I quit a top program in psychology halfway through my second year due to theoretical disagreements with the professors. Some of the difficulties I faced afterwards included awkwardly saying goodbye to classmates, resolving the identity crisis that comes with losing the status of a doctoral student, dealing with family reactions, feelings of failure and regret, confusion about my future, and most of all, getting a job.
My advice to finding a good job afterwards:
1) go to a community (not your college) career center for help with your resume. No matter how many resume examples you read online, it’s very hard to turn a long academic CV into a concise industry-friendly resume that’s 1-2 pages MAX, and shows clear work experience/skills.
2) make sure you withdraw completely from the program and are removed from the school’s website before applying to your new dream job. I was still on my school’s website as a doctoral student and I was formally on a leave of absence, which was discordant with the “withdrew in good standing” statement on my resume. This created suspicion that I was just on a break from my program and probably contributed to being turned down.
3) if you’re switching research areas (which is common if you did research on a social issue that is only studied in academia), make sure you research this new area extensively and come up with clear (even if not entirely factual) reasons why you want to switch research interests and you’re passionate about this new field.
4) I found that most research coordinator openings for outside candidates are entry level, and although they were interested in me, I was overqualified. You can’t really avoid this problem, but it can still be useful to interview for entry-level positions since you can get a better sense of what jobs are out there, and they might pass your resume onto to someone else or decide to make a new position to fit you in.
5) the hardest problem was what to tell the interviewers about why I left. The first 5 jobs I interviewed with asked me why I left my PhD program as one of the first interview questions. I wasn’t emotionally ready to reasons, so I made up a variety of excuses, from financial strain, to change of interests. These reasons were not convincing, and led to jobs turning me down.
I think this problem was especially bad in my situation because I was in a very prestigious program, I left halfway through the year without finishing a masters, and I was applying to full-time research jobs in psychology that were often stepping stones for others to get into psychology PhD programs (so it was strange that I was going backwards). Indeed, one interviewer asked “people would kill to get into your school, why did you leave?” and then stared at me skeptically as I tried to explain. I would recommend, if you can, get a master’s degree before you leave. A master’s in psychology is not as useful as other degrees, but it looks way better on a resume, shows some accomplishment, and is much easier to explain. Otherwise, have a brief (2-3 sentence) explanation that’s convincing and doesn’t lead to tears.
Where I’m at now:
After 3 difficult months of interviews, I was offered a really great position. It was also the only position in which the interviewer (my new boss) didn’t ask me why I left my PhD. I have no idea why he didn’t ask, but I just assume it’s because he’s the BEST PERSON EVER. Anyway, I love my job. I make in the upper 30’s, which isn’t my dream salary, but it’s much more than I would make in grad school. I enjoy the work and find it very interesting, and I use a lot of the skills I learned in grad school. I also love the work/life balance that actually leaves room for healthy relationships and free time to have fun. I have no idea what my future career will look like, but I’m much happier with my life now than I was when I attempted a PhD.