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HI everybody I am a physics PhD student working in the field of theoretical physics. I am currently in my third year. I am currently at a point where I am thinking of quitting my PhD. I have no ambition to continue in academics and the environment I am working in (including relationship with my advisor) is making me unfortunately very unhappy and extremely stressed. I tried a lot to fix this (therapy, talking to advisor, sports, taking a break,….) none of them seemed to help leaving me with the only option left: quitting.

Considering leaving the PhD I am concerned about the consequences. I don’t think I was a bad PhD student (I have 7 publications , teacher several courses and have a government funded PhD grant). So my questions are:

  • Will it give a bad impression?
  • Will it have severe consequences on my further career (for example in industry).
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    This depends too much on your field and what the job opportunities are - along with the career advancement opportunities. But a PhD is mostly useful in academia and in research labs closely related. – Buffy May 29 at 15:55
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    Who do you have in mind when asking about the impression? – user111388 May 29 at 16:35
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    If you are very unhappy and so on, just quit. Life goes on and you will find something. Don't worry too much what others might think, you can't control them anyway. For what it is worth, I would think better of you if you change your situation than if you stay. – user111388 May 29 at 16:36
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    Before writing a detailed answer (because I am also somehow in your situation), I would like to ask you a few more questions. You say you're in your third year. Third out of how many? 3 out of 7 is a very different situation than 3 out of 3, for example. "Will it give a bad impression?" Well, to whom? The most important thing is how YOU feel about it. "Will it have severe consequences on my further career (for example in industry)." I think from outside academia (e.g. industry) it will NOT seem as bad as from inside it. – AWanderingMind May 29 at 19:55
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    What part of the world are you in? In some cases, you can leave the program halfway through and get a master's degree -- is this a possibility for you? And also -- how close are you? If you're within a year, I would really suggest finishing: "the best PhD is a done PhD" – cag51 May 30 at 3:53
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Will it give a bad impression?

Lots of people quit their PhDs. It's not a big deal. But I suppose finishing makes a better impression of yourself.

Quitting your PhD creates a negative impression of your university and supervisor. However, that shouldn't stop you from doing what is best for you.

Will it have severe consequences on my further career (for example in industry).

Only if you want a job that requires a PhD. Most industry employers do not care if you did not compete your PhD.

I have 7 publications

You should consider if you can complete your PhD in a very short period. Most PhD students do not have seven publications.

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    I strongly agree with the "consider if you can complete your PhD in a very short period". But make sure you very explicitly agree on this with your advisor. Maybe it is also in their interest that you finish, with a not so groundbreaking PhD, instead of just quitting; so that would be a win-win result. – Jakob May 30 at 12:06
  • Thank you very much for your reply. I understand your suggestion of trying to finish the PhD in a very short time. The problem I am having with that is that from what I know from my colleagues, writing up the thesis and defending is a very stressfull period. So I am afraid I will be consumed by stress in this period (also since writing up is even more a solo quest compared to writing a paper. Also a lot of stuff starts in september so if i would like to start a new education in some form maybe trying to finisch quickly is not the best idea? I would like your opinion! – Feynman007 May 30 at 16:00
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    In Mathematics, and at my University (Ausria) it would basically be enough to create a document which contains your seven publications and a short introduction. Then you defend it (basically you have to demonstrate that you eunderstand the topica and that it is plausible that you really wrote your parts the papers yourself). due to administrative issues this may take 4 months, but will not be stressful. But other fields and universities may handle this entirely differently. – Jakob May 30 at 17:42
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    It's true that many students are stressed at the end of their PhD. But you are already feeling that. Why would it get worse? If you have seven publications, you should have several reasons to be less stressed than other students who are finishing their PhD. Once you have a PhD (or most of one), it doesn't makes sense to seek more education in a different program. – Anonymous Physicist May 31 at 2:26
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Your question reminded me of my own situation during my PhD. I share with you my experience and hope you can relate to it, and maybe learn something. I was also in third year, physics PhD, with published papers and lot of presentations at conferences. But still I was constantly thinking about quitting. The thing which made me to think like that, now I look back, was not actually the research or academic component, but was the environment and the situation I was in, and the relation with my advisor. Plus some exhaustion due to lot of work I did in 2 and half years. I had a strange relationship with my advisor. I was depressed for sure, tried student counselling, doctors, tried to make friends ... and at one point I was thinking of even committing suicide, believe me it is true. The next day I called the helpline and told them that I was suicidal. These type of thoughts never came to my mind before or after that. People almost stopped talking to me, if they talked they talked with strange reactions. I was lucky enough that there were couple of colleagues, to whom I could talk normally. I was not in my home country, and it was really hard to make contacts outside the work. There were some racial people around also, doing subtle racial comments now and then, intentionally or unintentionally, I don't know. All these little factors contributed and made me think to quit. The amazing part was that it was the research which kept me engaged and interested, and I kept pushing forward. Deep down inside I was damn determined that I have to finish and finish as early as possible, because if I do it late, I am going to get medically ill for sure. So I made a plan. I started writing my thesis without telling anyone. I showed my stuff to my thesis committee and couple of other professors. I talked to an emeritus professor who was serving as kind of a student counselor. Before my next committee meeting I made a nice draft and submitted to the committee before the meeting. I convinced the committee that I can write my thesis and they recommended to submit in the next six months. This time I did not listen to my advisor who was suggesting otherwise. I did additional work, edited my thesis carefully, and submitted. Arranged my defense. My defense was extremely hard. One of the member in the panel was a great researcher, senior most professor of our institute, and was often very hard when it came to scientific discussions. Hard in the sense that he was a brilliant thinker with enormous experience, and was well known worldwide for his contributions, very dedicated, very bold when it came to criticism, but enjoyable if you like to fight. I stood my ground. Finally I passed. Easy said than done.

My advice for you is the following. If you have even a tiny bit of hope that you can finish on the basis of your work, go for it like it is a war, and you have to defeat the enemy with great valour. Its a battle for your 2.5 years of work with great publications, which is at least 3% of your life span, and you do not get the life twice. DO NOT give a second thought. You are going to get so much respect for yourself, whether you stay in academia or not. Remember -- your work is going to decide if you are going to get a PhD, not your supervisor, feed this to your mind and fight for it. Fight for it like its your territory and you are invaded. Believe me you can succeed.

There is a very subtle stage in this process. I believe that a PhD student starts thinking quitting when there is no external approval of the work which the student has done. Such a student does all the work but thinks that nobody cares about it. The truth is that actually NOBODY cares about it. You have to care about it and you HAVE TO follow your gut feeling when you think that you are ready to finish. Nobody is going to tell you. And that's where the student is most confused. In addition, when student decides on it, there come stages like convincing people, editing your thesis again and again and again, and fixing a date to which all the members agree to. These are loopholes and take dedication to get through.

Finally, if you have a medical condition, be very very careful. DO NOT take more stress no matter what happens. If needed, compromise with your research output a little bit, there is nothing wrong in it. If you take more stress in such a condition, it can affect your upcoming life. Take care of yourself. Slow down. Meditate. Exercise. There are ways you can get through this. Recognize what helps you and what causes problems for you. Avoid the latter. Don't be afraid of people judging you, you are here for yourself. Again, I stress that be very careful if you have a medical condition.

I did not quit, and so I can not relate to such a situation. Consider taking into account suggestions from people who already took the decision of quitting.

One more thing, I tried almost all the options you mentioned for help -- therapy, taking break etc, they surely help but the effect is local in time. I suggest you take the challenge head on, and use these methods as your support system. Again, if you have medical condition you have to be more careful.

Best wishes.

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I really, really understand what you're going through. From my own experience, I would say it's very unlikely to get any better if you're already feeling that way.

  • "I am afraid it will give a bad impression to people in general."

To be completely honest, I also worry about that. I think we shouldn't lie to ourselves about it. If we judge it without any context, this is definitely going to give a bad impression to most of the people. Only the very few (well, actually not that few) that were in more or less the same situation will really understand this decision. But I don't think this will have a significant impact on your potentially new career in the industry. In my opinion, you should worry about it only if you take into account staying in the academia (or returning to academia).

If you already have your bachelor and master degrees, and especially if you have the skills required for your new job, it really shouldn't matter that you quit your PhD. I tend to think that in industry it's much more about what you can do, and much less about awards and titles. Just focus on developing the skills that you will need for your future career.

I know it's hard to make a decision like this. But think about it... Is it really worth it to be stressed out all the time, to be constantly unhappy, to feel this resentment? This will eventually have a bad impact on our health, and, in the end, is it really worth it? (I am also asking this to myself all the time). But if you're going to make such a decision, it's better to make it as soon as possible, otherwise you will later have even more regrets. Being in the third year (out of five), I personally think it is still not that late for you to quit.

Hopefully, other people with more experience than me (in the academia and/or industry) will try to answer this question. I am also looking forward to hear other opinions.

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I bet it's hard to answer to this question with any solid proofs, so I believe you're just calling for opinions. Thus, here is my humble take on the issue.

I think few people in industry would care about your PhD, and few jobs really require it (and perhaps you won't be interested in "research-oriented" jobs that do). However, over the course of my working life I am coming to the conclusion that there are more brilliant people around than people who can get things done.

This was a counter-intuitive conclusion for myself, as I always thought it's much harder to prove a theorem or write a research paper than to finish a mere technical report in due time. However, it seems to be the case.

So, while I think it should not be a great concern for you, and your finished papers hopefully prove you can "get things done", still there is a non-zero chance that your case will be evaluated by someone like me who might treat it unfavorably. Just consider it as one minor point that might ring bells for someone.

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First of all, I am so sorry for you and having to face that! I can relate, but I think mine is unbelievable, I was forced to leave my first PhD after completing one year because of racist supervisor and luckily I was accepted to another program and I thought finally I found the good combination supervisor and topic and guess what I just quit on my own last month and now I am in a third one and let's see how it would end.

Disclaimer: I am somehow knowledgable in the subject and love research, however as we know academia not only based on meritocracy and that's why I argue that someone would view you badly you seem intelligent researcher, but simply your mental health is overwhelmed by the environment, so I guarantee one hundred this isnot true and who tell that is an idiot.

Coming to the second point, you dont want to be in academia. I am a tenured TA at home country of east Asia and I traveled for sake of knowledge, I was so much appreciated since I had the position, but guess I didnot enjoy it, it also corrupted and physical and mental health back then was low.

Now, honestly every day I am asking myself what I want to, I dont want industry per se. I love research, but I want to make it in a new beyond the lab and staying hostage for your supervisor.

If I were in your shoes, I have two option:

  1. Negotiating with your supervisor to set a date and finish since you did a lot of work
  2. Find another supervisor who can host you and finish in a short time

Lastly: If you find a job of your dream and you feel you found it go for it and quit.

I hope this might be helpful I am also reconsidering my options everyday, but what I am sure about ignoring yours dreams is a crime and accepting the status quo will lead no where, you have to think deeply for a last time and having an honest with a trust worth person to reflect.

Good luck and hope you would take the right decision.

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