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I am a PhD student on my second year. My advisor is one of the most understanding professors I have ever had the pleasure to work with: he is also one of the, if not the, most important researchers in his subfield, which is a really "academic" subfield, meaning everyone who studies this subject ends up in Academia, or with a really unrelated, low-paying job.

Now, I am really unhappy with my PhD: my research is, in my eyes, very weak (I know, I know, impostors' syndrome and so on, I am in fact looking for psychiatric counseling but, one must be realistic: from all PhD students, statistically, some are bound to underperform) and, overall, I am just not happy with what I do... Somewhere along the road I lost the little interest I might have had for research.

The thing is, I used to enjoy research, at least a little, and Academia offers very comfortable careers in my country, and other countries as well: I don't want to leave, study a new subject and find that, not only I am not suitable anymore for Academia, but also I hate whatever I started studying; and I hope that, maybe, with the right counseling, I might again enjoy what I do. Furthermore, I have a scholarship, and if I left with my PhD unfinished I would be heavily financially penalized...

So, the idea I had was to start a Bachelor's degree in a field that has better prospects outside of Academia, all while continuing my PhD: I will underperform even more in my research, but that is a price I think I am willing to pay. The problem is, how do I break the news to my advisor?

As I said, he is a very understanding person, but it will be clear to him that my intention is to, very possibly, leave Academia, since our field is so "academic" and the one I will start this new degree on is not. He will also be very unsatisfied with the obvious new drop in performance and, in my opinion, there are no good reasons to maintain under his supervision a PhD student, in a very academic field, that is not willing to stay on the field.

So, how can I tell my advisor of my intentions? Should I not (which, from a legal standpoint, seems possible, but I would feel extremely guilty)? What kind of arguments should I present to him, in order for him to keep me under his supervision? Would it be more fitting to just drop the PhD instead? I know this question could, perhaps, fit better in the Interpersonal Skills Stack, but the intrinsic topic is so very dependent on academic matters that I think it is a better fit here.

  • What country? Second bachelor's degrees are very rare in my country and this would be really weird. – Azor Ahai May 10 at 15:32
  • @AzorAhai I would prefer not to disclose the exact country, but it is in South America: and yes, second bachelor's degrees are weird here, but not uncommon. – user108614 May 10 at 15:39
  • "start a Bachelor's degree in a field that has better prospects outside of Academia, all while continuing my PhD" --- My initial reaction is that if you can pull this off, then your abilities are truly phenomenal and they do not match your description of your abilities, so perhaps I'm missing something. – Dave L Renfro May 10 at 16:03
  • I know a couple of people who have done 2nd Bachelors or 2nd Masters but sequentially never in parallel... – Solar Mike May 10 at 16:34
  • @DaveLRenfro They are most certainly not phenomenal, but my impression is that teaching is not my university's forte, meaning the courses are not exactly very hard: I took all of my master's and PhD's credits while doing my Bachelor's, maintaining an average over 90%. But then again, my Bachelor's had a relatively light curriculum... – user108614 May 10 at 20:04
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This is probably more of an opinion answer, but I would say you should say to your advisor either:

I'm leaving my PhD because _________ and I am going to instead get a bachelor's degree in _______.

or

I am not feeling good about my research progress and not enjoying research to the point that I am considering leaving the program - can you help?

To be blunt, your plan to do both at once sounds like a horrible blunder. If you are struggling in your PhD now, adding an additional set of responsibilities is not going to make that problem go away. I can't imagine your advisor giving you any different advice than I have.

Further, if you choose to not tell your advisor, I think this would be akin to what is described negatively as "ghosting" in the context of a personal relationship, which is considered to be incredibly rude towards anyone you have an established contact with. Slowly letting your performance decline while you stop paying attention to your PhD and start working on other things is just going to make everyone miserable, and probably destroy any chance you have of getting a good recommendation from your advisor in your future endeavors.

You suggested you've been looking for counseling, and indeed, if your mental health is suffering, that would be a good idea, much better than your plan to take on additional responsibilities.

  • A few comments and a question. I really liked your answer: many times I considered that my declining appreciation for research is due to my also declining mental health, and even if I still don't like research anymore after counselling, at least I will have gone through counselling. – user108614 May 10 at 20:12
  • But, as you implied, I fell your tone might had been a little too harsh: I don't intend to ghost my advisor, I merely asked if I should not tell him to cover all possible cases. I am, and I see no shame in admitting that, desperate, and in no way happy in very possibly abandoning someone that was always very supportive of me. – user108614 May 10 at 20:15
  • My question is: if I do decide to tell him I am having doubts and considering leaving the program, which seems like the best option for me, how do I break those news? They are still very negative... Can you elaborate on that, or point in your answer to where I could read more about that option? – user108614 May 10 at 20:18
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    But we might not have had the same type of relationship that you have with your advisor, so I can't give you the words to say. If your advisor is a perfect advisor, they will help you through this as best they can regardless of what the final outcome is. But I would advise you that the option "can I stick around and do a crap job while you continue to support me and I stretch myself in too many directions" is not likely to be well-received. I think your only actual options are to realign yourself in your PhD (including counselling and all the rest) or to quit. – Bryan Krause May 10 at 20:32
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    This is a great answer. The second quote in particular is spot on -- given the mental health and other issues, discussing all the options openly with the advisor is a very good idea. If a final decision has already been made, then "how do I tell the advisor?" is sort of a moot point -- tell him whatever and move on with your life. But this advisor seems like a great resource, and I would advise against making any definitive, unilateral decisions that one might later regret. – cag51 May 11 at 6:48

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