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After starting my PhD a few months ago I'm now not sure if research is the thing for me. I'm uncertain on whether I should continue in the PhD program and try to make myself like research more, or if I should just stop and drop out of the program.

How can I know if research is for me or not?

  • 4
    Do you like your topic but not doing research about it? Or you both don't like the topic and research? – Kogesho Nov 1 '13 at 20:02
  • What do you think are the pros and cons of research? What aspects/activities do you like and dislike? – fileunderwater Nov 1 '13 at 20:40
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    Possible duplicate of (academia.stackexchange.com/q/9827/7921). – J. Zimmerman Nov 1 '13 at 20:43
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    Why do you not enjoy your PhD research? Have you previously done research that you enjoyed (and what's different about the PhD project that makes you unhappy)? If you can remedy things so you're enjoying yourself, by all means continue (even if that means changing topic). But if research just doesn't suit you, then it's better to decide this early on rather than halfway through the project. – Moriarty Nov 1 '13 at 23:45
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    While the decision to continue or not is highly localized and opinion based, this question is asking about how one should go about coming to that decision. In my opinion that is an excellent question. – StrongBad Jan 10 '14 at 13:39
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I think this question is vague, but I think vague questions are the ones that provide the most general answers and thus the most useful. Thus, I'll try to answer.

Why is it vague?

Research is not "one thing", there is nothing like the "one true research". There are many different aspects of research that can influence this decision and the experience of doing research. Among others I can think off the top of my head about: The area, whether it is applied or theoretical, formal or empirical, the people in the lab, if you work alone or in a team, the supervisor(s), the project(s) or grants that provide the funding.

And then you have to consider that all that collides with your personality, assets and skills, or the lack of. Some people have natural skills for writing and communicating, some other people for rigor and analytic thinking, etc. So even if two people are doing the same "amount" of writing and analytic thinking, for the former writing may take 80% of the time and for the latter it may be the other way around.

If you think you like some research but you don't like your research it may simply be that you don't like that research.

This is why the answer cannot really be answered. But as I said, those are the best answers, what we should do in these cases is lifting up the level of abstraction and providing some guidelines so that anyone can find their own answers. I'll do my best.

First thing to do is find out what do you want. Do you want to do some research or not, even if it is some Utopian idea of research that does not really exist anywhere. Then try to find some place where this research is being done. Then try to see if you can access this place. Then you will have to find a compromise solution between what you want, what is available and what is available and accessible for you. If this compromise solution seems to be satisfying for you, then go for it, if it is not then leave it for some other life.

The hardest part is trying to know if a place that seems to fit your interests is really that way or that's only a delusion, the best approach is try to speak with the PhD students there, find out how do they feel about that, if they are similar or different from you, etc. You can also check the statistics like how long does it take for them to finish, number of publications, etc. that will give you expected values.

Remember the difference between expectations and reality, wishful thinking is a hazard. There are quite a few pictures with a skeptic/pessimistic meme about expectations and reality to help you.

Back to some specific details of your question, you should compare this Utopian place with your current place, and possible alternative PhD programs you could start. That way you have an additional option:

  1. Not doing a PhD.
  2. Doing a PhD in a place that suits you, even if it is a compromise solution (life's hard)
  3. Doing a PhD where you are, it's again a compromise solution maybe less optimal than #2, but you save a year with this option, this may pay off or not, that's something for you to consider.

In the end nobody knows, life is about choices with partial information, choose wisely and work hard, no matter the path you choose, this train doesn't move without your effort. If you choose rationally, considering all the information that you have, you may make mistakes, but since they will be caused by information that you don't have, you should not regret them, that's life. Basically, if you do your best, you should not regret the consequences.

Good luck.

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