I've made an internal decision to leave my doctorate program of 3.5 years. The reasons are many, but the major one is that I have realized that I don't need a doctorate to fulfill my career dreams, and that I am at a point in life where I prefer to start a family and build my marriage with my husband. I'm a more conservative girl in many ways, so some may not understand, but that's ok. I own my values 100%.

I got married to the love of my life who is also a PhD student about a month ago. He is defending in about a month from now and has a job offer in another state. I am younger than him in both age and my graduate progress. If I were to stay in my program, I probably would defend in about 1.5 to 2 years.

To me, at this point, it is simply not worth it to stay. I have learned so much from my program and the field I'm studying and am extremely grateful to be surrounded by a network of highly motivated talented scientists and engineers. However, there has also been tremendous toll taken on my mental health, and I dread the 60 - 80 hour work week that is required to be "successful" in my field.

So I have made my decision to leave with my masters after I wrap up the project I'm currently working on. But does anyone have advice on how to go about telling this my advisor without marring our professional relationship?

She doesn't see it coming, and I don't think she'll fully understand my reasons, but this is a necessary conversation to have.

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    Have you read the other questions tagged quitting? May 24, 2021 at 19:28
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    OK. I managed to resist saying this when the question was first posted, but now it's back in the top questions list, and cognizant of OP's user name, no longer: Just slip out the back, Jac. Sep 1, 2021 at 17:46

3 Answers 3


Whether you can do this without marring the professional connection with your advisor depends more on who she is than on how you go about telling her (yes, the conversation is necessary). Do thank her for helping you learn all you have.

Your commitment to wrapping up your current project is important.

If she's the kind of advisor she should be, she will wish you well and tell you she hopes you resume your research some day and keep in touch, even if she does not fully understand your choice.

(I like your SE handle.)

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    And, face to face is best.
    – Buffy
    May 24, 2021 at 19:36

This doesn't address the question you ask, but is more long term advice from someone looking back, rather than forward. For a good answer to your actual question, see that of Ethan Bolker here.

You may find in coming years that you wish to return to academia and continue doctoral studies. It might be after your children are grown, but it might be sooner. If your spouse gets established then it might be possible to manage studies and family and all the rest. Finishing a degree later (or even late) in life can lead to both satisfaction and a career. That was the path my former spouse took and she wound up doing very well.

But, if you take simple steps now it will ease your return should you later desire it. At this moment, you could talk with your current advisor about keeping in touch in case you later want her assistance. If she thinks well of you she will be more than happy to do this. Do the same with others in your circle, especially those who helped you get in to the current program. Some people will write a letter for their own files with important information.

If possible, keep in touch with these people. Let them know about your life (kids and all) and whatever you then see your goals as. Too many people lose touch with those who would be happy to support them but tend to forget over the years.

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    The last paragraph of this is exceptionally good advice in general and I wish I had had it 10 years ago! May 26, 2021 at 18:23

It's great that you are asking about this, because it shows some concern for your advisor. Students sometimes do not appreciate all the hard work that goes into advising a PhD candidate, so it is great that you are cognisant of this, and you want to be gracious to your advisor as you exit.

I think you will find that most academics are understanding of changes in students' career choices and life goals, and we appreciate that our own career path is not for everyone. Your reasons for leaving sound fine to me, and you needn't be worried too much about defending them. Life and marriages and love are important, hopefully not just to conservative girls.

I would recommend that you go and speak to your advisor face-to-face and let her know your change in goals and let her know that you appreciate all the work she has done with you. I don't usually recommend that students buy gifts for advisors, but if you wanted to buy some flowers or a nice box of chocolates to say thank-you, it might help to soften the blow of her losing a student. In practical terms, if you have any outstanding projects/papers, your advisor will be interested in knowing what you want to do with them (particuarly if you are writing any joint papers) so you should be prepared with a plan for answering this. In terms of leaving without marring your relationship with your advisor, the most important things will be to be thankful, show your appreciation for her work with you, and try to arrange things in a way that minimises any inconvenience to her in relation to the projects you are working on.

If I understand correctly, it sounds like you are converting your program to a Masters program, for which you have satisfied the requirements. That is the best way to do it; if you can leave with a lower credential (instead of no credential) then that is obviously much more satisfying.

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