I hate my PhD program. I absolutely despise the program and many people in it. Sometimes at conferences, with new faculty, etc. I get asked what I think of my program. The real answer is "it's horrible, I despise it and I totally regret going. Please stay far away".

I don't want to lie and many people seem genuinely curious especially new grad students/faculty etc.

When I say things like this, the conversation either turns really awkward or they start asking questions. I really just want to keep my head down, do my job, and finish. I don't want to complain. I don't want to cause problems. I just want to do my job.

Many people seem genuinely interested like new faculty etc. I hate lying. And I especially would hate saying anything good about the program after being burned. I felt like when I was choosing grad programs people lied to me about this one and I'm super resentful. I never want to do that to someone.

I also don't really want to elaborate because some things are sensitive. Say, a professor is a jerk and is screwing me over somehow. I don't really want word to get out that I'm talking about that person.

I've found answers like "Well, I'm working on a cool project right now" or other deflecting responses sometimes work but some people keep pushing and really want to know.

How to I respond to this question without lying?


"My experience hasn't been great" is a clean way to indicate the problem without criticizing anyone. You may want to couple this with something honestly positive -- such as "I really like my research topic, but overall, my experience in the program hasn't been great."

If they follow up -- and they probably will -- you can say something like: "I've had a number of issues with the faculty. I probably shouldn't go into all the details though." In this way, you give a reasonable answer to their question without inviting further discussion. You can then redirect the conversation to something you're more positive about -- for example, your research or graduation plans.

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    I prefer this answer to the one that Dan pointed out is saying negative things while stating saying negative things is wrong, but I'd go further and leave out the "with the faculty" part too, to stick with the advice in your first paragraph. Keep it entirely personal. The lack of praise is sufficiently informative. "I don't want to go into all the details" is fine. – Bryan Krause Sep 19 '19 at 20:19
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    I like this answer. It's honest, not overly emotional, and nonspecific. Thanks. – user114224 Sep 19 '19 at 22:58

Just flat up say something like “There are some things that I like, and there’s some things that I dislike, and that’s as much as I’m going to say about it because saying negative things about your employer is unprofessional.” That way, you can indicate your feelings about your situation both without lying and without acting unprofessional and saying negative things about your employer.

If they miss the hint, and continue asking questions, simply say, “I’ve already said everything that I’m going to say on the subject” or simply “No comment”. Eventually, they should realise that you were being serious about not wanting to talk about it.

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    Saying that you won’t say more because saying negative things about your employer is unprofessional is itself an obviously negative thing, hence meets your definition of unprofessional. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. – Dan Romik Sep 19 '19 at 16:14
  • PhD programs aren't "employers" in the usual sense, so I would take your characterization of your PhD program as your "employer" as significant criticism. – JeffE Sep 20 '19 at 0:01
  • @JeffE Well, someone’s footing the bill for you to be there. I doubt that the grant money used to pay for PhD students just poofs away into fairy dust. ;) – nick012000 Sep 20 '19 at 2:23
  • @nick012000 "Paying for PhD students" is not the same as "employing PhD students". Not even close. – JeffE Sep 20 '19 at 12:43

I suspect that you already realize this from what you have written, but note that your first responsibility here is to yourself, not to the truth and not to informing questioners of the reality. You don't need to lie, I think, but you need to find a way to protect yourself from any potential harm the the truth would lead to.

A prisoner in a POW camp dare not tell the truth, but needs to reach a point in time at which the consequences of the truth can no longer harm them.

Do what you need to do to finish your degree. Find a position of independence. Then you can be frank about what you experienced. Don't say things, even if true, that will harm you if they get back to people who currently have control over your future.

But, for now, "The university has made it possible for me to have a great future. I'm looking forward to that."

Not a lie, I think.


The real question is not how you should be responding to others, but how you should be responding to yourself. Your dislike for all of it is a message to you, that whatsoever you are doing is not for you. There is nothing wrong in this. You will need to gather the courage to live according to your own feeling of things, not according to the feelings others have about what you are preoccupied with.

We have this one brief life. Forget your response to others. Live in response to your own feelings.

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    I cannot completely agree. Say I completely hate my program but in 6 months I finish and have a deree from one of the best schools. Then I certainly can answer that question to myself, however, not the question posted here. So this does not answer the question. – user114084 Sep 19 '19 at 8:57

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