for background: I am a second year Master's student in computer science. I had gone to the same university for undergrad. For my undergrad honors thesis (during last two semesters), I worked with a Professor on a paper which I had designed and implemented, and eventually wrote the manuscript for. The Professor was pleased with the work and the paper was submitted to the top journal in the field. This was over half a year ago. I stopped/withdrew from officially doing research 4 months ago, and two weeks ago the journal got back to us and said the paper can be accepted with major revisions.

The professor is excited of course, and I had told him that I would be available if further work is needed on this, but I honestly, honestly do not want to do research anymore. I am also in the processes of interviewing/finding a job among some other things, so I have a lot of things on my mind. But it would be leaving unfinished work that I started, and this seems very unprofessional. Since I worked on the manuscript/project alone, I feel like it would be a burden to him and others for me to just drop the paper because I'm "busy". It would also be going back on my word that I would be "available".

Basically, I feel bad. I'm not taking research for credit/graduation requirements, but I just feel bad. I have had trouble concentrating on anything for the past two weeks because this is constantly on my mind.

Question: How can I go about telling the Professor I don't want to work on this paper anymore? It is winter break right now, so I would be telling him over email. The professor is expecting me to begin working on the paper the second week of January.

Any advice or criticism is appreciated, thank you in advance. (Sorry that this is a child-like/emotion-based question, I'm not very good these types of things)

  • Do you mind telling us why you stopped doing research? – scaaahu Dec 30 '19 at 14:33
  • I originally stopped doing research because lack of interest + poor mental health + four graduate courses with research on top and interview prep is too much for me. – hhy0 Dec 30 '19 at 15:20
  • You could answer that you don't have much time on your hands and ask if he has any student or other collaborator who might be interested in becoming a co-author in exchange for helping with the revision. That can be a win-win situation for everybody. – lighthouse keeper Jan 1 '20 at 11:40

From a mathematician's point of view (I think the situation is fairly similar in CS): It should suffice to leave your research in a state where others can pick it up. For example:

  • Any preprints that are sufficiently presentable (if not necessarily polished enough for a referee's tastes) can be posted on a preprint repository, if necessary with comments about what parts need changes. If a refereeing process is already underway, and if you really want it out of your eyes, you can ask your coauthors or perhaps even other colleagues familiar with the project to take over the necessary correspondence and editing (although the latter arrangement is unusual). Otherwise, I suggest that you handle communication with referees for all papers you have already submitted.

  • Any work that hasn't progressed far enough to have presentable results can be handed over to some academics you trust, with explicit guidance as to what can be done with it (e.g., can they assign it to students? finish it on their own? send it to others?) and what sort of attribution you expect (e.g., coauthorship or acknowledgments).

People won't mind you stopping to do research (at least not in math and CS; it's different in other disciplines where you have labs and collaborators heavily relying on one another); but they will mind if you leave a mess of unfinished work behind that they can neither use nor redo, like leaving your clothes in a shared dryer for hours.


I suggest that you frame it differently. Don't consider whether it is "professional" or not. Think about what you want to do for yourself, including how you want to interact with the professor. These may be in conflict, I understand. But it is your life.

My suggestion is that you work with the professor, even if only a bit. Having a publication never hurts and might help. But having a friend in academia is also a plus.

Contributing ideas to the work is probably not a huge burden on time. And it might even be that approaching the project with a "light touch" rather than intensively (as you probably did in the past), might change your perceptions a bit about research for the future.

But if you need to back out, do it explicitly.


For respecting your previous hard work and not wasting it, you can try not to quit halfaway, despite of the reasons behind quitting. As you said, the professor is excited, so see if you can ask him for help, or tell him the reasons behind quitting, especially that the required changes on your work to be accepted and published will not exhaust you as starting research from scratcg. The professor will advise you, especially that your paper is accepted in the top journal of the field as you said, so if it is published in this journal, this may open more chances for you

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