I am in my first year of a PhD. The only thing I look forward to in the morning is grading/prepping lab/office hours for my twice a week TA assignment.

The nature of my program is very stressful, and I am not sure I will make it to the fun part (research). I am very likely to never pass my qualifying exams to get to the research part of the PhD. Which is a shame because I have loved my past research experience in undergrad and the Fulbright.

And so I'm looking into teaching residency programs for HS physics teachers. Should I ask my TA supervisor for a letter of rec? He likes me and I'm sure would be able to supply a letter of rec with some nice "show don't tell" anecdotes. The risk is that he is a part of the PhD program I would be leaving. Given the nature of STEM PhDs in the US (Im not paying tuition) leaving seems a slap in the face, like I stole their money by taking courses without paying.

However I have always been under the impression it's best to get recent letters of rec.

Should I just stick to undergrad letters of rec?

  • Do you know any professors well enough to ask?
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 20:00
  • Who is the TA supervisor? Faculty? Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 20:30
  • Is it possible for you to switch to a less intense programme, or perhaps work part time? It seems a shame to give up on research given you enjoyed it in the past. Have you spoken to your supervisor/mentor/colleagues/a counsellor about your stress and overwork, to try and reduce it or develop coping strategies? Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 23:39
  • 1
    You also taught their classes for a very low salary! Universities save a lot of money with grad student teachers. Part of the stress of first year is meant to test your commitment, so I doubt anyone would take it badly.
    – Well...
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 2:49
  • @buffy only undergrad professors unfortunately, just started here
    – Lopey Tall
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


If the TA supervisor knows that you are leaving the program to find a (high school) teaching job, and can speak to your ability or potential as a teacher then their letter will be a plus.

As for feeling you cheated the program - better to leave now than after taking their support for a few more years and leaving then. Some fraction of students leave without a degree - it's expected and not shameful.

Finally, I suspect high school physics teachers are in demand.

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