I am in similar situation as in this post.

I am a foreign PhD student in the Netherlands. My work is related to computer vision. Here, each PhD student typically has two supervisors, a senior professor as promoter and a young lecturer/prof as daily supervisor. Candidates typically get to meet with the daily supervisor once weekly and with the promoter once monthly but this varies.

Just after my qualifier (around a year mark), we decided to work on something and eventually write a paper once we have the results. The adequate infrastructure required for large scale DL work isn't there (we have a HPC with a single 11GB GPU and the PhD students generally fight over it to get access. There is no system admin to manage infrastructure, so often the people flood the disk to full and other mismanagement issues were there.) So we had to make a few compromises to run the model on the infrastructure we have. However, I worked as per the discussion then prepared the manuscript. My daily supervisor instructed me to finalize the draft between the two of us first, then send it to the promoter. The draft eventually improved after couple of iterations. We decided to send it to the promoter for review. After one iteration he asks for a meeting with all three of us. At that meeting, the promoter started very harshly indicating my work is garbage and not at all publication worthy. But he did not stop there, showing me how poor the quality / acceptance rate of the articles from my country is and how I am also following the same trend. I understand the criticism of my work but this hit me as racist, at least subtly. I did not argue although it completely broke my morale. According to him, the work was so useless that it can't be improved to become something meaningful although I am open to try.

I decided to drop that work and move on to one of my main objectives. I worked hard and developed something decently novel. I was stuck for two weeks to get access to the GPU. Eventually when I got it, I found out a single GPU is not sufficient to run the model. There were some discussions regarding purchasing new GPU the past year, but nothing actually happened. I suspect that is partly because people in charge (including my supervisors) do not deeply understand the implementation specific side of DL, they mostly go with the current trend of DL and are happy with all those hand waving discussions over shiny new paper achieving 0.01% improvement and occasionally poking students why we are not able to do something like those.

Apart from these, I have issues regarding data collection and field visit. Thanks to COVID, all the field visits have been canceled with no chance of happening this year. I am kind of clueless at this point. I am at one and half year mark with my second year review due this month. It feels like I am at a turning point. I did not lose hope on my dream of doing a PhD just that current conditions do not seem in favor of me. Even if I leave, I am open to give it another try. Joining industry is the other option but I try not to depend too much on that option since I am a foreign student and may not be allowed at all to work here.

That being said, I just want to need some opinions to make sure I am not being mislead here by my own personal bias. Secondly, if I decide to apply again for PhD somewhere else or apply for job, how this will be perceived by the potential supervisors or recruiters? Will it negatively influence my application? Learning from this experience, some tips regarding finding a suitable supervisor would also help me a lot.

  • 3
    You're asking people who mostly never worked in industry about industry who have an extremely heavy academic bias. You're probably not going to get useful answers. Aug 31 '21 at 14:03
  • 3
    It probably depends what parts of "industry" you'd be looking in. If a position requires a PhD and you don't have one, that's that. More often than not, though, you'll find positions for associate scientist, associate researcher, etc., any of which can give you a place to begin and to work up from. To answer your question more directly, you won't be looked at negatively, you simply start at a different level. Aug 31 '21 at 14:23
  • 5
    This depends immensely on the field. For computer vision, it seems to me to be fairly common that people quit their PhD to work in industry (for excellent pay). What I hear from such people is "publish 1-2 good papers, create a LinkedIn profile listing your skills, wait". Nobody will ever care you quit the PhD.
    – cheersmate
    Aug 31 '21 at 14:57
  • 4
    I suspect "I started a PhD but then the pandemic happened" will get you a long way.
    – avid
    Aug 31 '21 at 20:20
  • 3
    I started and never finished a research-based Masters in an Engineering discipline a long time ago (my story is as depressing as yours). My resume simply says "Graduate Work [date]-[date]", it lists my supervisor and the title of the thesis that was never published. It's been on my resume for nearly 40 years. When it comes up during an interview, it's usually because the thesis title is a bit intriguing. I don't claim a degree, or any special research skills, but I do account for the years that I was working on it.
    – Flydog57
    Aug 31 '21 at 21:59

Questions of the "how is this perceived" variety are necessarily going to entail a lot of subjectivity, so all I can really do is to offer you a personal view as someone with experience in academia and industry. While this is my subjective opinion, I think my view on this matter is probably shared by enough academic/industry people that it is worth giving. Hopefully the upvote/downvote mechanism will kick in, and you can then see if others agree with me.

Firstly, highly-educated technical people (especially those who have done PhDs themselves) know that a PhD candidature is an arduous journey that is replete with frustrations, obstacles, and random lightning-bolts from the research-gods. I got through my candidature and came out the other end okay, but I have two intelligent friends who went through a substantial amount of their candidature but ultimately dropped out, in both cases due to things beyond their control. Those two friends of mine are smart people who are professionally competent in their fields, so I'm well aware that they were just "stuffed around" in their candidature. Most academics and related industry-techies have seen plenty of cases like this, and so our general attitude is: there but for the Grace of God go I.

Consequently, I would not draw any negative inference about a person from the mere fact that they started a PhD candidature and didn't complete it. Quitting a PhD candidature without the degree can be just as rational a decision as starting one. In all such cases, in the absence of some contrary information, I would assume that there was some horror-story to go along with it (e.g., primary supervisor leaving abruptly, project was impossible, etc.) or that the student simply changed their career plans and decided that there were better options than continuing their present program.

If you were to apply for a PhD candidature or a job under my supervision (assuming hypothetically that you were in my field), my focus would be on your qualifications and experience, your skills and abilities, and whether you would be good at the position under consideration. I would probably want to know about your previous candidature experience, why you didn't finish it, what you learned, etc. What I would hope for is to hear some frank and self-reflective answers that show you to be a sensible and honest person, and hopefully you learned something despite the failed candidature. Maybe you quit due to reasons outside your control (which is fine) and maybe you quit because of some deficiency in your own abilities (which you can now reflect on and have improved). Having quit a PhD candidature is not inherently a black mark against you --- indeed, in some extreme cases not quitting is the more irrational course of action.

Now, obviously if a position expects the applicant to have a PhD in a field (e.g., most academic jobs but hardly any industry jobs) and you don't have one, then that is a negative --- you simply don't meet that selection criterion, so you would need to be very strong in other areas to compensate. An uncompleted PhD candidature also has an opportunity cost, so it is relevant what you learned in that time compared to what other applicants did with their time. While these are all relevant issues, an uncompleted PhD is not a black mark; it is just a qualification you don't have.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.