I am a medical doctor, but decided to go into a graduate program because I wanted to contribute to progress of humanity with new knowledge ( I know, very romantic). I got accepted into a graduate program in Germany (I am not German).

Now that I am in science, I have realized it is not what I expected. Getting a job in academia is very VERY hard ( particularly in Germany I think), the life of a professor is not what better suits the lifestyle I want to lead in the future, and a job in the industry is not really what I want, particularly having the possibility of doing a medical residency and having my own practice one day.

I have already finished my masters and thought I could do my PhD and use the 3 years to learn the medical german language and later apply for a medical residency here. But as time goes by I am forgetting everything I learned in med school and I cannot focus on learning German while doing a PhD because of all the work that comes with it, of course.

Don´t get me wrong, I like my PhD project, the lab and doing research per se. It is just that I feel these would be years dedicated to something that I do not want to do for a living.


I have not share any of these thought with my PI, so, how do I tell him that now all of a sudden and without previous notice, I don´t want to do the PhD AT ALL, especially after having shown enthusiasm for the PhD in the past ( just a couple of weeks ago!)? That is, without looking like I was faking enthusiasm/ was just „using“ them.

Additionally, I am in the 4th month of a one year contract. I would actually like to work the remaining 8 months to get all of my work in order to hand it over. However, is it possible by law that he "fires" me and does not allow me to finish the one year contract?

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    You talk to her, it has happened before and will again.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 12:49
  • 2
    Question is rather trivial as written. You want to quit, so quit. Easiest thing in the world generally. Perhaps your real goal is to quit while avoiding embarrassment or looking like a flake? Just tell them you have come to feel you need to go back and do your residency first, since it is the real top priority, and your hope of simultaneously having three top priorities (medicine, research, language-learning) isn't working. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 16:52
  • You are currently likely still in "Probezeit", and could get fired within two weeks. Theoretically, I'd say highly unlikely. Firstly the prof would be in for a lot of administrative trouble, and also the work you already did would be wasted. Why would a prof do that? Also he likely needs a few months to find a successor for you, during which the project would be in standstill.
    – Karl
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 19:38
  • @Karl: that is only the case if it is the first contract - which is not clear to me from the question. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 20:36
  • It is my first contract.
    – LenaMi
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 22:41

3 Answers 3


There is no problem here. Just inform the PI that you intend to leave the program at the earliest opportunity. You haven't signed a contract with the devil for your soul. People change, people grow, people learn. Others understand that.

It would be good, however, for you to do what you can to leave things tidy when you go, not leaving others (PI, other students) in the lurch. To do this effectively you may need to spend some time cleaning up the current work and either finalizing it or passing it on to another. That is courtesy, but useful to you for the future if you decide later to re-evaluate yet again.

Take care of yourself; your future is yours and yours alone.


Summary: talk to your supervisor. If it is sudden for you to realize you want to get out of the PhD and your relationship to your supervisor is reasonably good, also tell him that you suddenly realized this is not what you'd want to do all your life, even though you still like that project. And that you think staying in the PhD program may hurt your chances with what you want to do for a living. You never know - he may have a good idea how to proceed. In any case, you don't have anything to lose: you can leave in any case (at the latest at the end of that contract).

 Additionally, I am in the 4th month of a one year contract.

Is that the first contract at that university? If so, as Karl pointed out you're likely still on probation (typically 6 months) and either side can still cancel the contract with 2 weeks notice without giving any reason.

(Your "as time goes by" sounds to me longer than 4 months in total.)

 I would actually like to work the remaining 6 months to get all of my work in order to hand it over.

That is something most supervisors like to hear: worse than a student leaving is a student suddenly leaving and leaving a mess.

 However, is it possible by law that he "fires" me and does not allow me to finish the one year contract?

Other than the Probezeit (probation period), no: neither the employer nor you can one-sidedly cancel a fixed-term contract. Both sides can agree on prematurely ending the contract, though (and employers will typically agree if an employee wants to leave).
And as employee, the employer has to let you out of the fixed term contract if you can show a better opportunity. I.e. if you have an offer, say, working full time + night shifts as doctor, that's more money than your PhD contract, so "better".

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    With "as time goes by" I meant from my point of graduation from medical school, which is three years already. Sorry, that was not clear in my question.
    – LenaMi
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 22:44

You PI never paid you salary for your PhD study. As a PhD student, you worked for yourself. Your scholarship came from yourself. You indirectly paid your PI's team, not the other way around. Your're your own boss. He's not your boss.

Just tell your PI you'd like to quit because you believe PhD is not suitable for you. No need to be emotional. You're the person who is going to fire your PI.

OK... Your PI is actually your boss. Just inform about your decision, this is like resigning for a position. Again, no need to be emotional. Ask him for your future career referee.

  • The thing is that... I do not have a scholarship. Actually I have a one year contract to the lab, so they are paying me...
    – LenaMi
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 13:00
  • @DiaLena Ok, different story now... My answer would work for countries that PhD paid by scholarship.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 13:01
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    Yes... that is what bothers me. However, the PI gave me a one year contract instead of 4 becasue " he did not know if I could handle" the data processing my project required. But after 8 months he seems satisfied and we were now making plans for the next 3 years.
    – LenaMi
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 13:03
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    @DiaLena That happens to everyone in the industry. Quitting is not a crime. Your position is probably replaceable. Don't worry.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 13:04

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