As per the title, I quit my second Ph.D. after 10 months, having quit my first after one year.

My first supervisor was narcissistic and a sociopath. (Nonetheless, I received prizes for my research.) After one year I left.

I took a lab position, in an isolated country, whilst seeking a second PhD program. The lab took advantage of my situation (low salary, humiliation, harsh work conditions). After 5 months, I was about to commit suicide, until I started a second Ph.D. I thought this was the salvation.

I didn't know my second supervisor. They seemed nice. Ultimately, I took the position out of desperation. However, after several months, I found myself stuck with a supervisor who was always jealous, in a constant fighting mode, moody, angry like infant. The final straw came when I was nominated for an prestigious award, which I was to collect at a conference, which waived the usual conference fee: My supervisor refused to support my travel, even though it was only around 500 Euro. They weren't constructive at all. Perhaps more importantly, the lack of dataset from our collaborators, sketchy understanding about my research which leads to lack of feedback, this was a wrong match in all levels.

I've found another lab in a different country. They are interested in my work and I've joined their group.

My question: I feel so much stigma about the situation and I feel sometimes insecure about what happened. In my current position, they know my situation, but they did not know all the story.

Now, I have to move by the end of the month. But, I am torn. I feel a failure because this situation doesn't sound good. Even though I asked many wise people and having a discussion for hours to split the emotion and facts about my situation that my decision to leave is right, I am stuck somehow emotionally about all experience, I saw a psychoanalyst, but not so much helpful, how can I get out of this stigma, I am afraid this would jeopardize my academic career? How I can remove this past?

  • I've edited in an attempt to clarify and improve readability. (Please revert/edit further/etc. as you see fit.) I'm somewhat confused about the closing paragraph: Why do you have to move? Are you moving from the (second) lab to a third PhD?
    – user2768
    Mar 12, 2020 at 12:47
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    "How To Cope With The Stigma of Quitting a Second PhD for a Third one?" Short answer: Complete the third one. After that, few people will remember the first two.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 12, 2020 at 13:07

2 Answers 2


Actually there is no stigma. What you have is feelings of failure. Stigma is something imposed on you by others and you have found a group that doesn't feel that way. It is time to feel good, not bad.

Bad things have happened to you. You were put in unfortunate circumstances. Hopefully you have escaped them. Look to the future, not the past.

If you escape from a lion attack it is time to rejoice, though the wounds may take time to heal.

I've been in the profession since dinosaurs ruled the earth and I don't look down on you. You seem very persistent. I predict success.

I also predict that once you make it over the finish line you will have so much experience with bad advisors that you will be careful to be a good one.

  • thanks so much for this, my energy is just drained, please wish for me luck this time. I tried to speak with trustworthy people who are pragmatic and not emotional neither biased, and after three hours they second my decision.
    – user116038
    Mar 12, 2020 at 13:48
  • Agree but you also will need to unburden yourself to someone. Both to a professional, e.g. psychologist/counsellor and to a trusted friend, from outside academia preferably. Don't feel guilty spending some of that research grant on your own needs - you've earned a bit of care.
    – Trunk
    Jan 14, 2022 at 18:13

First things first, if you have suicidal thought, then you need help. The fact that you tried one psychoanalyst, and that did not work for you, does not mean that the entire mental healthcare system is useless for you. Finding a therapist and a therapy that works for you can be long process of trial and error. Don't give up.

As to your question: You can't remove the past, all you can do is focus on making a better future.

If you want to reflect on your past experience to try to learn from it: I notice that you externalize the blame a lot. In the way you present your story there are three person: you are a top-student who wins prices, while the two others (the advisors) are narcissistic sociopaths or jealous and childish. That is probably not the whole story, and sticking to it will probably prevent you from learning from your experiences. However, now may not be the right time to process this. The only advise I can give you is: find a therapist that works for you and discuss this with her or him.

If you worry about how to present your story to others, then it is this black and white presentation that raises lots of red flags with me, not the fact that this is your third attempt.

  • How you can judge on me although you havenot been in my circumstance, " while others" who others? in my story only two persons i am speaking about, of course I have other people in academia who believe in me, but non of them were my advisors. It is quite unfortunate to have a mentality like you have. Of course, no one is perfect, but the ughly truth is that most of academia:
    – user116038
    Mar 12, 2020 at 13:44
  • It is shortsighted to judge, since I wasnot the only case in both stories, I have other members but in both cases were afraid to complain, even if I am a really bad student, I musnot be treated in that way, BTW, I was teaching at university for five years and have all the patterns of students and I never ever have been offensive towards them.
    – user116038
    Mar 12, 2020 at 13:46
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    You seem upset. Whenever that happens, it is a good idea to take a step back. In this case, try and read your own question again, and imagine you don't know anything about your situation other then what is in your question. You asked the question and controlled the information presented in it. You can't blame people for answering the question based on the information you presented.... If you thought I should have considered other information, then you should have given it to me. If you don't want advise, then you should not ask for it. Mar 12, 2020 at 13:52
  • I think I asked for the stigma only not for my personality that I am externalizing blame, there is a difference, I agree I confirmed in my story, that I didnot tell every thing detail. I am not upset, but sometimes I would prefer not to jump in conclusion, I had an extensive discussion with. trustworth people who are not biased either emotional for three hours because I was afraid maybe I am the problem.
    – user116038
    Mar 12, 2020 at 13:57
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    I don't think there is much use talking to you like this. All can say to you is "get well". This is not a put down. I genuinely mean it. Mar 12, 2020 at 14:03

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