So, to start with my question... PhDs/research are undoubtedly hard/stressful, but how much is too much? Should I leave my PhD in my 6th year or just take a bit of a leave to try and regroup? (I'm 31 if that makes any difference.)

As with most, my path through grad school has not been straightforward and I apologize in advance for the lengthy background/question.

I received my MS and was planning to continue for a PhD at University A (contingent upon me getting funding + suitable project). Got both of those figured out, but my advisor was told my project would not help her tenure case and had an awkward advisor switch. Got fed up with politics at A then transferred to University B (in year 4) where I have a fantastic and super supportive advisor.

I just started my 6th year, but have not yet taken my qualifying exam. Many reasons for this, but mostly the program at Univ A was more interdisciplinary (better matched to my research) while the program at Univ B is much more traditional/focused on fundamentals. I need to relearn a lot of material which is not really relevant to my research and have been at a complete loss of motivation for months now. Being daunted by oral exams certainly plays a role, but also feel that a PhD is no longer required as my career goals have also shifted.

All of this, switching schools, etc. etc. has taken its toll on my emotionally/mentally to the point where my research progress is practically non-existent. This has all triggered pretty severe anxiety/depression (yes, I am getting help elsewhere too), but even so, I am seriously questioning whether it is really worth putting myself through this any more.

I love my research topic (on good days), but at what point is the stress of a PhD not worth it anymore?

  • 1
    What I'm going to say may be very stupid but... can't you just relax and consider it as a bad paid shitty job that will award you a piece of paper? That is what I did, I hollowed and I'm dead on the inside (and I haven't finished yet), but I'm still standing. I never had a better plan, though, all jobs around here are shitty and bad paid. I think (I may be wrong) that moving to a different country is easier with that piece of paper.
    – Trylks
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 10:49
  • This sounds like a bad situation. I'm sorry. Can you elaborate on what your PhD is about? Also, you say your career goals have shifted? Can you say what they were and what they are now? I recommend editing your answer to add more information along those lines. Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 11:08
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    a PhD is no longer required as my career goals have also shifted — So why are you doing it? What keeps you from just walking away?
    – JeffE
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 11:39

2 Answers 2


I have just completed my PhD, so the angst you speak of is still fresh in my memory. I will say that it is good that you are thinking about your options instead of making a rash decision. We can not answer whether or not you should leave your PhD, that decision is yours and yours alone to make.

Having said that, a few things to consider (some of which you have alluded to already):

  • Your enjoyment of the research topic - is it stronger than the frustration hat you feel? You mention that the move between schools and the internal politics has had a negative effect on your research productivity, reflect on what is causing that.

  • Your career goals have shifted, so is the PhD relevant to what you are planning to do? More so, is the PhD in any way holding you back from achieving the career goals?

  • An important question with regards to your PhD, is what is it leading to? What is the 'end game' of it all, so to speak?

  • Will taking a year off having a negative effect on your funding etc? Conversely, will the year off allow you to, as you say, regroup - and also perhaps explore that career path.

I am 36, and just finished my PhD - so your age is not that important, you're still young. Never feel that you are 'obliged' to complete the PhD in a certain time frame, if at all - you have to look out for what is best for you.


I was in a similar situation where I had to transfer from Univ A to Univ B which is in a different country! Making that decision took a toll on me for months since my adviser was pressurizing me too. Finally I decided to move with him, but after a year and half at my univ I realized he was a total jerk and ignorant who did nothing for me but help destroy my career for 5 years. I understand you like your adviser and subject which is a plus.

My suggestion to you is that to take matters in to your hands! Work on subjects you like, avoid the negative comments and people (very important), forget about the number of years you spend, send papers out and you will be fine. I have done much much better in the last 6 months of PhD than the rest. From the point where I thought had no research at all, now I feel somewhat confident that I will pass the defense next month! Try to read inspirational books to get yourself going. This website helped me a lot http://www.marcandangel.com/ or find some other self-help books and get your inspiration back because it is very vital.

Good luck

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