field - I've amended my question. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 20:56
  • @Allure I'm not yet clear how much extra work would be necessary for the MPhil - if it's significant, then I already feel quite burnt out on the topic. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


This might not be the most popular of answers and it might not be the answer you're looking for, but it's what I would sincerely advise a friend facing similar problems.

You say you have limited work experience, so I'm guessing that you are pretty young. In that case, look at what you've put into the PhD:

  • You spent two of the best years of your life on this (around ages 20-30 is one's intellectual and physical peak).
  • You also spent tens of thousands of GBP on this. Maybe it didn't come out of your pocket, but there was certainly an opportunity cost from not taking a better-paying job using your MS degree. Quantified, this difference is likely in the tens of thousands (especially if accounting for loans / investments).

If you leave with nothing now, both the time and money you've invested go to waste. You will forever be someone who dropped out of a PhD program, presumably because you weren't good enough (these first impressions apply even if you can justifiably claim to have learned a lot from the PhD). However if you leave with an MPhil, you have something tangible to point to. You have your university's brand name behind the skills you claim to have, and you get to avoid questions such as "Is it possible to make leaving a PhD look good on a CV / Resume?".

It's true that MPhil from my cursory searching is not the most empowering of degrees - for example reed.co.uk lists 200,000 jobs, but only returns 4 results for "MPhil" - but it is better than nothing.

I would strongly incline towards getting the MPhil. DPhil would be even better. "I need a PhD because it helps me find a better job afterwards" may never impress a graduate admissions committee, but if it motivates you to finish the DPhil, it's good enough.

  • 1
    If you're on a PhD program, getting a DPhil would be tricky ;)
    – Jessica B
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 7:45

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