So I currently have a job in software that I really enjoy, however I've always wanted to do research, so I applied to a PhD program in CS to study formal methods and security. I've accepted an offer from the school I wanted to go to and met my adviser who seems amazing and I have full funding for 4 years. Its a great situation to be in. I had accepted the offer after weighing all my options, however now that I've actually accepted the offer, I've been having cold feet. I was given a generous raise & bonus at my current job (that I didn't quite expect) and I really feel like I'll be giving up (or at least delaying) so many things in my life (housing, hobbies, traveling, etc.). Also, I'll be giving up the security that having a good salary affords (for example, I've had to take care of my mom a few times when she needed emergency surgery and being able to just fly out on a moments notice is really comforting and something I'll lose).

I feel like I made a mistake by not just pursuing the PhD after undergrad, but at the time I didn't know what I wanted to research so I felt it would be inappropriate to go without a clear goal/specific research field in mind.

So I guess, my main question is how should I go about making a career decision when it comes to the PhD? I was so sure I wanted to do this, but its felt wrong ever since I hit the button to accept the offer. I'd love to do research in formal methods, but I feel like I've borderline been spoiled by having a well paying job after living extremely frugally as an undergrad (had like 0 money & support structure during that time) and I don't know if I have the mental stamina to go back to that life. If you guys have gone from industry to a PhD program, how did you make that decision?

  • I don't know why you think this would be analogous to your frugal undergraduate experience. Don't you have any savings built up from the well-paid job? // Why would you not be able to make a short trip to care for a relative as a grad student? // I'm voting to close as too dependent on individual factors. You could improve the question by asking what factors to consider when deciding whether to leave industry to purse a PhD. (But this may have been answered already.) Apr 2 '18 at 14:12

I was in industry before returning for a PhD (in neuroscience). I don't know that I regret it, but I do often wonder what my life would have been like if I stayed in industry. For me, one determining factor in returning to school was that I didn't enjoy working on other people's questions. As a software developer, I was always solving the client's problems. As a scientist, I was working on things that interested me (and my advisors).

Factors you might want to consider:

  1. If you decide not to attend, how upset will your future advisor and school be? Will you be burning bridges?
  2. Could you work for a few more years (maybe saving some money) and then decide to get a PhD?
  3. The salary for a CS PhD is generally not that bad. It is not the same as being a penniless undergrad.

I think you should talk to your advisor and let them know how your are feeling. That will give them a chance to provide advice, and also gives them a heads up that you are having 2nd thoughts (which seem totally reasonable to me). If they react badly (which they might do), that is a sign that this relationship might run into trouble anyway over the course of the degree.

  • 2
    I like this, but would strike #1 -- this is OP's life, the school will get over it. Perhaps a missing factor to consider is "what do you need this for (if anything)? The PhD should not be an end goal, it should be a tool that you can use to get your dream job."
    – cag51
    Apr 2 '18 at 15:37
  • last sentence: brilliant!
    – BCLC
    Apr 2 '18 at 18:32
  • @cag51 The reason include #1 that is that the OP seemed unsure if he might eventually want to do a PhD. I'm not worried about the advisors/schools feelings except that those feelings may end up as closed doors for the OP.
    – jerlich
    Jul 27 '18 at 5:58

Not sure what the answer is, for you. I will say that the school will get over it. They have people not show up periodically. You don't need to go into detail, just send them a letter saying you have personal issues and need to defer/cancel. You might burn that school, but it won't be an issue if you want to go elsewhere.

In terms of the human consideration and the road not followed, it is hard to say. You may find yourself regretting ditching the school if you pass on it! Such is life. Not sure how to give you the magic answer.

I would probably lean towards staying with the job. I left 7 years post ug to do a Ph.D. Did fine and had a little extra money and experience to make it easier. But still not sure if it was right call. And I had a little more personal motivation than you--getting over not marrying girl I should have, needed to leave the state.

Maybe try talking to some people at another school? I think talking to the school itself will be a fiasco (or to your job). If you talk face to face, they may be able to have an intuition if you "belong" more in research or job.

My bias would be to stick with the job unless you are stuck professionally. If you are getting promoted, that is good sign. But of course, you will never be able to follow each half of the fork in the road, such is life.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.